Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech defense eyes fast start after first-half struggles

Miami running back Mark Walton (1) runs toward the end zone against Georgia Tech during the first half of Saturday’s ACC game.
Miami running back Mark Walton (1) runs toward the end zone against Georgia Tech during the first half of Saturday’s ACC game. AP

Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson admitted that his team’s defense has been much better in the second half of games. Now he wants to see the same results in the first half, before the team gets behind like it did against Miami and Clemson.

The Yellow Jackets travel to Pittsburgh at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday.

“The defense (against Miami) played much better in the second half, especially on third down,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to find a way to take that momentum and find a way to get it from the start of the game.”

The Georgia Tech defense had one three-and-out in the first half against Miami but allowed a 90-yard drive before the Hurricanes scored on a pair of fumble returns. In the second half, Miami had seven possessions and was forced to punt five times, three of them on three-and-outs.

But the defense has allowed the opposition to score on its first possession in the past four games.

Mercer drove 75 yards in nine plays for a touchdown.

Vanderbilt drove 75 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown.

Clemson drove 75 yards in nine plays for a touchdown.

Miami drove 85 yards in eight plays for a touchdown.

“Four games in a row we’ve give up the opening drive for a touchdown,” Johnson said. “It’s not like we haven’t talked about it. You’ve got to go out and do it, get a stop and get a better start.”

Johnson even took the ball first after Georgia Tech won the coin toss against Miami. But that strategy didn’t work, either.

The Yellow Jackets have been stingy in the red zone. Opponents have scored only seven times (six touchdowns, one field goal) in 20 trips inside 20. Their .538 red-zone percentage ranks second nationally behind Ohio State.

OK rating

Johnson said quarterback Justin Thomas has been adequate but has yet to play up to his ceiling.

“Overall he’s played OK,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to protect him better, and I’d like to get him a little more involved in the run game, and if we could get it sealed off better, I think he could do that. He’d be the first one to tell you he hasn’t played his best game, but he’s been OK.”

Thomas has rushed for 151 yards and one touchdown and thrown for 458 yards and two touchdowns this season. Thomas needs 41 yards to reach 2,000 rushing for his career. He is 388 yards short of reaching 6,000 total yards.

Mills honored by ACC

Freshman B-back Dedrick Mills was named ACC Rookie of the Week after he rushed for a career-best 99 yards and two touchdowns against Miami. Mills also caught a touchdown pass. He also got the honor after his three-touchdown performance against Vanderbilt. Mills ranks third nationally among true freshman with 75 yards per game and leads with seven rushing touchdowns.

Kickoff set

The ACC announced that the starting time for the Georgia Tech-Georgia Southern game Oct. 15 will be 12:30 p.m.

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