The public address announcer should have told the crowd at Bobby Dodd Stadium that the role of defensive playmaker Saturday would be played by Corey Griffin.
Griffin, a junior safety from Tyrone, more than adequately filled the shoes of injured linebacker P.J. Davis, the man most likely to come up with a big tackle when needed the most. Griffin had a career-high 10 tackles and had a momentum-stealing sack and tackle for loss in the second half of the Yellow Jackets’ 35-24 win over Georgia Southern.
The sack came in when Georgia Southern faced a fourth-and-5 at the Georgia Tech 37. Griffin came up the middle on a safety blitz and sacked quarterback Favian Upshaw for an 11-yard loss, thus keeping the Eagles off the board.
“Personally, any time a safety blitz is called, we pin our ears back and get happy,” Griffin said. “(Saturday), everything just went our way when we blitzed.”
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The tackle for loss came on Georgia Southern’s next possession. On a third-and-4 at the 50, Griffin pulled down Wesley Fields for a 5-yard loss. It forced the Eagles to punt.
Griffin and fellow safety A.J. Gray (Washington County) benefited from a switch in defensive philosophy by coordinator Ted Roof, who allowed them to play more aggressively. Gray also had a career high with seven tackles, and each had three tackles for loss.
“They let us play man coverage like we wanted to play inside. That allowed us to play more loose,” Gray said. “Some plays he was rolled down in the box, and some plays I was rolled down in the box. That’s kind of our game because we can play fast and not worry about the same thing over and over.”
The play of the safeties was definitely noticed by head coach Paul Johnson.
“Corey made some big plays, he made some nice tackles,” Johnson said.
Butker finally misses one
Georgia Tech place-kicker Harrison Butker finally missed a field goal. The senior yanked a 32-yarder wide to the left with 20 seconds left in the first half. Butker had converted all four of his previous tries, including two last week against Pittsburgh. The 32-yarder was his shortest try of the season.
Cornerback Step Durham returned after missing two games with injury, but he might have re-injured his ankle. Durham planted his foot to defend a pass on the sideline and left the game. Defensive tackle Kyle Cerge-Henderson left in the middle of the third quarter after a hard hit but was able to return.
Shakeup on the line
The injuries on the offensive were apparent from the onset of the game and gave true freshman Jahaziel Lee a chance to start at left tackle, with Eason Fromayan moving to right tackle. Lee played most of the game alongside Parker Braun, another true freshman, at left guard.
The Yellow Jackets played without linebacker P.J. Davis, the team’s leading tackler for the past two seasons. Davis suffered a lower-body injury last week at Pittsburgh and did not dress. He was replaced by Chase Alford.
Hall of Famers
The eight inductees for the Georgia Tech Hall of Fame were introduced at halftime Saturday. The loudest ovation went to wide receiver great Calvin Johnson, who almost seemed embarrassed by the show of affection from the crowd.