Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson has complained long and loud about this week’s game. Not that he minds playing Jacksonville State. He just isn’t fond with the idea of playing a good FCS team only five days after a gut-wrenching loss to Tennessee.
But the Yellow Jackets are faced with the prospect of meeting the FCS’ fifth-ranked Gamecocks on Saturday. Georgia Tech is billing the game as a “Gold-out” and may need to draw on some of that emotional support in a potentially difficult situation.
“I’m really concerned,” Johnson said. “I think I voiced my opinion on that when we did it, but when you play a team that’s a ranked FCS team, having coached on that level, I know they’ve got some really good players. I think they’ve got 13 transfers I counted, just looking through the roster, from Division I schools, so it’ll be a challenge, especially coming on a short week.”
The circumstances of the game were placed on the team when the previous athletics administration agreed to play Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game but didn’t approach Jacksonville State about moving this game to later in the season. To further exacerbate the issue, Jacksonville State did not play last week.
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“These guys are pretty good,” Johnson said.
Jacksonville State head coach John Grass, whose team has beaten a pair of FBS programs the past seven seasons, admitted the extra week might assist his team, but he doesn’t think a short week will impact Georgia Tech.
“I think the extra week to prepare helps us a little bit, and I don’t think that a short week for them is a disadvantage or advantage to us, because if you ask the players would they want two games in a week or miss two practices in a week?” Grass said. “They want to play, and their guys will be ready to pay on Saturday. They’ll be ready, especially after letting one get away that I think they should have won. You take the two turnovers out of the game, and it’s probably a blowout.”
The Georgia Tech offense is a concern for the Gamecocks. The Yellow Jackets had 655 yards of total offense Monday and controlled the ball for 42 minutes against Tennessee despite losing 42-41 in double-overtime. That efficiency and the fact that Jacksonville State won’t see another team that runs the triple-option is troubling for Grass.
“It’s been awhile, but I think all our coaches are very familiar with it,” Grass said. “You have to line up and be ready to play.”
Jacksonville State has eight starters back on defense from last year’s team that won the Ohio Valley Conference. That includes defensive end Darius Jackson, a returning All-American, and all-conference safety Marlon Bridges. Last year’s team ranked fourth nationally in total defense. The Gamecocks have held 19 of their 40 opponents to fewer than 100 yards under Grass.
But if Georgia Tech ran through Tennessee at will in the opener, will Jacksonville State be able to do any better — even with a week of extra preparation?
“The quarterback is really good and they do a great job of blocking up front and they don’t thow the ball a lot,” Jacksonville State senior cornerback Siran Neal said. “As a defense, we all have to be on the same page and it will be a physical game.”
Georgia Tech quarterback TaQuon Marshall was the ACC’s Offensive Back of the Week after he rushed for 249 yards, threw for 120 yards and scored five touchdowns in the opener. He more than lived up to expectations.
“I thought he played well,” Johnson said. “He certainly had done a good job in practice. That’s how he won the job. I don’t think you ever think a guy is going to go in and rush for 240 yards and five touchdowns, but he did a good job executing what we were trying to do against the way they were playing. Overall, his performance was as good as expected or maybe a little better.”
In addition to Marshall, the Yellow Jackets got a strong debut from B-back KirVonte Benson, who rushed for 124 yards, and they should get a boost from the probable return of A-back Clinton Lynch, who missed the opener with a lower body injury.
The Jacksonville State offense operates behind first-year starting quarterback Bryant Horn, who threw for 182 yards in his first start. The Gamecocks have All-OVC players in running back Roc Thomas, who rushed for 122 yard and one touchdown in the opener, and linemen Justin Lea and Dylan Cline.
“(The Georgia Tech defense) is fast and physical, and we expected that,” Horn said. “I think if we can execute and put it all together, then we have a good chance at success on Saturday.”
This is the third meeting between the two programs. Georgia Tech won both previous games, including 37-17 in 2009. Johnson has not lost a home opener since he arrived at Georgia Tech. Two of those wins have come against Jacksonville State.
Jacksonville State at Georgia Tech
12:30 p.m., Saturday