For most of the week, the Georgia Tech defensive players were forced to listen to talk about how they lost the Tennessee game. On Saturday afternoon, they did something to change the conversation.
The Yellow Jackets came away with three turnovers — two interceptions and a fumble — that the offense was able to turn into 21 points. Those takeaways turned a close game — Georgia Tech was trailing 7-3 — into a rout that the Yellow Jackets wound up winning 37-10.
“We didn’t play well the second half on Monday, so we talked about finishing the drill and came out and did it,” defensive back Lawrence Austin said. “We talked about getting turnovers and got that done.”
Austin got things started in the second quarter. He tipped a pass that his twin brother Lance dropped. That interception would have gone for a touchdown.
“I tried to give him some candy, and he wouldn’t eat it,” Lawrence joked.
He took matters in his own hands later in the half. He intercepted Bryant Horn’s pass and returned it 21 yards to the 32. Georgia Tech scored two plays later and took a 10-7 lead into halftime.
“Turnovers are always big,” Lawrence said. “When I get the ball in the offense’s hands, it’s always great because they can eat up the clock and score. Turnovers is one thing we didn’t accomplish in the first game.”
The floodgates really opened at the start of the third quarter. Step Durham got his first career interception to set up a quick score and A.J. Gray recovered a Horn fumble, which the Yellow Jackets turned into six more points.
Suddenly the momentum had taken a 180-degree turn. The once-close game had shifted in Georgia Tech’s favor as it led 23-7.
“The biggest thing to me was when we came out in the third quarter and got the two quick turnovers and were able to get touchdowns,” head coach Paul Johnson said.
Much of the reason for the success can be attributed to the pressure applied by the defense. Georgia Tech had eight tackles for loss; it had only one against Tennessee. The Yellow Jackets had five sacks, two each by Anree Saint-Amour and freshman T.D. Roof and one by freshman Antwan Owens.
“We talked about being more aggressive, and we did a good job with that,” Johnson said. “I thought they had a good plan and we ran a lot more stunts, a lot more blitzes and got some negative plays, which makes it easier to play. And we made some plays. When they threw the ball, we had a chance to get some, and we did. There’ll be some learning. We can play much better.”
Georgia Tech didn’t dominate the time of possession this game; it had the ball 31.33, compared to 28.27 for Jacksonville State. But the Gamecocks converted only 3-of-9 third-downs and had to punt five times.
“(Those turnovers) add a lot of energy to the team,” Saint-Amour said. “When you make those kind of plays going into the half and coming out of the half and give the ball back to your offense, the whole team, the crowd, is hyped up for that. Playing with energy is a great thing.”