Oct. 18, 2015
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
Marcus Marshall returned to form Saturday, and Georgia Tech looked more like itself offensively for the first time in more than a month.
The Yellow Jackets fell 31-28 to Pitt in Bobby Dodd Stadium, even though they averaged 9.4 yards per run and racked up 404 yards of rushing offense against a defense ranked No. 6 nationally against the run. The Panthers were allowing just 84.8 yards per game.
Marshall tipped Tech’s plow.
The B-back rushed 10 times for 159 yards – more than Pitt had surrendered to any team in a game – and scored twice to remind fans of the freshman who broke onto the scene with eight carries for 184 yards and two touchdowns in the season opener against Alcorn State.
Marshall started for the first time at B-back, and graduate student Patrick Skov came off the bench to carry four times for 8 yards and a score.
The really big run was sorely missed over the previous four games, where Tech had just one rushing play for 25 or more yards (Broderick Snoddy, for 48 yards at Notre Dame), and Marshall wasted little time bringing that back.
On Tech’s third offensive play, he popped out wide right and went 58 yards for a touchdown to help even the score, 7-7.
He ripped off another 58-yarder in the third quarter to set up Tech’s final score.
“I think Marcus Marshall is a little more athletic,” head coach Paul Johnson said after Marshall turned in Tech’s second 100-yard or better individual performance of the season. “Patrick Skov is a really rough, hard-nosed kid. He’s going to get you some hard runs, and Marcus is probably going to get you some big runs.”
Marshall has one issue with the ball in his hands. He fumbles now and then. He recovered his only mistake Saturday, yet that foible and his short acumen as a blocker for a while limited his playing time.
After Alcorn State, he carried 23 times for 96 yards and no scores over the next five games – four in his case because he didn’t play against North Carolina.
He got the start Saturday in part because Johnson is hunting the big play, particularly on the ground.
In the previous four games, Tech had 11 plays go for 25 or more yards. Eight were passes and two were kickoff returns. That pass-run ratio does not work well for the Jackets, who run the ball so much more often than they pass.
Saturday, the Jackets went for 25 or more six times, and four were run plays – two by Marshall and two by quarterback Justin Thomas. Two more were passes.
“I found out today (about starting), pre-game, and I was excited but it wasn’t something we talked about all week,” he said. “Usually, we just go about rotating.”
Marshall also added his second collegiate reception, a 9-yarder in the fourth quarter, and the 5-foot-10, 209-pound Raleigh native may see the field more.
“I think just being a freshman, and blocking, and ball security and some of that [limited his previous playing time],” Johnson said. “He’s got ability, and we think he’s going to be a really good player. He’s played, what, five games? But you can see he’s got good feet, and we think he’s got a chance to be good.”
For as effective as Tech was offensively, the Jackets did not string it together.
They rushed for 264 yards in the first half, when their four drives resulted in 337 yards of total offense, three touchdowns, Thomas’ lost fumble, and a blocked field goal attempt. But Tech clicked on just one second-half drive.
In the first two quarters, the Jackets totaled 10 rushing plays of 10 or more yards, and two passing plays for 15 or more. In the final two periods, they had three 10+ rushing plays and one 15+ passing play.
Tech managed 145 yards and one touchdown on 26 second-half plays, averaging 5.6 yards a pop.
The Jackets (2-5, 0-4 ACC) converted 3-of-4 third downs in the first half, and 2-of-7 after that as the Panthers (5-1, 3-0) brought more pressure as the game wore on almost regardless of down and distance.
“We came out and made some adjustments at halftime and got after them a little bit,” said first-year Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi. “But they still gave up some big plays.”
When Tech succeeded after intermission, Marshall started off a five-play, 75-yard drive with his second 58-yarder, and finished it with a 7-yard scoring run to pull the Jackets even, 28-28 with 13:35 left in the game.
So, on the plus side after averaging 8.8 yards per play against the No. 7 defense in the nation, “you could recognize our offense again,” Johnson said. “It looked like what we used to do.”
On the flip, the Jackets once again met with miserable third-down conditions. They faced an average of 8.5 yards to go, and failed to convert a single third down via pass although Thomas connected with Ricky Jeune to convert a fourth down. Tech missed on six of its final eight third downs.
That overall 8.8-yard-per-play average looks great on the stat sheet, but the shortage of big plays in the second half sank Tech. The Jackets averaged 11.5 yards on their 23 first-half carries, and 6.9 on 17 second-half totes.
Other than Marshall’s second 58-yarder, the Jackets averaged 3.4 yards on 16 second-half carries against a Pitt defense that two weeks earlier gave up just nine rushing yards on 33 attempts at Virginia Tech (with the help of 57 lost yards on seven sacks).
In the end, the Panthers were more like themselves than were the Jackets.
“That’s a pretty good average,” Johnson said of the overall, “but you’ve got to score more points. Thirty one is more than 28. We didn’t score enough, only got seven in the second half.”