By Jon Cooper
There wasn’t a lot of fanfare surrounding Georgia Tech’s 59-3 win over Presbyterian on Saturday night.
The game didn’t even make the crawl across the bottom of the screen on any of the networks televising college football games until well after it went final.
That the blowout didn’t draw much buzz outside of Atlanta wasn’t a big deal. That’s not what the game was about. Head Coach Paul Johnson said as much in anticipation of it on Wednesday in his weekly press conference, when he said, “Saturday night’s about Georgia Tech.”
Saturday night was a game the Yellow Jackets should have won and probably by the amount that they did. It was not a game the team puffed its chests out in pride after as much as one that allowed the players to clear their heads and regain their footing following the tough overtime loss at Virginia Tech in the season opener only five days earlier.
“Anytime you can win it’s a positive,” said Johnson, who recorded his 141st victory in his 200th game as a head coach. “Certainly, the kids from Presbyterian played hard and they never gave up. They tried hard, but they were a little bit overmatched. We’ll take it, watch the tape, learn from it and move on.
“I thought some of the young kids played well,” he added. “We had a lot of freshmen playing. It was good to have a game where you can get those guys out there and hopefully next time they go out there, they won’t be as wide eyed and doing some silly stuff at times. I think offensively we got pretty much everybody in there. Defensively, we got a lot of guys in there. We might have got a guy or two who didn’t play, but not very many. So that’s a positive. That’s good for morale.”
Morale should have been good, as the Jackets rolled up 712 yards off offense, second-most in a game (they had 768 last year against Kansas). A lot of it came from kids.
Amongst the young kids were redshirt freshman quarterback Vad Lee, who overcame some early jitters — understandable in his first appearance in a college game — and put up some electrifying numbers — he rushed for 106 yards, including a 79-yard run (the longest non-scoring run in school history), and saw his lone completion in three attempts, to sophomore wideout Jeff Greene, go for an 82-yard touchdown, the sixth-longest scoring play in school history. (See Matt Winkeljohn’s story in Sunday’s Sting Daily for more on Lee.)
Continuing to play well was sophomore B-Back Zach Laskey, who, in his first career start, rushed for a game-high 116 yards on 12 attempts (9.7 yards per carry) and took his first carry of the game on Tech’s third play, 56 yards for his first collegiate touchdown.
“It’s pretty special. I knew coming into the game I had a chance to make some big plays,” said Laskey, who came into the game with 28 career rushing yards, all on Monday. “The O-line stepped up and did everything right and executed well. It’s pretty special. I’ll always remember that.”
The game was memorable for a bunch of player firsts. On the day, eight different Jackets ran to pay dirt, six of them — Lee, Laskey, Greene, redshirt junior A-Back Robert Godhigh, redshirt freshman A-Back Broderick Snoddy and redshirt sophomore B-Back Matt Connors — did so for the first time. Junior WR Jeremy Moore also had his first career reception.
Lee and Laskey each ran for over 100 yards, while Tevin Washington just missed, with 97.
Tech also hit on big plays, with four pass plays going for at least 40 yards and four running plays over 20 yards, including runs of 39 (by Tony Zenon), 56 (by Laskey) and 78 yards (by Lee), a defining characteristic of the ’11 team in jumping out to its 6-0 start.
Just about everybody got into the act, or, at very least, saw the field, which was important.
“We got a chance to look at a lot of guys,” said Johnson. “We went about four deep at most every position. We played our freshmen receivers a lot. A couple of times we got lost, but until you play you don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s the same on defense. We got some of the young defensive backs in. I thought Chris Milton made some really nice plays coverage-wise. It was good to get a lot of guys in there.”
Tevin Washington was solid, running and throwing the ball, completing 7 of 10 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown, without an interception, while rushing for 97 yards (a three-yard sack cost him a 100-yard rushing day).
Defensively, the Jackets held Presbyterian to 145 rushing yards and 98 passing, while allowing only 10 first downs (four rushing, five passing, one by penalty). They forced two fumbles, recovering both, had an interception and nearly put up a shutout.
The Blue Hose, only five years in Division I and only a month into being recognized as full D-I members, finally got their first points in four games against Tech, a 30-yard field goal with five seconds left. It was disappointing to lose the shutout, but was something the unit can live with.
“We really wanted to shut them out,” said senior defensive end Izaan Cross, who recovered a Lance Byrd fumble at the Georgia Tech 6 late in the third quarter, to keep the Blue Hose scoreless. “We were very motivated and we didn’t want them to score at all.”
Johnson wasn’t exactly satisfied with several aspects of his team’s play — Tech fumbled four times, losing three of them (one of them returned 91 yards, the longest ever for a Tech opponent), and there were a couple of high snaps that Tech QB’s salvaged with their athleticism.
But he was willing to let those things slide — at least until the team watches film and gets back to practice on Monday.
The team needed Saturday night. It allowed them to leave Bobby Dodd Stadium with confidence and a feeling that they’re back in control of their season. It was a complete 180 from what the feeling leaving Lane Stadium early Tuesday morning.
That’s an important mindset to own with emotional games against Coastal Division rivals Virginia and Miami coming up over the next two weeks.
“I think there were a lot of positives,” Johnson said. “I don’t care who you play, if you get those big plays you are doing some things right. Defensively, we tipped a lot of passes and got in the throwing lanes. I think that when you look at the tape there are going to be some guys who made some good plays like always. Are there going to be things we need to clean up? Sure, there are in every game. The guys who haven’t played as much will feel a little more comfortable the next time they go out there. You take it and build on it.”