#TGW: Second-Half Defense Key in Jackets' Homecoming Win

Oct. 22, 2017

Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word

Victor Alexander and the Yellow Jackets didn’t think that Georgia Tech defenders were going to have to slow down to get the job done. But on Saturday night at Bobby Dodd Stadium, they made for a happy homecoming only after mastering a game of hurry-up-and-wait in a 38-24 win.

Boy, oh boy, did the Jackets tighten the screws in the second half.

Yet that first half was maddening as Tech defenders scattered all over the place. The Demon Deacons went three-and-out to start but then coupled together three-consecutive touchdown drives on the way to a 21-13 halftime lead.

“We couldn’t get lined up,” said head coach Paul Johnson. “We had a couple guys out but that’s no excuse. In the second half, we did a little better getting lined up.”

The Jackets (4-2, 3-1 ACC) also did a better job in the second half of calibrating.

Wake (4-3, 1-3) likes to run plays in a hurry, which might lead one to believe that they run a lot of them. Yet the Deacons led 21-13 at halftime after running 26 plays to Tech’s 43.

How’d that happen?

The Demon Deacons did more with their plays and they did that by driving the Jackets a bit batty in the first half with their formation shifts and motion.

Plus, sophomore running back Cade Carney was canny — almost Le’Veon Bell-like — in his ability to take a handoff and dance around with moderate urgency as his blockers and the Jackets bunched before him, then pop out from behind or through the scrum on the way to 70 first-half rushing yards on 10 carries.

Tech defenders kept slamming into the point of attack and when Carney wasn’t there to be tackled, he’d bounce outside for yardage.

Alexander and his teammates put brakes on themselves and the Deacons in the second half. Carney mustered 22 yards on nine carries and the Deacons averaged 1.1 yards on 16 rushes after halftime. In the first half, it was 6.2 on 15.

You hear and read all the time about defenders “flying to the ball,” but that was killing the Jackets in the first half. In the second half, not so much.

“I felt like I had to kind of slow it down a little bit because I was kind of fast,” Alexander said after registering a team-high-tying six tackles. “I had to slow it down and really read my keys. We were just playing it too fast. Once we collected ourselves, we did good.”

Yes, they did. While Tech’s offense picked up steam, Alexander and his pals were on point even without starting linebacker Brant Mitchell, who was injured a week earlier at Miami.

That changed Vic’s job.

“Usually Brant is the vocal one but with those [young] guys coming in, I had to take his role over and make sure we played as a unit,” Alexander said. “It really wasn’t difficult to tell them to slide over a little bit.”

With Mitchell out, fourth-year junior Tre’ Jackson made his first-career start at linebacker. He split time with freshman Bruce Jordan-Swilling, the son of Georgia Tech legend Pat Swilling.

Jordan-Swilling had three tackles — including a crucial stop on fourth-and-one with the Jackets clinging to a seven-point lead late in the fourth quarter — and Jackson had one.

Mitchell was in the mix, too, albeit from a sideline role.

“I look at Brant as an older brother,” Jordan-Swilling said. “If I’m doing wrong, he’s going to correct me. I’m alright with that. I’m not going to be like a little kid and talk back. I’m going to take corrections.”

This game featured oddities.

No half other than the first could better demonstrate how the time-of-possession statistic can be overvalued without being paired with other metrics, like scoring touchdowns at the end of long possessions.

Tech held the ball for 11:35 in the first quarter but because the Jackets fizzled at close range and settled for a field goal at the end of a 15-play drive, they trailed 7-3 at the end of the opening period.

Big plays are just as good as time of possession if they end up as touchdowns and the Jackets enjoyed them in the second half, when quarterback TaQuon Marshall scored on touchdown runs of 49 and 70 yards and A-back Qua Searcy added a 42-yarder.

The Jackets outscored the Deacons 25-3 in the second half, even as their advantage in time of possession shrank.

Many of the primary differences after halftime came down to defense, where Tech:

  • limited Wake to 1-of-7 third down conversions (vs. 3-of-4 in the first half);
  • cut Wake’s average gain from 6.3 to 5.7 yards per snap;
  • stopped the Deacons on all four fourth-down tries.

The first of those four fourth-down stops may have been the most important.

Marshall scored on a 49-yard run on the Jackets’ first play of the second half to pull the Jackets within 21-19 and after the teams traded possessions, Wake extended the lead to 24-19 with a field goal.

The Deacons’ answer prompted another by the Jackets, as Searcy went 42 yards on a toss around right end to give the Yellow Jackets a 25-24 lead.

Wake looked poised to answer yet again when senior quarterback John Wolford completed an 18-yard pass to wide receiver Tarbari Hines on first down of the ensuing series.

Fourth-and-4 came from the Georgia Tech 34, though, and the Deacons were trapped in that netherworld where they were too far out for head coach Dave Clawson to feel comfortable about trying a field goal and too close to try a punt that might go into the end zone. So Wake went for it.

And Alexander blitzed from the Deacons’ left side to sack Wolford, snuffing out the Demon Deacons’ last true opportunity to retake the lead.

It sure helped that the Tech offense did not turn the ball over for the second game in a row — pushing that streak to nine-plus quarters — yet the defense buckled down to do more than its fair share.

“Coach [Ted] Roof called the right blitz at the right time,” Alexander said. “We had to make a big play and it was my time to shine.”

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