ATLANTA -- Given a prime-time stage before an enthusiastic crowd dressed for a white-out, Georgia Tech used its time-tested formula to beat Miami 28-17 on Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
The win improved Georgia Tech’s record to 5-0 and gave the Yellow Jackets victories over both Virginia Tech and Miami for the first time in head coach Paul Johnson’s seven-year tenure.
Georgia Tech did it the way Johnson likes best, with long, time-consuming drives that kept the ball away from a Miami team that’s considered to have some of the best talent in the ACC’s Coastal Division. But Georgia Tech ran 72 plays, converted 9-of-14 third downs, and kept the ball for 40:45.
“We got contributions out of everybody,” Johnson said. “It was a crazy game because they hit several big plays. They were hitting some big plays and were 6- and 8-yarding them to death. Once got two scores up on them I felt pretty good.”
The Georgia Tech running game was the best it has been all year. B-back Zach Laskey pounded it up the middle and even ran a few sweeps to gain 133 yards on 29 carries. Charles Perkins led the versatile group of A-backs with 65 yards and a touchdown as the Yellow Jackets rushed for 321 yards.
“They got too many yards inside, too many yards inside between our tackles,” Miami head coach Al Golden said. “We never got them off track from that standpoint.”
Quarterback Justin Thomas had an understated performance, making smart decisions and controlling the flow. He ran 15 times for 27 yards and threw just seven times, completing four for 53 yards. But Georgia Tech did not turn the ball over.
“Zach ran the ball hard. He ran it really hard,” Johnson said. “They had decided they were not going to let Justin carry the ball, and that’s OK. If everybody does what they’re supposed to do, the other facets should be there. Zach worked hard for what he got.”
Miami was effective when it had the ball, particularly tailback Duke Johnson, who carried 14 times for 100 yards. But the Hurricanes’ offense could only watch helplessly as Georgia Tech kept them off the field by hogging the ball most of the night. Miami averaged 8.0 yards per play, but ran only 44 plays.
“How do you neutralize it?” Johnson said. “You keep the ball for 40 minutes and 45 seconds, and they don’t get it and they’re not out there. That’s the best way to play a team like that is to keep them off the field.”
Miami scored quickly on its first possession. Freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya showed no signs of distress, completing two of his three passes on the 75-yard drive. Kaaya threw a 21-yard touchdown to Braxton Berrios, who beat Georgia Tech’s Demond Smith and was wide open in the right corner of the end zone.
Georgia Tech immediately countered with a 62-yard scoring drove of its own, with B-back Zach Laskey and A-back Charles Perkins doing most of the damage with a combination of inside and outside runs. Justin Thomas snuck in from the 1 to tie the game at 7 with 7:48 left.
After an exchange of punts, Miami went 92 yards in three plays, along with a pass interference penalty that sprung the Hurricanes out of a hole. Kaaya connected with Phillip Dorsett for 37, then Duke Johnson did the rest, gaining 16 on the next play and scoring from 24 yards out as the first quarter ended.
Georgia Tech responded by driving 69 yards in nine plays, with Tony Zenon scoring on a 9-yard sweep to the left side. The key play was a third-down pass interference call drawn by Georgia Tech’s DeAndre Smelter, his first target of the night, that gave the Yellow Jackets a first down.
Miami was moving toward another score when Georgia Tech came away with its first turnover. Kaaya dropped back and threw high over the intended receiver. The ball was tipped into the air by safety Isaiah Johnson, then he brought it in for an interception, his first of the season, and returned it to the Georgia Tech 29.
Georgia Tech pulled out a trick to keep the drive alive when Ryan Rodwell faked a punt and ran for 10 yards and a first down. But the Jackets eventually stalled and were forced to actually punt with 29 seconds left. The half ended in a tie at 14.
The Yellow Jackets took the second-half kickoff for a score, giving them their first lead of the game. The 13-play, 75-yard drive was highlighted by Tony Zenon and Charles Perkins picking up crucial first downs on the possession. The score came when B.J. Bostic swept left for a 2-yard run, scoring behind a debilitating block by Perkins.
“You’ve got to give them credit,” Golden said. “We pushed them into third or fourth down 16 times, and they converted 11 of them. They executed better than we did.”
Miami cut the lead to 21-17 on Michael Bagley’s 27-yard field goal with 3:25 left. The Canes avoided a disaster when it appeared O’Mauri Jones had the ball stripped from him by Georgia Tech’s Quayshawn Nealy after a reception with Demond Smith recovering for Georgia Tech. But video replay showed that Jones never had possession, allowing Miami to keep the ball.
Georgia Tech’s most crucial decision came on the next possession. The Yellow Jackets pushed the ball into the red zone and faced fourth-and-2 from the 8. Rather than kick the chip-shot field goal, Georgia Tech went for the touchdown and got it. Thomas faked a dive to Laskey and pitched it to Deon Hill, who made beeline to the right corner for the score. Harrison Butker’s extra point gave Georgia Tech a 28-17 lead with 11:31 left.
“I told our team, that’s what we do,” Johnson said. “Going to run the triple, what we do, we do it every day. It’s 2 yards. Let’s go get it. Justin made a nice read and got it kicked on the end and they didn’t have anybody out there, so it was good.”
The Georgia Tech defense appeared to come up with a huge play on Miami’s ensuing possession. Driving near midfield, Duke Johnson was grabbed by Patrick Gamble and had the ball dislodged by Paul Davis, with Isaiah Johnson recovering at the 48. But officials reviewed the play and said Duke Johnson’s knee was down, which gave the Hurricanes the ball at the 40.
Two plays later, Davis came firing in from the left corner and sacked Kaaya, forcing the Hurricanes to punt it away.
Miami rushed down the field to attempt a heroic rally, but their threat ended when Kaaya was intercepted in the end zone by Jamal Golden.
“That was a huge win,” Paul Johnson said. “We had some penalties, but other than that it was a pretty clean game. Offensively we did a great job possessing the ball, keeping their athletes off the field and got some crucial stops from the defense when had to, made them kick the field goal and got the turnover at the end. We played about the way we need to play to win the game. Happy for our players, thought it was a good team win."