Oct. 4, 2015
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
Georgia Tech met the goal of starting faster Saturday in building a 21-0 lead over North Carolina, and the decision to go with no-huddle offense played a part.
Head coach Paul Johnson deviated from sending plays in to quarterback Justin Thomas with alternating backs and wide receivers, and had assistant coach Lamar Owens and graduate assistant Stephen Sylvester signal from the sideline in Bobby Dodd Stadium.
It worked nicely. Tech scored touchdowns on its first three possessions on drives of 10, 14 and 13 plays that covered 64, 85 and 68 yards while eating 5:06, 7:40 and 7:44 off the game clock.
“I think it just kept them on their heels a little bit,” Thomas said. “[They] got a little winded. I don’t think they were expecting it. We’ve never run it before. It’s a good way to start the game off.”
Tech has long practiced without a huddle, but rarely worked that way other than in a few end-of-half or end-of-game situations.
Even with several players new to the mix, chiefly at A-back where Mikell Lands-Davis took off his redshirt, walk-on Austin McClellan saw action and defensive back Lynn Griffin played, the Jackets hummed.
“I believe it did [help],” said senior guard Trey Braun. “I do not know if I can speak specifically to the offensive line play, but I think it helped the offense as a whole.”
The Jackets were sharp early on defense, too, forcing UNC punts the first two times the Heels had the ball.
The game began to change, however, after the Jackets went up 21-0 on Thomas’ second 1-yard scoring run, with 4:34 left in the first half.
With Tech senior defensive tackle Adam Gotsis having been ejected on the prior possession for targeting, a call that merits additional review as it appeared to be a form tackle on UNC quarterback Marquise Williams that fetched a targeting penalty, the Jackets could not slow the Tar Heels.
They went 75 yards in nine plays, never facing third down, as UNC ripped off five plays for 10 or more yards.
After Elijah Wood scored on a 2-yard run with 1:29 remaining in the half, Tech opted to throw on first and third downs, barely missing a potential big play.
Johnson saw something in the Tar Heel defense that led him to believe UNC was ripe for a long pass play. Thomas’ first-down pass sailed just beyond the fingertips of A-back Clinton Lynch, who was behind all UNC defenders.
“Right when he slipped the guy, I guess he couldn’t get full burst and it just went off his fingertips,” Thomas said.
Tech punted after a third-down incompletion. The two clock stoppages left North Carolina with 53 seconds after Ryan Rodwell fumbled a low snap from Sean Tobin, and was fortunate to get off a scrambling, 23-yard punt ahead of the rush of UNC cornerback Mike Hughes.
The Heels had 44 yards to go, and Williams completed 3-of-5 passes for a total of 37 yards before covering the final 7 himself. UNC pulled within 21-14 with four seconds left in the first half.
Suddenly, the Tar Heels were the ones in a hurry.
They went on to score on their first possessions of the second half, with a field goal and a touchdown, and then after a punt scored two more touchdowns.
“They kept going play after play after play,” said sophomore defensive end KeShun Freeman. “I think that’s something as a defense that we have to work on, being prepared and being ready so when the next play comes we just get on the line, get down and we get ready.”
The Heels were operating faster than the Jackets were reacting.
“It was just us missing tackles and lining up wrong,” said senior safety Jamal Golden. “They were moving fast, so we just have to get lined up and execute. We were in place to make plays. We have just got to make tackles.”
The Jackets did not foresee the Tar Heels’ go-ahead score, a 37-yard touchdown pass from wide receiver Quinshad Davis to Williams. That gave UNC a 31-28 lead with 11:25 left in the game.
Williams gave the ball first to tailback T.J. Logan, who swept left. He tossed to Davis, who was reversing from left to right as Williams ran uncovered out to the same side.
It was an easy pass, catch and score – the third time Davis has thrown a touchdown pass to Williams.
“I think sometimes they caught us a little off guard or the play they ran was something we were not prepared for or did not see coming,” Freeman said.
Golden said the Jackets should not have been out of position.
“We had not seen it on film, but we knew they were a gimmick team,” he said. “They run reverses and everything. They just threw a pass off of it. It is just something that we have got to see, and we’ve got to make a play.”
Tech’s offense, meanwhile, was slowing down.
The Jackets converted their first three third downs, all in the first quarter, and their first three fourth downs through the early third.
They were good on 2-of-11 third downs to close out the game, though, and misfired on their last two fourth down tries in falling 38-31 to North Carolina.
“Obviously, they made some adjustments,” Braun said. “I think we were really rolling at first, and it’s hard to say what happened, but I definitely think the hurry-up made a little bit of difference [early].”