Georgia Tech’s Hassan Hall relives memorable run: ‘My feet were off the ground’

Georgia Tech running back Hassan Hall had carried the ball 305 times in his college career before Yellow Jackets quarterback Jeff Sims handed him the football on a third-and-11 play in the fourth quarter of Tech’s game against Pittsburgh last Saturday. That was preceded by triple-digits at Maynard Jackson High.

In all those times running the ball, though, he had never experienced what happened on that play, when he was stopped after about a four-yard gain before several Tech teammates rallied to his aid and pushed him forward another nine to convert the first down. No fewer than seven teammates – linemen Paula Vaipulu, Weston Franklin, Pierce Quick, Jordan Williams and Corey Williams, tight end Dylan Leonard and wide receiver Nate McCollum – joined the scrum to advance the pile, and wide receivers Malik Rutherford and Malachi Carter were sprinting over as the play was whistled dead.

“My feet were on the ground at first, but the rest was all them,” Hall said Wednesday, crediting his teammates. “I remember fighting and I just got lifted up and drove for about 10. That was all of them. My feet were off the ground, dangling and all.”

ExploreGeorgia Tech-Duke: TV, online, radio information

A literal 13-yard carry, the play was the signature moment of the Jackets’ 26-21 upset of then-No. 24 Pittsburgh, a demonstration of the fight that players showed in pulling off the upset in interim coach Brent Key’s debut. As Hall said that he had never experienced a play like that before, undoubtedly most Tech fans had never seen the likes of it, either.

“Not like that,” Hall said. “That was my first time. Shouts out to (my teammates). I’ve never experienced anything like that. We’ve got to keep that going. I’m going to be looking for somebody to come save me.”

Hall gained 157 yards total against Pitt on 20 carries in the first start of the season after coming to Tech as a transfer from Louisville. He had rushed 24 times for 103 yards in the Jackets’ first three games as he has shared snaps with fellow backs Dontae Smith and Dylan McDuffie.

After the game, Key said that Hall was awarded the start because of his progress in practice and also because coaches felt that his speed would be utilized against Pitt’s defensive scheme.

“We knew that he’d give us our chance the way they played their front and how they crowded everybody into the box,” Key said. “We knew we had to get a chance to get the ball on the perimeter a little bit with some things and loosen it up with some of the quarterback runs with Jeff inside and with him on the outside.”

ExploreMore AJC coverage of the Yellow Jackets

Hall was featured in a game plan to hammer the Pitt defense with the run and wait for it to break. The Jackets’ first 30 carries gained 101 yards. The final 14, starting with Hall’s 13-yard rush near the start of the fourth quarter, gained 131 yards.

“Really, we just kept pounding,” Hall said. “Just kept pounding, kept pounding and see who was going to tap first.”

It would not be a surprise to see a repeat of that strategy against Duke Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium, as the Jackets have a 55/45 run/pass ratio, and offensive coordinator Chip Long has espoused a 60/40 balance. The Blue Devils rank 58th in FBS in rushing defense at 132.8 yards per game. (Pitt had entered last Saturday’s game 24th in FBS at 98.5 yards per game.) Of the Blue Devils’ five opponents thus far, they’ve held three below four yards per carry (Temple, Northwestern and Virginia), but allowed two (FCS North Carolina A&T and No. 19 Kansas) to average more than five yards on each attempt.

Key described defensive tackles DeWayne Carter and Ja’Mion Franklin as “big pluggers.” Linebacker Shaka Heyward is one of the leading tacklers in school history.

“We know we’re playing a good team,” Hall said. The aim, he continued is to “come and do better than we did last week. That’s the mindset – to always do better, never stay the same.”

Daily Jackets: The AJC presents a daily look at one news item about Georgia Tech athletics to start your morning.