Evaluating Georgia Tech’s 35-17 win over Pittsburgh Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Behind strong interior line play, the Yellow Jackets hammered out 436 yards on 67 carries, scoring five times on the ground. Guards Parker Braun, Shamire Devine and Will Bryan (the latter two of whom rotated) and center Kenny Cooper were effective at creating a surge at the line to give quarterback TaQuon Marshall and B-back KirVonte Benson room up the middle.
Marshall shined carrying the ball, turning on the jets on a 32-yard scoring run in the first quarter and then slipping a defender in the second quarter with a spin move on an 18-yard run in the second. He had 112 yards on 18 carries with two scores.
Benson finished with 196 yards on 29 carries, including a 47-yard score. His 196 yards were the most by a B-back in coach Paul Johnson’s tenure.
However, Tech lost four fumbles on run plays – an option pitch from Marshall to Benson, a carry by B-back Jerry Howard, a poorly executed mesh between Marshall and B-back Quaide Weimerskirch and a fumble by Benson near the Pitt goal line – a hefty burden to overcome. On a day when the offense was otherwise moving the ball, they cost points.
Marshall had limited opportunities and was off, on one throw just missing A-back Qua Searcy on what could have been a long gainer. He was 4-for-7 for 48 yards. Johnson evidently decided the game could be won on the ground. Only one pass was attempted after halftime against 28 runs.
The Jackets were the better of Pitt on the ground, turning in one of the better run-defense efforts in recent memory. Tech strung out runs to the perimeter, got off blocks and brought down the Panthers behind the line of scrimmage. Defensive end KeShun Freeman and safety A.J. Gray were among those making big plays to keep the Panthers in check.
After a poor effort against Tennessee (22 rushes, 148 yards) and an OK one against Jacksonville State (38 rushes, 116 yards), the Jackets were dominant against a Pitt team that, to be fair, hasn’t shown much in the run game.
Pitt finished with 20 carries for 37 yards.
The story of Tech’s recent struggles in defending the pass is not a short one, but the Jackets made the difference here. Pitt was 1-for-13 on third downs, a most commendable showing by Tech, which was at the bottom of FBS in third-down efficiency last season. The Jackets’ capability to get off the field on third down helped wipe away the effects of the Jackets’ four lost fumbles. None of them turned into points, thanks in part to a missed Pitt field goal.
Quarterback Ben DiNucci was 12-for-19, but threw for just 110 yards, evidence of Tech’s excellent tackling in space to keep receivers short of the first-down marker.
Defensive end Antonio Simmons had two sacks and missed chances at a couple more.
The Jackets were burned by All-America returner Quadree Henderson, who evaded two tackles and took a second-quarter punt 80 yards for a touchdown, the first non-blocked punt return score Tech has given up since 2000. Kicker Shawn Davis made all five of his extra-point tries and did not attempt any field goals. He didn’t put any kickoffs in the end zone, but Tech kept all five returns inside the Pitt 33-yard line. The return teams handled their jobs in limited chances but were not extraordinary.