Jon Cooper | The Good Word
Ricky Jeune won't be getting a Christmas card from Essang Bassey this year.
The Demon Deacons' sophomore became the latest of a growing list of opposing cornerbacks forced to endure a fitful Saturday trying to get away from Jeune. The 6-2, 210-pound redshirt senior has become a human roadblock for defensive backs while paving the way to long Georgia Tech touchdowns.
How long was Saturday night for Wake's unlucky 21? Bassey came into the game with 26 tackles. That's 4.3 per game, an impressive figure for a cornerback. He finished the night with one stop against the Jackets.
Bassey might have approached that average were it not for Jeune. Georgia Tech's senior wide receiver registered Wake's fifth-leading tackler a spectator on three of the Yellow Jackets' four second-half touchdowns, either pushing him to the sideline or away from it on all three long scoring runs -- 49- and 70-yarders by TaQuon Marshall and a 42-yarder by Qua Searcy. Those touchdowns played an integral role in the Jackets turning a 21-13 halftime deficit into a convincing 38-24 victory.
"I think on [the] long runs, Ricky really did a nice job blocking," said head coach Paul Johnson.
"I had great blocking up front. The guys opened up some holes for me, Ricky made a great block out on the perimeter," said Marshall of his touchdown jaunts. "I just tried to make a play and get the game in our favor."
Having Jeune on their side -- and out front -- has been key all season in getting games in the Jackets' favor, never more so than on Saturday in the come-from-behind win over Wake. It's almost become a given that when a Jacket gets downfield, he's getting into the end zone, thanks to a block from Jeune.
"I consider myself a good blocker," he said. "Once they see me in front they know, `Alright, we're about to score a touchdown.'"
Jeune admitted that the crowd serves him with a tip-off that someone's coming.
"Definitely in home games, when I hear the crowd yelling I know, `He's behind me. I have to put some pressure on the cornerback,'" he said.
In Tech's offense, blocking is as much a part of the job description as catching the ball, although Jeune has shown he can handle that, too.
He has a team-leading 15 receptions -- three more than the rest of the team combined -- and is on his way to leading Georgia Tech in receiving for his third-straight season. With three catches against Wake, he has hauled in multiple passes in seven-straight games -- a streak that started in last December's TaxSlayer Bowl victory over Kentucky.
Against Wake Forest, he was a key weapon early in the game, as he caught passes for first downs on two of Georgia Tech's first three plays of the night. Then, in the second quarter, he and Marshall made a 25-yard connection on third-and-eight to extend what turned out to be a touchdown drive.
However, his main connection with Marshall has been as a blocker downfield and a conduit for the QB to gain more yards, and he's fine with that. He's come to learn that being the main receiver in the attack of the nation's second-leading ground game (372.8 ypg) requires patience and the commitment to staying ready for when the opportunity to catch a pass comes.
"I know my number's going to be called eventually. I didn't think it was going to be called that early in the game," Jeune said of his opening-drive receptions against Wake. MO< Jeune also got a tip to be ready for a bonus touch against the Demon Deacons -- on a reverse. It came with 8:44 left in the game and the Jackets up, 31-24. Running from the right side back to the left, Jeune took a pitch from Marshall, turned the corner, then hit the burners, taking it 30 yards to the Wake 30.
"During practice (Johnson) said we'd run the reverse at least one play because they chase a lot," Jeune said. "That was a good play call by Coach."
Tech wouldn't score on that drive, but it would the next time it got the ball, with Jeune playing a big part in the victory-clinching touchdown. On third-and-four at the GT 30, Marshall got to the right corner and blazed down the sideline. Eventually, he'd run past where Jeune and Bassey were engaged -- Bassey would try in vain at a diving tackle. Marshall's 70-yard TD run put the Jackets up 38-24, capping their rally from 11 points down late in the first half.
It was the kind of finish the Jackets have been looking for, especially after not finishing the previous week in a heartbreaking 25-24 defeat at Miami. They were determined not to let it happen again.
"At halftime, we were like, `We're down but we're going to keep playing hard,'" Jeune said. "It went in our favor. We finished this game. The last game was a tough loss and we didn't finish. We've [put] an emphasis on finishing games."
They'll look to build on the strong finish against Wake when they travel to No. 7 Clemson for another primetime affair. It's a big opportunity for the Jackets in front of a big national-television audience.
For Jeune, it's another opportunity to make an impact wherever he can ... and to expect to have his Christmas card list once again thinned by at least one.