Georgia Tech’s performance Saturday night wasn’t one to be enshrined in a trophy case. But it perhaps was what the Yellow Jackets needed. Against FCS Western Carolina, Tech was able to overcome mistakes that players can learn from, claim a 35-17 win and set itself up for a heavyweight matchup Saturday afternoon against No. 22 Ole Miss (3:30 p.m., ABC).

On a misty night and in front of an announced Bobby Dodd Stadium crowd of 36,486, Tech worked past defensive busts that put it in deficits of 7-0 and 14-7 before scoring the next 28 points to take control of the game. The victory brought to an end the team’s seven-game losing streak dating to last season.

Running back Dontae Smith starred for the Jackets, setting career highs for rushing yards (102, on 11 carries) and touchdowns (3), as Tech found the going much easier against a defense that last season ranked last in FCS in rushing defense five days after grinding its gears against arguably the best defense in college football (Clemson).

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“It felt good to finally get things going,” Smith said. “Not that we did a bad job last week, and the O-line did a good job last week, but it starts with the O-line. If they come out, and they do what they need to do, then that makes my job easy. That makes the rest of our jobs easy.”

Questions loom, though, about the Tech defense as the Jackets aim for a bowl game after three consecutive three-win seasons. Besides blown coverages that produced touchdown passes of 49 and 22 yards that gave Western Carolina an early 14-7 lead, the Jackets allowed 390 yards and 26 first downs. Further, Tech had consistent difficulty keeping Catamounts quarterback Carlos Davis in the pocket, as he repeatedly evaded pressure to pick up yards on scrambles. Western Carolina also had success with screen passes.

“They’ve got really good players, and we had our hands full,” coach Geoff Collins said. “We contributed to that with some eye violations early to let some things happen that shouldn’t have happened, but we’ll get those things cleaned up and get them fixed and get ready for next Saturday.”

On the other hand, Tech (1-1) did mute the impact of those yards with three interceptions – by safety Derrik Allen, cornerback Myles Sims and linebacker Charlie Thomas, who played a dynamic second half after serving a suspension in the first half for a targeting penalty against Clemson – and gathered a fourth turnover off a mishandled shotgun snap. Tech had three interceptions all of last season.

And 42% of the yards were gained on Western Carolina’s first two possessions, as the Catamounts scored three points over their final 11 possessions. Thomas was impactful in the final 30 minutes, amassing eight tackles (two for loss, with one sack) and an interception.

“Charlie is a tremendous player,” Collins said.

Still, the Rebels figure to provide a far greater challenge than the Catamounts. Ole Miss ranked sixth in FBS last season in total offense. It may bear mention that Western Carolina (1-1) has never beaten an FBS opponent and had lost its previous five games against FBS opponents by 40 points or more. Tech was favored by 24.5 points Saturday.

Under the direction of offensive coordinator Chip Long, the Tech offense churned out five touchdowns in its first nine possessions. Long showed off the breadth of the playbook, using three tight ends in a goal-line package and showing off a double-slot, three-back look in a third-quarter drive that called to mind the standard formation of former coach Paul Johnson.

Georgia Tech 35, Western Carolina 17

“Coach Long, he has a very, very deep playbook,” Smith said. “We have tons of stuff that people probably wouldn’t expect to see.”

Smith charged for a 51-yard scoring run behind blocks from tackle Jordan Williams and center Weston Franklin that tied the score at 14-14 with 4:35 left in the first quarter. Receiver Nate McCollum used his speed to race for a 40-yard run off a reverse with a key downfield block thrown by guard Pierce Quick for a 21-14 lead that put Western Carolina behind for good.

Quarterback Jeff Sims completed eight of 17 passes for 100 yards with one interception as the Jackets opted to run the ball 34 times to the 17 pass attempts.

Notably, Tech did address some of the flaws of its 41-10 loss to the No. 5 Tigers. Punter David Shanahan successfully booted five punts after the punting unit had allowed two blocks against the Tigers. After being docked for 10 penalties against Clemson, five of them for false starts, Tech was called for four against Western Carolina, one of them a pre-snap violation.