ATLANTA -- It was another big offensive day for Georgia Tech. But afternoons filled with big yardage and high point totals have become expected on The Flats. Not so much the type of defensive effort that was produced on a blustery Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
The Georgia Tech defense played its best all-around game of the season. The Yellow Jackets played hard, had perhaps their best game from the front four, and came away with two turnovers. The result was a 35-10 homecoming win over Virginia.
“We certainly played better defense than we have the past couple of weeks,” Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson said. “I was proud of them and encouraged by that. We left some out there offensively, but you have to give Virginia credit, they’re a pretty good defensive football team.
“Happy to get out of here 35-10. I don’t think anybody’s beaten them like that all year. Got some things we can work on but happy the game turned out the way it did.”
The Georgia Tech defense limited Virginia to only 22 yards on 16 attempts, a 1.4-yard average.
The Cavaliers entered the game averaging 170.1 yards rushing per game, but Georgia Tech threw a wrench in the works by moving Pat Gamble from nose tackle to defensive end.
The 286-pound Gamble teamed with end KeShun Freeman and tackles Adam Gotsis and Shawn Green to clog the Virginia running attack and put enough pressure on quarterback Greyson Lambert to disrupt his rhythm.
“He made some plays,” Johnson said. “Especially helped us in running game some. If you can’t run the ball it’s hard to win, and we did a really good job taking the run away from them. I think we tackled a little better. Tried to be more aggressive, played a lot of man coverage. Our defensive coaches had a good plan. Bottom line, we beat some blocks and tackled better.”
The defense was also able to get off the field. Virginia converted only 3-of-12 third-down attempts, which allowed the Cavaliers to run only 57 offensive plays.
“That’s the way I expect them to play every week,” Johnson said. “I was proud that they bounced back. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch. There are a lot of things we can fix. But we played hard, and, like I told the guys after the game, we made enough plays.”
The Georgia Tech offense didn’t reach the 600-yard plateau for the third straight week, but they didn’t need to, either. Georgia Tech rushed for 268 yards and threw for 141. Justin Thomas completed 7-of-13 passes with one touchdown. B-back Synjyn Days surpassed the 100-yard mark for the second straight week, getting a career-high 147 yards on 24 carries. Georgia Tech had the ball for nearly 39 minutes.
“We didn’t play a good enough football game to keep us in this thing,” Virginia head coach Mike London said. “They got on us early, and they made big plays on us. You can’t come from behind and surpass a team that has such a prolific ground attack and at the same time you’re dropping passes or having penalties and being non-productive with the ball yourself.”
The Georgia Tech defense began the game by forcing Virginia to go three-and-out on its first two possessions, and the offense responded by scoring a pair of touchdowns to put the Yellow Jackets ahead 14-0. Deon Hill finished the first drive with a 14-yard touchdown run and capped the second with an 18-yard touchdown pass from Thomas to DeAndre Smelter.
Virginia finally got its offense started by going to the air. The Cavaliers drove 75 yards in eight plays and scored when Lambert threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Zachary Swanson that cut Georgia Tech’s lead to 14-7.
Georgia Tech quickly got those points back. Thomas connected with Smelter for a 65-yard pass and scored three plays later when Thomas threw to Darren Waller for an 11-yard touchdown to make it 21-7.
After forcing another three-and-out, Georgia Tech was driving again, but the offense stalled. The Yellow Jackets eschewed a long field goal try and failed to convert a pass on fourth down, giving Virginia the ball on the 27. After forcing the Cavaliers to punt again, Georgia Tech turned the ball over deep in its own territory. Thomas threw short, and it was picked off by Virginia’s Anthony Harris, his second interception of the year. Harris had two interceptions against Georgia Tech last year.
Virginia quickly reached the Georgia Tech 5, but the Yellow Jackets stiffened on defense and the Cavaliers settled for Ian Frye’s 22-yard field goal, which cut Georgia Tech’s lead to 21-10 at halftime.
Georgia Tech regained the offensive momentum by taking the second-half kickoff and driving 75 yards in 12 plays, with Days running it in from the 4. That drive, which consumed 6:32, pushed the lead to 28-10.
The Yellow Jackets then got their first turnover of the day. KeShun Freeman tipped Lambert’s pass and Adam Gotsis came up with interception, the second of his career. But Georgia Tech was unable to convert the turnover into points and wound up kicking it away.
Virginia again rushed down the field and reached the Georgia Tech 6. On third-and-goal, Gamble batted down a pass, and on fourth down, Jamal Golden wrestled a pass from Canaan Severin in the end zone. It was Golden’s third interception of the year.
Georgia Tech scored again to make it 35-10 after a 23-yard punt gave the Yellow Jackets the ball at the 37. Nine plays later, on third-and-14, Thomas threw to Days, who the ball in the right flat and turned it into a 17-yard touchdown.