Nov. 14, 2016
Jon Cooper | The Good Word – Lawrence Austin is often confused with his twin brother, Lance, who plays with him in the Georgia Tech defensive backfield.
After Saturday afternoon, he shouldn’t have that problem, at least whenever he goes to Blacksburg, Va. In fact, he should be a lot more recognizable all around ACC country after being named ACC Defensive Back of the Week on Monday.
Virginia Tech should certainly have no trouble telling the brothers apart. Lawrence made sure of that when he created three of the Yellow Jackets’ season-high four takeaways, with a pair of interceptions and a forced fumble in the 30-20 victory over the 18th-ranked Hokies at Lane Stadium.
So what was the key to pulling a fast one on the Hokies after appearing so vulnerable the past couple of weeks?
“I think our defensive players were probably tired of hearing how bad they were,” said Jackets head coach Paul Johnson, who recorded only Tech’s second win in the last seven meetings with the Hokies but the second-straight in Blacksburg. “I think that we played our best defense, especially early in the game. The kids played fast and got lined up. They just kind of played.”
“Just keeping the calls simple, sticking to two or three calls, just going out there and playing fast,” agreed Austin, who made four tackles (three solo) and had his first career multi-interception game. He now has three on the season and five for his career (he entered the season with two, one as a freshman, one as a sophomore.).
Austin’s first interception was a momentum-changer, as it came early in the second quarter with Georgia Tech up, 6-0, but the home team at the Jackets’ 25 after having just completed a 24-yard pass play. The junior DB, playing nickel, took advantage of an overthrown pass by Hokies QB Jerod Evans. Austin made a diving, over-the-shoulder catch in the back of the end zone for a touchback. The first person there to celebrate with him was brother, Lance, who was covering Hokies receiver Bucky Hodges on the play.
Austin struck again early in the third quarter, once again deep in Tech territory, this time with the Jackets up, 20-7.
On third and three at the GT 35, Evans and fired over the middle, looking to hit wide receiver C.J. Carroll. But Carroll cut his pattern short after running into Tech middle linebacker Brant Mitchell and the pass went straight into Austin’s arms.
It was the second interception of the game for Austin, who recorded the Jackets’ first multiple-interception game since Oct. 29, 2011, when Jemea Thomas had two in a 31-17 win at No. 6 Clemson. The two interceptions doubled Evans’ season total, as he had thrown only two all year coming into the game and hadn’t thrown one in 124-consecutive passes, a streak dating back to the fourth quarter of a loss at Syracuse back on Oct. 15.
“He’s a great quarterback, but the d-line and linebackers – in the secondary, we’re just playing off those guys,” said Austin. “Those guys had him fidgeting the whole game. I’m just very proud of the d-line and linebackers.”
There was a lot to be proud of, as the Jackets had five quarterback sacks and four more hits on Evans. They gave Virginia Tech’s offense fits all day. Even though the final numbers showed the Hokies scored 20 points and finished 6-for-14 on third down, much of it was cosmetic, as two of the touchdowns came in the final seven minutes and two of their four third-down conversions and their lone fourth-down conversion came late in the final period, all with the game in hand for GT.
Lawrence did his part to make sure the game turned into a blowout, completing his turnover hat-trick in the fourth quarter, this time following an Evans completion. With the Jackets up, 23-7, Hodges caught a pass on the left side and dragged Lance Austin for about five yards and passed the first-down marker. But as he was about to go down, Lawrence came in and punched the ball out. Lance, who also had two pass-breakups, recovered the ball (and a piece of Hodges’ towel). After a lengthy review, the call was confirmed. Tech had its fourth turnover of the game and Lawrence had his first forced fumble of the year and his second in his career — the other also coming at Lane Stadium, on Sept. 20, 2014, in the Jackets’ 24-20 win. The fumble recovery was the first of Lance’s career.
“It’s a great feeling just being able to just play well, me and him, anybody on the field,” said Lawrence of the fumble recovery. “I celebrate all the other 10 guys like my brothers, as well, so I celebrate with them just like I celebrate with my twin brother.”
The Jackets would cash in on the fumble two plays later when Marcus Marshall burst through for a 56-yard score that gave Tech a commanding 30-7 lead. The Marshall TD also gave Tech 17 points off turnovers for the afternoon — three more than they had all season prior to Saturday’s breakout performance.
All in all, it was nice for the defense to put the memory of their recent bad stretch behind them, especially from the Nov. 5 loss at North Carolina.
“It was just an embarrassing feeling, knowing that the defense didn’t help out the offense last week,” Austin said of the 48-20 defeat at UNC. “We put on a horrible showing. It just drove a fire inside ourselves. Mostly, we just wanted to help the offense out as much as we could.”
Best of all, the Jackets helped extend their season, as the win over the Hokies was their sixth, making them bowl eligible.
“It’s good,” said Johnson of returning to the postseason for the eighth time in his nine seasons ast Georgia Tech’s head coach. “I told our kids after the game that 6-6 is not what we are after. We have a chance this week (against Virginia) to get to seven, and then we will have a chance after that to get one more. Once we were out of the conference race, I challenged our team to try and win nine games. If you go back and look at the last 50 years, it hasn’t been done a lot. Our goal is to try and do that.”