BLACKSBURG, VA. – A delightful development emerged among the tomfoolery Saturday at Lane Stadium: a freshman quarterback’s ascension.
At times, these Yellow Jackets weren’t recognizable on offense, producing chunk plays, looking dynamic and – dare we say – kind of fun. Quarterback Zach Pyron, in his first start, welcomed Georgia Tech to football’s modern era, reminding Jackets enthusiasts what it’s like to put up points in a competitive game.
Tech defeated a bad Virginia Tech team 28-27. Pyron, and a defense that forced four turnovers, largely were why. Let it be another reminder that amid coach Geoff Collins’ failed reign, he acquired a few notable commitments. Pyron might be one of them.
The victorious quarterback was a four-star recruit. As Alabama’s amateur Tom Brady, Pyron won three state championships – at two schools – in four seasons. One start into his college career, it’s not hard to figure out why his teams always won.
Pyron was 19-for-32 passing for 253 yards, with a touchdown and interception. He added 66 yards and a score on 17 rushing attempts. The surface stats don’t wow you, but box-score scouting won’t do him justice.
This looked like a really mature, talented player, one who was the best on the field for parts of the afternoon.
“That was amazing and terrifying all at the same time,” Pyron’s mother, Leah, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We’re so happy for the team to get that win and the moment. It was just amazing.”
Pyron was under pressure continuously behind a porous line. He often was forced to thread the needle. He had his freshman moments, including failing to anticipate a defender on a play that resulted in a pick-6 inside the Georgia Tech 5-yard line, but the big-picture view can be only positive. Even experienced players could wilt under those circumstances.
“He’s a dadgum competitor,” interim coach Brent Key said. “He’s a freshman out there; there are lots of things he’ll learn from. But being a competitor ain’t one of them.”
With starting quarterback Jeff Sims ailing, the Jackets last started transfer Zach Gibson, who was 13-for-30 passing in parts of three games. They entered their previous game planning to play Gibson and Pyron, but quickly switched to Pyron before the third drive of an eventual 41-16 loss at Florida State. He played the remainder of the game, going 18-for-28 passing and scoring a couple of touchdowns.
Sims, considered one of few bright spots for Tech, returned to practice this week but was limited to being an emergency quarterback Saturday. That queued Pyron’s first start, one in which he helped his team achieve unprecedented offensive aptitude.
Pyron showed resiliency rare in first-time starters. He orchestrated a nine-play drive with less than a minute to play until halftime that resulted in three points. He lowered his shoulder on his first run and was popped hard. While he slid more afterward, he continued showing a willingness to take hits.
“He was like an old-school Mike linebacker on some of those plays,” Key said.
“It’s just how I was raised,” Pyron said. “Two years in high school, I played in a Wing-T run offense. I played offense and defense. Last two years, I went to a bigger school and became more a quarterback. But I was raised that way, instilled from an early age to have work ethic from my parents. And to be tough, do it for the people next to you and don’t be selfish. These guys are putting their body on the line every play, and I should do the same.”
Pyron wasn’t hesitant to fire darts between defenders and to the sideline. His elusiveness saved him every other play as his offensive line collapsed. He was unfazed by the environment, which was rainy and rowdy even with Virginia Tech’s uninspiring season.
After the pick-6 late in the third, Georgia Tech trailed 27-16, setting up its best win of the season.
Georgia Tech 28, Virginia Tech 27
Pyron hit Nate McCollum for a 56-yard touchdown, the second-longest passing play by a Jackets quarterback this season. Even with the gap closed to 27-22, Virginia Tech had an 82.7% win probability, according to ESPN. The Hokies threw an interception to end their ensuing drive.
The freshman quarterback once again made plays with his feet, dodging defenders as he worked the Jackets down the field. Pyron converted a third-and-19 when he found McCollum with green grass around him.
Pyron completed the 10-play drive with a 9-yard dash up the middle for the go-ahead touchdown with 3:30 left. Some tomfoolery later, Georgia Tech forced a fumble with just under a minute left that ended the wild game.
“Zach, he’s very poised to be a freshman,” McCollum said. “He doesn’t act like a freshman and to me, he doesn’t play like one, either. I’m proud of him.”
Tech, which averaged 16 points per game, scored 12 points in the final 9:12 Saturday to hand Virginia Tech its sixth consecutive loss. Georgia Tech, which had averaged 307.3 yards per game, finished with 463. Again, are we sure this was the same team?
Maybe Pyron has that much of an effect. Maybe Virginia Tech is that abominable. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, but with Georgia Tech seeking any positives, Pyron sure asserted himself as one.
Who knows if Pyron starts next week, given Sims’ status, but Tech has something here. The next coach should inherit a respectable quarterback group. Pyron, less than two full games into his career, already looks like a potential leader who will elevate an offense. He makes the immediate and long-term outlook a bit more interested.
“It was exciting for us for him to be closer to home,” Leah told the AJC regarding Pyron’s decision to attend Tech. “We really connected with the coaching staff that recruited him. The degree and what that can do for his life, how it met his football needs. It was the perfect fit.”