Georgia Tech recovers and wins comfortably against Kennesaw State
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Georgia Tech players celebrate their victory over Kennesaw State during the second half of an NCAA college football game at Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta on Saturday, September 4, 2021. Georgia Tech won 45-17 over Kennesaw State. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Mistakes and missed opportunities did Georgia Tech in against Northern Illinois a week ago. Against an overmatched FCS opponent thinned by injury, the Yellow Jackets took care of business Saturday, overwhelming Kennesaw State 45-17 at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Behind quarterback Jordan Yates, making his first career start in place of Jeff Sims, Tech was in control from the start. A disciplined defensive effort and dynamic playmaking on offense enabled the Jackets to avoid the fate they suffered a week ago.
“Personally, this was a bounce-back week,” said linebacker Charlie Thomas, a difference maker with two interceptions. “We had a tough loss last week, and we were just like, we’ve got to put that game past us and just go harder and stay focused on the next game.”
Yates looked comfortable from the start, leading Tech on an eight-play, 81-yard touchdown drive on the Jackets’ first possession of the game for a 7-0 lead. He punctuated the series by looping a pass over an oncoming defender to running back Jordan Mason, who made a one-handed catch and ran the ball in for a 6-yard touchdown catch. Flat on his back, Yates raised his arms in triumph.
Yates finished the game 17-for-23 passing for 254 yards and four touchdowns, becoming the first Tech quarterback to throw four touchdown passes in his first career start. Sims watched from the sidelines, his left arm heavily wrapped. Sims, who was knocked out of the Northern Illinois game, was available only on an emergency basis. His availability for Saturday’s game against No. 6 Clemson is uncertain.
“It was real fun,” Yates said. “(My teammates) made my job really easy (Saturday) across the board.”
It was a critical win for Tech and coach Geoff Collins, whose leadership of the team in his third season came under severe question from the fan base following the loss to Northern Illinois.
“It was difficult, but I was very proud – the coaching staff that we have, the leadership that we’ve developed and we’ve built in this program, the resilience, the focus – all of those things were on display this week,” Collins said.
Until a fourth-quarter lapse, Tech (1-1) played a cleaner and more efficient game than it did in the opener, when missed chances cost the Jackets at least 17 points in the 22-21 loss. After missing two-field goal tries last week, kicker Brent Cimaglia made his only field-goal attempt of the game, from 31 yards in the second quarter. Yates repeatedly hit downfield throws, an area where Sims struggled last week. The Jackets scored four touchdowns and a field goal on their five red-zone trips, a trouble spot last season. The defense, down three starters (safety Tariq Carpenter, who played one play before departing, cornerback Zamari Walton and defensive tackle Ja’Quon Griffin), limited Kennesaw State (1-1) to 272 yards of offense, 114 of them in the fourth quarter when the Owls got loose for 14 points.
Tech quickly loosened the tension by taking a 17-0 lead in the game’s first 20 minutes. Defensive end Jordan Domineck delivered a tone-setting moment on KSU’s second drive of the game with the Jackets ahead 7-0.
On a first-and-10 play from the Tech 22, with the Owls having driven from its 25 and threatening to tie the score at 7-7, Domineck deflected Owls quarterback Xavier Shepherd’s option pitch, picked up the ball and ran 70 yards for the touchdown, stiff arming Shepherd into the turf about halfway to the end zone.
Ken Sugiura is a sports columnist at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Formerly the Georgia Tech beat reporter, Sugiura started at the AJC in 1998 and has covered a variety of beats, mostly within sports.