The Georgia Tech defense continued to flex its muscle Saturday, and the offense showed it has both long-drive and quick-strike potential.
The result was a 33-7 win over North Carolina, emphatically ending the Yellow Jackets’ three-game losing streak to the Tar Heels and setting up a showdown with Miami in two weeks to determine the pecking order in the ACC Coastal Division.
The Georgia Tech defense limited North Carolina to 106 yards. The Yellow Jackets allowed the Tar Heels to convert only 2-of-12 third downs. The Yellow Jackets came up with a pair of interceptions, two sacks and three tackles for loss.
The Georgia Tech offense followed the old-fashioned Paul Johnson method twice in the first half. An 18-play drive consumed 8:54 and led to a TaQuon Marshall 5-yard touchdown run. A 17-play drive ate up 7:37 and led to a 21-yard Shawn Davis field goal.
The Yellow Jackets also scored on big plays, the biggest a 63-yard run from KirVonte Benson.
The total offense for Georgia Tech was 456 yards, including 403 on the ground. The Yellow Jackets have rushed for 400 yards in three of their four games.
Four who mattered
Marshall: The junior carried 27 times for 137 yards and one touchdown. This season he has rushed for 523 yards and nine touchdowns. Marshall also completed 5-of-10 passes for 53 yards and one touchdown, his fourth of the year.
Benson: The sophomore rushed 18 times for 130 yards and one touchdown. Benson has run for 476 yards and scored four times this season.
Georgia Tech free safety A.J. Gray: The junior from Washington County probably had his best game of the season. He intercepted two passes, had four tackles and made a couple of nice open-field tackles.
Georgia Tech defensive end Antonio Simmons: The senior picked up one sack, one tackle for loss and was credited with another hurry. Simmons leads the team with three sacks and has four tackles for loss.
Marshall is the right guy at quarterback: He runs the offense well and is perpetually trying to keep the other players motivated. Marshall can improve as a passer — he missed two open receivers Saturday — and his health may be at stake if he tries to run it 27 times against Clemson or Virginia Tech.
The long way still works: The 18- and 17-play scoring drives by Georgia Tech in the first half marked the first time that the Yellow Jackets have had two such lengthy drives in the same game. Georgia Tech kept the ball for 38:35, slightly more than its average time of possession of 36 minutes.
Need more Jerry Howard: With Benson running with such effectiveness, it has been hard to get Howard on the field. The freshman has looked good when given a chance; he rushed five times for 34 yards, including a 14-yarder that he almost broke for a score.
Short-handed offensive line: The Yellow Jackets began the day with only six able-bodied offensive linemen. That number was cut to five when Shamire Devine suffered an upper body injury in the third quarter and did not return. As a result, freshman Connor Hansen was thrust into the rotation.
Not a kicking controversy: Johnson allowed Brenton King and walk-on Bennett Barton to kick in the second half — King, a scholarship player, to get some game experience, and Barton as a reward. Shawn Davis, who made two extra points and a 21-yard field goal, remains the starting place-kicker.
Non-essential items of interest: Georgia Tech wore all white Saturday, including helmets. … Game captains were defensive back Step Durham, linebacker Shaun Kagawa and receiver Antonio Messick. … Daryl Smith, who played at Georgia Tech from 2000-03, was the honorary captain.
They said it
Johnson on the overall game: “I thought for the most part our defense played really well again and on offense made enough plays. I guess if you can do that, you usually win most of the games.”
Johnson on the effect of Gray’s interception and Benson’s touchdown: “It was huge for A.J. to come back and get a pick, and the next play we scored to go up 17. At that point I felt that 17 was a pretty good lead.”
Gray on his progress this season: “I can play looser because I know all of the plays. I know my job and that allows me to play fast and do things.”
North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora on the inability get its defense off the field: “The defense played 44 snaps in the first half, so there was no doubt they were going to end up wearing down. You can’t have them out there for 76 snaps against that offense and expect them not to be worn down at the end of the game.”
Georgia Tech is off next week. The Yellow Jackets play at Miami in Oct. 14.