ATLANTA -- Since the early days of preseason camp, Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson has talked about the depth of his offensive line. Even though the Yellow Jackets lost some experienced hands through graduation, Johnson was optimistic about a group that was relatively young and unproven.
His confidence was well placed. The Georgia Tech offensive line has played at a consistently high level all season and is a big reason the team is averaging 326 yards rushing per game.
“It’s great to finally see all that hard work we’ve put in pay off,” said senior right guard Shaq Mason, the foundation of this year’s offensive line.
Mason had the most experience among the returners. This week will mark his 34th consecutive start, and he was recently named to Phil Steele’s midseason All-America third team.
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The left guard is junior Trey Braun, who has 16 starts, and the left tackle is Bryan Chamberlain, who has 15 career starts.
The others are newcomers. Freddie Burden has taken over at center and done well after rebounding from 2013 knee surgery. Redshirt freshman Chris Griffin started seven games before a shoulder injury sidelined him against Pittsburgh. Griffin is listed as probable for this week’s game.
The backups have stepped up when needed. Junior Errin Joe started last week at right tackle, and Ethan Fromayan started when Chamberlain was injured and could not play against Duke.
“Errin definitely stepped up and played really big,” Mason said. “It was the best game of his career, especially coming off last week when he caught a lot of flack.”
Joe had been whistled for a costly procedure penalty the previous week against North Carolina.
Georgia Tech has also gotten solid contributions from redshirt freshman Shamire Devine and gotten a lift from freshman center Andrew Marshall, Maryland transfer Nick Brigham and Auburn transfer Thomas O’Reilly. It looks as if they will be able to redshirt freshman tackle Trey Klock.
“We’re getting some fresh bodies in there,” Mason said. “Shamire is giving us a lot of effort.”
The production has been extremely high the past two weeks. Georgia Tech had 611 total yards against North Carolina and 612 against Pittsburgh; there had only been seven previous 600-yard games in the history of the program.
It also gives the team more confidence when it comes to converting on third down. Georgia Tech has converted 54-of-93 third downs, a 58 percent success rate, and 7-of-9 on fourth down, a 78 percent success rate.
“If you look historically, we’ve been pretty good on third down every year,” Johnson said. “This year has been a little better than others, but we’ve always been above 50 percent or right at it almost every year.”
WHITE’S HEROIC PLAY
Seemingly lost among the fog of six Pittsburgh fumbles was the one forced by D.J. White, which changed the course of the entire game.
After Georgia Tech had scored its first touchdown, Pittsburgh was ready to match the score when James Conner broke through the line and was on his way to the end zone. But White, a junior cornerback, never quit running and was able to catch Conner inside the 5 and strip the ball away. The fumble went out of the end zone, Georgia Tech took possession, and the Yellow Jackets drove for another touchdown.
“It was a great effort play,” Johnson said. “He didn’t give up. That’s the mantra you try to get them all to play with: don’t give up. It was a great example of not doing it, and it was a huge play in the game.”
Georgia Tech is 49-15-1 in homecoming games and has won 16 of the past 18. Johnson is 4-2 in homecoming games. Georgia Tech has played 23 different opponents for homecoming, with Duke (21) the most regular foe. This will be the sixth time Georgia Tech has played Virginia for homecoming; Georgia Tech has won three of the previous five meetings.
Georgia Tech will be without its two most productive running backs. B-back Zach Laskey (shoulder) and A-back Charles Perkins (knee) are both out for Saturday’s game.
Virginia will be without defensive tackle John Babcock (lower extremity), defensive end Trent Corney (lower extremity), wide receiver Miles Gooch (lower extremity), outside linebacker Mark Hall (upper extremity), center Jackson Matteo (lower extremity), cornerback Demetrious Nicholson (lower extremity) and offensive tackle Jeremiah Whitmire (medical).
Listed as doubtful for Virginia are middle linebacker Michael Guerci (lower extremity), wide receiver Andre Levrone (upper extremity) and wide receiver Tyler Lewris (lower extremity). Cornerback Divante Walker (medical) is questionable.