Jon Cooper | The Good Word
Conventional wisdom states, "When opportunity knocks you need to be ready to open the door."
In the second quarter last Saturday afternoon against No. 17 Virginia Tech, opportunity knocked. KeShun Freeman and Georgia Tech's special teams proved ready and opened the door, although they did so in a rather unconventional manner.
Facing fourth and one at its own 46, holding a 7-3 lead, and after trying to draw the Hokies offside then calling timeout, Georgia Tech sent its punt team out. If ever there was a perfect opportunity to pin the Hokies deep, this was it -- especially with prodigious freshman Pressley Harvin III ready to punt.
But instead of Harvin getting snapped the ball and putting down a coffin-corner punt, the Jackets ran a fake that ultimately helped put a nail in the Hokies' coffin.
Long snapper Casey Wilson snapped the ball to Freeman, who was set up eight yards deep as the left man of a three-man wall charged with protecting Harvin. The 6-2, 242-pound senior defensive end ran left, following fellow defensive linemen Tyler Merriweather and Antwan Owens. Using a crushing block from Merriweather and interference from Owens, he ran over a Hokie tackler at the original line of scrimmage and gained three yards.
Georgia Tech's possession was prolonged and, six plays later, TaQuon Marshall scored on a one-yard, straight-ahead touchdown plunge to give the Jackets seven points they would need in what turned out to be a 28-22 victory.
"That's something we carry every week. They left their defense out there," said Johnson. "It's just a numbers thing. It's a count. We almost dropped the dang snap, but [Freeman] caught it and we got enough."
While the Jackets have practiced the play all season, it wasn't until the last minute Freeman chose to make it a go.
"When we went on the field, there was still a chance that we weren't going to run the play because I noticed that their defense was on the field," said Freeman. "They started shifting and everything and I saw the perfect opportunity to call it, even though the defense was on the field.
"It was my call to make," he added, "We had two plays set up so it could have been a punt or it could have been the fake. When Coach [Lamar] Owens first said, `Okay, guys, this is what we're going to do,' I knew this might be the fake. I think all the guys on the field were surprised."
That was indeed the case.
"I kind of told the whole team that we probably weren't going to run it, so everyone was ready to do the planned play," he said. "When I did decide to do the fake, the illusion kind of threw the defense off and they weren't ready for it when it came.
"Casey was like, `Dude, I didn't mean to snap it so hard. I just was shocked that you actually said it,'" Freeman added, with a laugh. "We practice this all the time. The ball came so hard in the game. I had a few nerves but I was ready for it."
The surprise extended to the sidelines.
"My first thought was `What is he doing with the ball in his hands?'" said defensive tackle Desmond Branch, with a big laugh. "Of course, we work on fakes every week but it's crazy seeing your buddy out here actually running the ball and trying to get a first down. That's really cool because that was a huge play for us. It surprised everybody on the sideline. I was like, `Man, they're going to punt the ball. Oh, they got a first! Oh, it was KeShun!' It was really exciting. You just don't run a fake that often. So when it does happen and it's successful, you just get really excited. When your buddy's doing it, that just makes it more exciting."
"It was big," said Marshall. "I've never really seen KeShun run the ball, but, hey, you've got to do what you've got to do to get the first down and he did that. It definitely changed momentum."
Freeman's first first down since he was a senior tight end at Callaway High School proved inspiring to many.
"My little brothers, Jacob and Michael, they always get on my case about sports, they were even saying, `Man, to see you do that was something awesome. We're proud of you,'" he said.
It even inspired those around him -- especially Branch, who plays right next to him.
"I've always wanted to be a ball-carrier," said the 6-3, 277-pounder, who admitted he last carried the ball in Pop Warner because `"I was bigger than everybody else."
"Of course, I think I could hold the rock but the coaches don't see it that way, so I guess I'll just have to stick with being a defensive lineman," Branch continued.
Heading into the season's final two games and, ideally, a bowl game, the question for Freeman becomes: After having outgaining Marshall in yards per carry against a top-20 team (3.0 to 2.9), when does he get the ball again?
"I know a lot of people are asking me, `Oh, are you going to be a B-Back now?'" he said with a laugh. "I'm still a defensive end -- unless Coach Johnson says, `Hey, KeShun, come on down.'
"It's been a long time, but it felt good (carrying the ball)," he added. "We'll be ready to do it again. But until then, we'll just see."