Offensive line's push coming out of the locker room turns the tide for second straight week
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
The offensive line calls itself “The Goon Squad.”
The Georgia Tech offense calls it when needed.
It was needed Saturday afternoon following a shaky first half and responded, leading Tech to 14 unanswered second half points and a 38-21 victory at Tulane.
“We knew we needed to get it going but everybody just stayed calm because we knew our mistakes were fixable and that we could adjust,” said right guard Shaq Mason. “So it wasn’t anything they were doing. It was what we were doing. We just had to fix what we were doing wrong and we did that in the second half and came out with the win.”
For the second week in a row, the unit created some major havoc coming out of the locker room to start the third quarter, paving the way s the Jackets put together a 12-play, 76-yard drive, capped off by a two-yard burst by A-Back Tony Zenon. The New Orleans native’s second touchdown of the day put the Jackets up 31-21 and basically sealed the Green Wave’s fate.
Also for the second consecutive week, the Jackets hit a field goal on the final play of the first half to regain the lead heading into the locker room.
Then came the game-changing third quarter.
“Both third quarters were pretty similar,” said Mason. “We ended both halves on field goals. We were like ‘These teams shouldn’t be in the game, but we just have to go out there and change our mindset and go get the job done.’”
After halftime, the unit came out full throttle.
“Basically that was our mindset coming out because in the first half we stalled a little bit, didn’t get things going the way we wanted to,” he said. “The second half we put our foot on the gas. We just did a better job of executing.”
For all the similarities, there was one major difference this week. Unlike last week against Wofford, where Tech drove 72 yards in 11 plays (capped off with 19-yard TD pass to DeAndre Smelter) off the opening kickoff of the third quarter, this week, the offense had to wait until Tech’s defense got them the ball. The D obliged, when freshman Lawrence Austin made his first career interception, ending Tulane’s impressive opening drive that had started at its own 25 before ending at the Georgia Tech 24.
From there, the Goon Squad took over. The Jackets ran five straight plays to push the ball to the Tulane 35. After no gain on a completion, and a loss of three yards, quarterback Justin Thomas ran for 17 then hit an 11-yard pass to make it first and goal from the 10. Tech needed three more running plays to hit pay dirt, with Zenon going the final two yards over left end for the score and a 31-21 lead.
The double-digit cushion gave the Jackets a comfort zone, and gave the same kind of confidence that carried them the rest of the way against Wofford.
It’s the kind of déjà vu the Jackets can get used to, and, with the offensive line, actually has.
“We always turn to the O-Line. They’re like the heartbeat of our offense,” said Zenon. “We rely on them. We know once they’re on the same page they can do some damage.”
The O-Line did a ton of damage in the first half as the Jackets ran for 202 yards in on 29 rushing plays — nearly 7.0 yards a carry. For the game, Tech ran the ball 57 times — two fewer plays than their TOTAL number of offensive plays in the opener.
Tech controlled the ball for 16:59 in the second half (32:55 for the game) and held the ball nearly 6:00 longer than Tulane. On a steamy day in New Orleans, that made a difference.
“It was very hot out here and the heat was a factor but it wasn’t as bad as everybody made it out to be,” said Mason. “They live out here. I figured that they would be used to it but it seemed like we were wearing them down. That’s just the way it happened.”
The Jackets made it happen and are 2-0 for the fifth time in seven years under Paul Johnson. While they have yet to play their best ball, they’ve managed to make the adjustments at the half and get the job done.
That trend of figuring out what needs to be fixed at the half and, more important, implementing those changes could be very big the rest of the way. IN the mean time, the Jackets will go back to the drawing board in preparing for next week’s game against Georgia Southern.
“These two games, we can definitely learn a lot from,” said Mason. “It’s a good thing that we’ve had to battle in these two games because it’s just going to push us forward and make us work harder and learn from our mistakes and try to adjust them.”
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