On a day when the offense kept shooting itself in the foot, the Georgia Tech defense relentlessly kept the Pittsburgh offense at bay and sparked a 35-17 win in the Yellow Jackets’ ACC opener at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Georgia Tech had 484 total yards but had four turnovers. The defense, however, did not permit any of the takeaways to be converted into touchdowns. The final one came with 7:18 left in the game, when the defense held again, and KirVonte Benson responded with a 47-yard touchdown that put the game away.
The Yellow Jackets were able to run the ball at will up the middle against a Pittsburgh defense that struggled against Oklahoma State a week ago. But four of their possessions ended in fumbles. Another turnover on a bad interception was overturned by a penalty.
Georgia Tech wound up with 436 yards on the ground and kept the ball for 35:02. The Yellow Jackets averaged 6.5 yards per carry.
Never miss a local story.
The Yellow Jackets allowed Pittsburgh to remain in the game in the first half. Two possessions ended with fumbles, and a special teams breakdown allowed the Panthers to score on Quadree Henderson’s 80-yard punt return. It was the first non-blocked punt that Georgia Tech has allowed for a touchdown since 2000 against Clemson.
The Pittsburgh offense generated only 37 yards on the ground and 198 in the air, as quarterback Ben DiNucci made his first start.
Three who mattered
Benson: The sophomore rushed 29 times for a career-high 196 yards and two touchdowns. It’s the second 100-yard game of the season for Benson. It helped overcome the loss of two fumbles. Benson did most of his damage up the middle and was effective stepping over tackles and getting extra yardage.
Georgia Tech quarterback TaQuon Marshall: The junior rushed 18 times for 112 yards and two touchdowns. He also completed 4-of-7 passes for 48 yards. Marshall has rushed for 100 yards twice. His eight rushing touchdowns are tied for seventh most by a Georgia Tech quarterback in a single season.
Georgia Tech defensive end Antonio Simmons: The senior was in the middle of the pressure all day. He had three tackles and two sacks, including one for 15 yards. The Yellow Jackets finished with three sacks and seven tackles for loss.
Pittsburgh trailed by 11 early in the fourth quarter but had the ball at the 47. That’s when Simmons crashed through for a 15-yard sack. On the next play, Anree Saint-Amour caused DiNucci to fumble and recovered it.
Benson wants to keep the job: After a less-than-inspiring performance against Jacksonville State, Benson ran like he’s serious about holding off the challenge of freshman Jerry Howard. Howard only carried three times for 19 yards and did not get another carry after he lost a fumble. No. 3 B-back Quaide Weimerskirch rushed for 31 yards and his first career touchdown but also lost a fumble.
Big-play A.J.: Junior safety A.J. Gray made his presence felt. He made a tackle for a loss that forced Pittsburgh into a third-and-long situation it could not convert. He stopped another drive by making a tackle that prevented the receiver from making a first down. He slapped away a pass that was headed for a wide-open receiver.
Harvin gets the start: Punter Pressley Harvin III was healthy enough to start for Georgia Tech. He suffered a lower body during practice last week and was originally thought to be out. He showed no effects on his first punt, a 39-yarder, but it was returned for the 80-yard touchdown. He averaged 45.5 yards on four punts.
Good start for ACC: The Yellow Jackets won the conference opener for the second straight year; they beat Boston College in Ireland a year ago. Johnson is now 8-2 in conference openers.
They said it
Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson on his overall thoughts of the game: “We looked like we hadn’t played in two weeks. Just sloppy. I think all four turnovers came from the same position (B-back), which is really disappointing. We’ve got to clean that up because against a good team, we won’t be able to survive.”
Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi on the inability to move the ball on the ground: “We can point fingers at the quarterback and all that, but if you’re not running the ball, there are not many quarterbacks who can sit back in that pocket and throw it all day.”
Georgia Tech quarterback TaQuon Marshall on any rust from inactivity: “Not too much. I actually felt like we came out a lot faster this game than we did against Tennessee and Jacksonville State. We got things moving pretty quickly.”
Georgia Tech B-back KirVonte Benson, whose 196 yards set a record for B-backs under Johnson: “I was unaware of setting a record. I am real proud of my performance, and I’m glad that I can help my team anyway I can. It’s an amazing feeling to hear that. It was an amazing game for all of us.”
Georgia Tech hosts North Carolina at noon on Saturday.