Oct. 19, 2013
By Jon Cooper
It’s never too early for a game-changing play to occur and in a 56-0 game chances are it would come pretty early.
Such was the case on Saturday afternoon and it came barely four minutes into the game.
With Syracuse punting on a fourth-and-14 at its own 46, redshirt sophomore Chris Milton got a great jump around left end off the snap, broke in uncontested, closed in on Syracuse punter Riley Dixon, and took off horizontally, arms extended.
“Coach [Dave] Walk[osky] has been telling us all week if you do the right techniques it’s going to be there and that’s what happened,” Milton said. “I just tried to do the right technique and it was there. It’s just things we practice all week during practice, get off, beat your man and trusting that it’s going to be there.”
The next thing heard was the double-thump, the sound of ball meeting foot, then almost immediately making contact with something else solid, usually a hand. It’s the sweetest sound that can be heard on a punt or most horrific, depending upon which side of the play your punter is on.
In this case, it was sweet for Georgia Tech, as that second thump was the sound of the ball making contact with Milton’s hand.
The ball rolled off toward the Syracuse sideline. Georgia Tech wide receiver Corey Dennis surrounded the oddly rolling pigskin, as if trying to corral an actual pig, with nothing but green grass ahead of him but couldn’t pick the ball up cleanly. He could only bat it forward. Syracuse guard Rob Trudo fell on the ball at the Orange 24, but because the ball was recovered behind the line, Tech retained possession.
Four plays later A-Back Synjyn Days took a pitch from quarterback Vad Lee and glided into the left corner of the North end zone from four yards out putting Georgia Tech was up 7-0. They would never be headed.
Even in a game as lopsided as Saturday’s would become, the block by Milton was big. The timing made it especially big, as it swung momentum back Tech’s way, following what could have been a deflating interception at the six-yard line on a pass thrown by wide receiver DeAndre Smelter on a reverse that he tried to force in to Darren Waller
“It was huge,” said Head Coach Paul Johnson. “I’ve coached for a long time and I could count on one hand the games I’ve lost when we block a kick. It’s such a momentum-changer. We got a short field. We didn’t really have to have a long drive. We’d gotten great field position. “
Milton wasn’t thinking about anything more than getting to the kicker.
“I was just hoping that I was going to be free because I heard one of the dudes was saying he was going to block me,” he said. “So I was thinking I might not get it. Then I came back and it was there. I was just trying to make a play for my team. That’s all it was.”
That’s all Milton does, even though he’s been slowed by a tight hamstring — although he wasn’t on that play.
Making big plays, on special teams has become the norm for Milton, even if it’s not for opponents. The block against Syracuse was the first against the Orange in 45 games, dating back to 2009.
It was Tech’s third of the season, the most of any team in the nation. Milton has all of them and thus has blocked more punts than any TEAM in the nation.
“I didn’t know that,” he said modestly and laughed. “I just go out there and help my team win. That’s all. “
His teammates know what Milton can deliver and have come to expect it from him.
“It’s definitely a big threat for the defense and to have that guy on your side is definitely a good feeling,” said linebacker Quayshawn Nealy, who made a spectacular airborne interception, batted down another pass and had a fumble recovery. “He has been doing excellent on special teams and he gives a great effort.”
“We always trust Chris Milton to make a play and he always does on special teams,” said Lee. “We always know that he just has unbelievable speed and unbelievable talent and he just has a knack for special teams.”
In addition to crediting Walkosky, Milton admits he’s often overlooked because of his size.
“Usually when there are a bunch of other guys the back wedge usually goes for the bigger guys before they go for me,” he said, with a laugh. “Guys like Brandon [Watts], he’s always there, too. If I don’t block it he’d probably be the guy to block it because he’s right there and they usually are blocking him and not blocking me.”
Even when he is getting blocked Milton is coming close, as he almost got a second block late in the second quarter.
“That was one I thought I almost had, too, but the dude in the front kind of blocked me,” he said.
Guess not even Milton can’t get `em all, but Milton he’ll keep trying.
“I try to block a kick every time I can,” he said. “Sometimes I get blocked, sometimes I don’t. I just have to be ready for when the play comes that I don’t get blocked. Just be ready to block it.”
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