When quarterback Justin Thomas was hanging out with his buddies on Friday night, he was semi-joking about his desire to get 100 yards rushing.
Thomas had been challenged during the week by head coach Paul Johnson to produce more rushing yards, and the senior wasn’t about to back down.
“I was talking to the guys (Friday) night,” Thomas said. “I need 100 (yards). I haven’t had 100 in, like, 14 games.”
He looked at the stat sheet and shook his head.
“I was 7 yards short,” he said. “I’m still upset about that.”
Thomas was joking about the 7 yards. But there was nothing funny about his performance. He didn’t get his 100 yards — which he last accomplished in the 2014 Orange Bowl — but he looked more like the 2014 version of Thomas than fans have seen in a while in Georgia Tech’s 38-7 win over Vanderbilt on Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Thomas rushed 11 times for 84 yards and completed 6-of-13 passes for 136 yards and one touchdown. Thomas connected with B-back Marcus Marshall for an 81-yard score on the first play of the game. He did an excellent job running the offense, often pulling the ball out of the B-back’s hands at the final second to find the open pitch man for a big run.
“I challenged him a little earlier,” Johnson said. “I told him we needed some more out of him rushing, and he had a couple of nice runs. I think he would have had a couple others if he had stayed outside; he could have really (broken). When he sees the film, he’s going to be disappointed.”
Four who mattered
Georgia Tech B-back Dedrick Mills: Mills’ checklist this week: Attend team meeting? Check. Run for three touchdowns? Check. The freshman returned from his one-game suspension with a vengeance. He carried 14 times for 58 yards and scored three touchdowns.
Georgia Tech cornerback Lance Austin: The junior from Lamar County was active from the start. He had six tackles, tying Corey Griffin for the most on Saturday, and broke up two passes.
Georgia Tech A-back Clinton Lynch: He carried three times for 77 yards, including a 29-yarder, and caught two passes for 87 yards, including a 77-yard touchdown.
Georgia Tech defensive tackle Brandon Adams: The big (6-foot-2, 350 pounds) defensive tackle had two tackles, but one was especially huge. He led a surge that stopped Vandy on a fourth-and-1, gave the Yellow Jackets the ball on downs, and led to a big momentum shift.
Vanderbilt trailed 17-7 at the half but took the second-half kickoff and drove to the Georgia Tech 28. The Commodores went for it on fourth-and-1 and failed when Adams anchored a surge that limited Khari Blasingame to no gain. Georgia Tech then drove the 72 yards in 10 plays and scored on a 4-yard run by Mills. The touchdown gave the Yellow Jackets a 17-7 lead with 6:02 left in the third quarter.
Bendable? Yes. Breakable? Not yet: The Georgia Tech defense wanted to limit the Vanderbilt running game. That was accomplished, as the Yellow Jackets held the Commodores to 97 yards rushing. But the time of possession was almost dead even, meaning the Yellow Jackets couldn’t get them off the field fast enough.
A quick turnaround: There will not be time for Georgia Tech to enjoy this win. Clemson comes to Bobby Dodd on Thursday night for a nationally televised game. “Anytime you’re playing a short week, it’s tough for the kids,” Johnson said. “I really don’t know that it’s fair to them, if you want to know the truth.”
Keep the punting job, Mr. Rodwell: Senior Ryan Rodwell kicked like he wanted to keep the job Saturday. He punted four times for a 42.5-yard average and had one downed at the 1. He should have had another downed at the 1, but the cover man stopped running.
It had to happen eventually: Harrison Butker’s streak of non-returned kickoffs ended Saturday. He had 13 consecutive kicks that were either out of the endzone or not returned until Vandy’s Darrius Sims took one at the goal line and ran it back 19 yards. Three of his seven kickoffs were retuned by Vanderbilt, but for only a 19-yard average.
They said it
Johnson: “We were pretty efficient offensively, and we wanted to gear up to stop the run and we held them under 100 yards, so that’s pretty good. Happy with the win, now we’ve got a quick turnaround, get ready for a really talented team coming in here on Thursday.”
Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason on the fourth-down failure in the third quarter: “We wanted to score and needed to score coming out of the half. We went for it on fourth down and didn’t get it. From a momentum standpoint, there was still a lot of time left in the game, but that was a shift in momentum in this ballgame. We couldn’t get them off the field, and they go down and score.”
Georgia Tech hosts Clemson on Thursday night. Vanderbilt plays at Western Kentucky on Saturday.