Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
Paul Johnson got tired of telling folks before Georgia Tech's game last Saturday that Jacksonville State looked more like an FBS muscle car than an FCS jalopy but he was happy afterward to talk about his team's quick-strike passing attack.
The Yellow Jackets' 37-10 win came down to a Tech defense that took the ball away from JSU on three-consecutive possessions, giving the offense three short fields, which quarterback TaQuon Marshall converted into touchdown passes to Ricky Jeune, Jeune again and J.J. Green.
When a quarterback connects on 5-of-7 passes for 120 yards and three scores for a passer rating of 347.3, it's going to carve out a warm and fuzzy spot in the heart of the head coach.
Georgia Tech's passing game clicked in part, Johnson said, "Because [the Gamecocks] were selling out to play the run. Ricky made a couple nice plays. I think every pass we completed but one was play-action."
Marshall was pretty good as a passer on Monday five nights earlier against Tennessee, completing 5-of-9 passes for 120 yards, although several would-be passes turned into scrambles.
"It felt great," he said. "After the first game, I wanted to sit in the pocket and show my arm ability. Ricky and the other guys made great plays and the line blocked for me, so I had a lot of time to get the ball out of my hands."
The game's signature running play would've rated as completely unpredictable before the Jackets went to fall camp, unless you thought that freshman B-back Jerry Howard would play the role of star.
Before he broke the dam with a 65-yard scoring run up the middle on his second collegiate carry to give the Jackets a 30-7 lead, Tech's running game had averaged about 2.5 yards per carry over the game's first 39:15.
"Offensively, it was not pretty," Johnson said. "We were able to make some plays, but the execution was not good and we got our butts whipped up front. Guys may have been reading their press clippings a little bit."
Beyond Howard, who finished with a team-high 82 yards on six carries, and Marshall's 18-yard scramble on the first play of the game, the Tech running game was pedestrian.
The Jackets rushed 49 times for 210 yards five days after going for 535 yards versus Tennessee of the SEC.
Marshall, who rushed a school-record 44 times for 249 yards and a school-record five touchdowns against the Volunteers, ripped off that 18-yarder to start the game, and totaled 7 yards on 12 subsequent carries.
Starting B-back KirVonte Benson, who rushed 26 times for 124 yards and a score against Tennessee, rushed 11 times for 26 yards against Jacksonville State.
The Gamecocks, who have several players who have transferred from Power 5 conference schools, were keying the run even more than most Tech opponents.
That Johnson thought the Jackets were whipped perhaps shouldn't come as a surprise given that they'd played five days earlier -- in a night game -- and Jacksonville State was idle the previous weekend after defeating Chattanooga in its season opener.
"It looked like we were playing in sand," Johnson said. "A couple guys didn't look like they were playing very fast. Quite honestly, early on we were tip-toeing in there at B-back and not running through. I grabbed Jerry and there's one thing he will do; he'll run through . . .
"It think [the quick turnaround] probably affected the offensive line a little more because in the first game those guys played about the 97 plays. Even TaQuon looked a step [slow] and KirVonte was certainly nowhere close so he was affected; whatever it was."
Left guard Parker Braun verified the notion of fatigue.
"I definitely felt the effects of it. It is always hard to play Monday and then turn around and play on Saturday . . . " he said. "Me and our center [Kenny Cooper] played all 97 snaps Monday, but we just played through it."
With the cancellation of Saturday's game at UCF, where Orlando is recovering from the effects of Hurricane Irma, the Jackets will get to rest up before opening Atlantic Coast Conference play against Pitt on Sept. 23 in Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Surely, they hope to crank up their running game again, and it's good to know the passing game is shaping up although Johnson said, "No," when asked if Saturday's success might lead him to call more passing plays than usual.
"Jacksonville State - they were in press coverage the whole game . . . We had to match their aggressiveness," said Jeune, who fought off a JSU defender in the end zone for a 27-yard TD reception late in the first half and converted a 23-yard score early in the second half on third-and-long.
"On the first one, I beat the guy deep and then on the second one, I just dropped the guy - dropped him off - and just made a play. TaQuon made a great pass and I just finished it."