April 24, 2016
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
Georgia Tech Football’s annual Spring Game is supposed to be a hard-fought match-up between the White and Gold Teams, with the winner taking home bragging rights and players looking to make a memorable final impression before summer workouts and fall practice.
The 2016 game saw all of that. For the record, White took care of business, scoring 13 first-half points and holding off Gold, 13-3.
Head Coach Paul Johnson didn’t see things so black and white (or Gold and White for that matter) but he clearly saw a winner — in addition to the fans, who got to enjoy a beautiful sunny day.
“It was pretty much a defensive struggle. Couldn’t score many points,” said Johnson. ”I was a little surprised the way it went but not once I saw the energy in the huddle. It was kind of ‘Let’s get through.’
“It’s hard to get a grasp on it,” he added. “This team, especially. When it starts going good for one it just goes. The same thing. They have to learn to fight back a little better.”
In a fitting finish to a spring that saw the offense and the defense alternate in controlling scrimmages, Johnson felt the defense won easily on Saturday. The bigger issue was how easily was, which troubled him.
“The offense really didn’t act like they wanted to be out there,” said Johnson. “That’s the way they played, too. So that’s disappointing.
“You had guys that have played that repeatedly busted plays,” he added. “That’s the thing that’s disappointing. The whole group. There wasn’t a whole lot of energy in that group. The quarterback’s got to bring the energy. There wasn’t any.”
“The Quarterback,” aka Justin Thomas, who wore a black jersey and was not to be hit during the game, wasn’t as harsh with the energy level but didn’t completely dismiss Johnson’s claim.
“There was some energy there wasn’t some energy at times,” said Thomas, who ran for a game-high 79 yards — including an electrifying 76-yard run in the first quarter on White’s second drive, to set up a 27-yard Harrison Butker field goal that made it 6-0 and proved to be the game-winning points. “It kind of gets to a point at the end of the spring you have to find that energy. We had a few good drives. We just have to stay more consistent.”
That Thomas could not be touched may have played a part in the 76-yard run but also contributed to several shorter runs.
“It’s six of one, half a dozen of the other,” said Johnson. “You try to blow the whistle when you think that you can tackle him. That makes it easy for them, too. He’s a lot easier to one-hand touch than he is to tackle sometimes.”
While the one-hand-touch rule, may have slowed Thomas the defense took care of the rest. Gold averaged 3.1 yards per rush, White 4.9, the teams combined to hit 41.2 percent of their throws (12 of 29 total, each with an interception), with each side completeing six passes. The 12 combined completions equalled than the number of punts by Gold’s redshirt senior Ryan Rodwell (five for 200 yards, 40.0 per attempt) and White’s redshirt sophomore Grant Aasen (seven for 306 yards, 43.7 per attempt). The defense was aggressive all game long. White junior corner Step Durham delivered several big hits, but maybe the biggest of the game came in the fourth, by White redshirt freshman DB Christian Campbell, who drilled redshirt freshman A-Back Omarhi Jarrett.
“Christian’s a tough kid,” said Johnson. “He’s definitely not afraid of contact.”
Energy wasn’t an issue for either defense according to junior DE KeShun Freeman, who had two tackles, half a sack and 1.5 tackles for loss.
“I think we had a lot of energy. At times our energy got a little low but besides that I think everyone had good energy,” said Freeman. “Everyone had a mindset to work together and make plays. I feel like we did a pretty good job.”
Freeman was especially proud of the job that redshirt freshman Brentavious Glanton did on White’s defensive line. Glanton was the game’s leading tackler with 10 stops (seven solo), with a sack and 1.5 TFLs.
“Brentavious Glanton always goes hard, he always works hard. He’s definitely a great athlete,” said Freeman. “What you saw today was no different than what we know he is.”
Johnson did find positives, especially in the play of Gold’s sophomore QB TaQuon Marshall, who led White with 58 rushing yards, with a long of 20, but was 0-for-3 with a pick (“He’s got ability and he’s had a decent spring. He didn’t have one of his better performances today but he’s got ability.”) and freshman B-Back Dedrick Mills, who went for 47 yards on 11 carries for Gold.
“I thought he did some okay things,” said Johnson.
But even in that positive, he found overriding concern with the offensive line.
“I think Dedrick Mills is going to be a good player if he can get some help,” said Johnson. “He’s got to get somebody to at least get in the way in front of him.”
“I don’t know. There’s not anybody else to move,” he said. “You like to get some of the guys that were out back to start with. Then we’ve got to take a look and see with the freshmen.”
On the whole, though, Johnson has a lot of good things to assess as he breaks down tape of the Spring Game and the entire spring.
“I think all-in-all we’ve had a decent spring,” he said. “We’ve been able to move some guys around and do some different things. We’ve got a ton of work to do in the summer and the off-season.”
Thomas is confident his unit will work hard and get things right.
“I think in the fall we’ll have more of a stable set, he said. “We’ll have an idea where we want everybody and how the rotations and everything are going to be. So once we get that foundation we just have to move forward from there.”
Freeman feels the defense is already close to being there.
“I think we’ve taken some great strides towards being the defense that we want to be,” he said. “We’re definitely not there yet but everyone is doing really well.”