Sept. 12, 2016
Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word –
Things didn’t go so well the last time Justin Thomas was “dinged.” However, Georgia Tech was just fine on Saturday when the fifth-year quarterback was held out of the action in the second half against Mercer after accounting for 149 yards of total offense and a touchdown before halftime.
Redshirt sophomore Matthew Jordan subbed in quite nicely, piloting the Yellow Jackets to a touchdown on his first full possession at the helm and nearly leading them to another score on his second series. Sophomore TaQuon Marshall took over after that and soon became the third Tech QB to score in a 35-10 win.
In all, Tech’s three-headed signal callers rushed 21 times for 125 yards and four touchdowns. They made mostly good decisions, too, with regards to distributing the ball to teammates, as the Jackets rushed for 364 yards and five scores.
“A little more recognizable,” head coach Paul Johnson said of his offense. “Other than the two fumbles, which were inexcusable, offensively it wasn’t bad.”
Not counting a one-play series that ended the first half, Tech had eight possessions and scored five touchdowns with just one punt.
Starting B-back Marcus Marshall lost a fumble on Georgia Tech’s first drive of the game and redshirt freshman B-back Quaide Weimerskirch fumbled at the Mercer two yard line early in the fourth quarter.
Fumbles were a big problem the last time Jordan played so much. He fumbled six times (Tech lost one) last season at Miami after Thomas was injured early.
Thomas apparently was injured early Saturday, too, although it wasn’t clear when. Johnson said he held the QB out in the second half because he was less than 100 percent but assured reporters that he could’ve called on his three-year starter if needed.
He rushed seven times for 69 yards in the first half, scoring on a 13-yard run around right end after a nice ball fake froze the Mercer defender who had the best chance to tackle him. Thomas also completed 5-of-10 passes for 80 yards.
“He could have played [in the second half],” Johnson said. “I thought in the first half, Justin was into the game but we missed some plays throwing-wise that normally he would hit . . . but I think he was dinged a little in the first half, too.”
Mercer opened the second half with a 17-play, 61-yard drive that chewed 8:20 off the clocked and ended with a field goal to pull the Bears within 21-10. Johnson nonetheless stuck with the plan he hatched at halftime to shelve Thomas, “because we didn’t need him to win the game.”
“I’ve got faith in Matthew Jordan, Johnson said. “He’s been around a couple years and, the way the game was going, him running the ball . . . he’s a downhill runner. I knew he’d go in there and run the ball hard.”
That Jordan did. And then some.
He’s changed positions a couple times at Tech and began last season at A-back in part because the Jackets suffered injuries at the position. After backup quarterback Tim Byerly was lost with a knee injury early in the fall, Jordan went back under center.
At 6-foot-2, 208 pounds, he’s bigger than Thomas (5-11, 185) and Johnson said before this season that Jordan would be used in short-yardage situations because he’s effective and to save wear-and-tear on Thomas.
Sure enough, he scored a three-yard touchdown a week earlier in Tech’s 17-14 win over Boston College and he plowed behind right guard Shamire Devine on a one-yarder early in the second quarter on Saturday to give the Jackets a 14-7 lead they never lost.
Jordan carried three-straight times to start Tech’s first possession of the second half for a combined nine yards and Johnson sent the punt team out on fourth-and-1 from the Jackets’ 31.
Guess who was especially happy with that result?
“I said, `Let’s go! We got another shot,” Jordan recalled.
The Jackets made it work, driving 48 more yards on seven more running plays. Jordan’s 1-yard plunge behind left guard Will Bryan and Harrison Butker’s PAT gave Tech a 28-10 lead.
“I probably should have settled down; I was kind of amped up,” Jordan said. “Once I settled down . . . I was fine. I did pretty good, I think. I think we were better than last week. Just from playing last year, it kind of slowed things down and gave me a little bit of experience.”
Tech didn’t attempt a pass in the second half, yet Johnson was pleased with Jordan and fine with TaQuon Marshall’s work as well.
The sophomore, who like Jordan spent time last season at A-back, ran the offense for Tech’s last series. He ran for a yard, pitched to A-backs Nate Cottrell and Austin McClellan for gains of six and five yards, then swept the right side for an 11-yard score.
“I thought Matthew did a really good job,” Tech’s head coach said. “At times he might have gotten downhill a little too much … I was getting on him to get downhill, so he was trying to do what I asked him to do.
“TaQuon didn’t really have a lot of decisions other than to take the snap and run. He’s got good quickness and good speed. When he got outside, he made a nice run.”