Georgia Tech

Defense steps up, leads Georgia Tech to win over Wake Forest

Georgia Tech's Qua Searcy, right, celebrates with teammate Jahaziel Lee (53) after Searcy scored a touchdown in the third quarter of an NCAA college football game against Wake Forest in Atlanta, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017.
Georgia Tech's Qua Searcy, right, celebrates with teammate Jahaziel Lee (53) after Searcy scored a touchdown in the third quarter of an NCAA college football game against Wake Forest in Atlanta, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. AP

The Georgia Tech defense turned things around in the second half Saturday, and the offense produced big plays at key times to help the Yellow Jackets emerge with a 38-24 win over Wake Forest at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

The Yellow Jackets (4-2, 3-1 ACC) trailed 21-13 at halftime and were in danger of seeing their season derailed. The second half was a different story.

Wake Forest attempted three fourth-down conversions and came up empty on all three. The Demon Deacons had 11 third downs in the game and converted just four. The Georgia Tech defense limited them to three second-half points.

Georgia Tech whipped out the big plays in the second half. The Yellow Jackets played with more energy in the second half, and it showed on the board. They scored on runs of 49 and 70 yards from TaQuon Marshall, a 42-yard run from Qua Searcy and an 11-yard run from KirVonte Benson.

Three who mattered

Marshall: The junior quarterback ran 23 times for 163 yards. Most of those came on his two long scoring runs. He was 5-for-11 passing for 68 yards and was sacked three times.

Benson: The sophomore came back from a sore hamstring to carry 26 times for 136 yards. Benson earned most of his yardage in small chunks. His longest run was 18 yards. It is his fourth game of 100-plus rushing yards.

Georgia Tech linebacker Victor Alexander: The junior needed to step up and help fill some of the leadership void left by the injury to Brant Mitchell. Alexander finished with six tackles, including one for loss, and had a big sack that turned the momentum.  

Turning point

Trailing by a point late in the third quarter, Wake Forest opted to go for it on fourth-and-4 at the 30. Alexander sacked John Wolford for a 9-yard loss. Georgia Tech responded with a touchdown drive, giving it a 31-24 lead.

Observations

Different defense in the second half: A few halftime adjustments made a big difference. Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson said part of the fix was simply getting his defense lined up properly. Wake Forest had 164 yards in the first half and scored three touchdown. The Demon Deacons had 198 yards in the second half but scored only a field goal.

The thin white line: Georgia Tech played only five offensive linemen for most of the game, and they opened the way for 495 total yards, including 427 yards on the ground, and kept the ball for 35:51.

Thanks for the help: Wake Forest was flagged only five times for 45 yards, but they were crucial. Three of them gave Georgia Tech first downs, and one of them put the Yellow Jackets within field goal range before the first half.

No answer early: Duke Ejiofor, a Wake Forest senior defensive end, was almost unblockable in the first half with three sacks. The line did a better job in the second half; Ejiofor wound up with six tackles but did not add to his sack total after halftime.  

Worth mentioning

Good and bad for new place-kicker: Freshman Brenton King kicked two field goals in his first start. King booted a 22-yarder on the team’s first possession and kicked a 42-yarder just before halftime. He had an extra point blocked when the long-snapper rolled the ball to the holder.

More Howard?: Johnson said during the week that B-back Jerry Howard needed to play more after the freshman did not get a carry in a loss Miami. He entered the game when Benson was slow to get up midway in the second quarter and carried on three straight plays. Howard scored on 2-yard run to cap the drive.

The 4-2 start: The victory means Johnson has won four of his first six games in six of his 10 seasons with the program. It’s the first time the Yellow Jackets have started 3-1 in the ACC since 2011.

Miscellaneous: Honorary captain Joshua Nesbitt got a huge ovation when he walked onto the field to join the captains for the coin toss. Nesbitt played for Georgia Tech from 2007-10 and was captain his senior season.

They said it

Johnson on the second half: “The defense did a good job holding them to three points in the second half, got some fourth-down stops, and on offense, we were able to hit some big plays and get in the end zone. At times, we can make it look scary, but bottom line is 38’s more than 24, so you take it and move on.”

Johnson on the slow start: “I thought we kind of slept walked through the first half. We had way more energy in the second half than we did the first half. A little more urgency. If you can figure out 18- to 22-year-olds, good luck to you.”

Marshall on bouncing back from the Miami loss: “Sometimes you’ve got to through some adversity and see how the guys will react.”

Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson on his team’s penalties: “We made some really foolish penalties. In my mind we gave them 10 points off personal fouls.”   

What’s next?

Georgia Tech plays Saturday at Clemson.

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