When Jonathan Dwyer began pumping his arms into the air on Georgia Tech's first offensive play Thursday night, pleading for cheers from the crowd of more than 45,000 fans at Bobby Dodd Stadium, the Yellow Jackets seemed to be jolted to life.
“The fans were very into the game,” Dwyer said. “It was good to get a good turnout for the very first game of the season, and then you had (starting quarterback) Josh (Nesbitt) and other guys in the huddles getting us all excited. We went out, we played well and got ourselves a big win.”
In addition to energizing the crowd with his arms Thursday, Dwyer also electrified the crowd with his feet, running for 112 yards on 11 carries in a 41-14 blowout win over Jacksonville State.
“Any time you win, you should be happy,” Yellow Jackets head coach Paul Johnson said. “They always say an ugly win is prettier than a loss. We've got some things to work on, but we're quite pleased with this win.
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“All I know is, like I told our players just now, 41's better than 14 any day.”
While Johnson contended the Yellow Jackets had several small miscues in their contest against the FCS opponent, there also appeared to be plenty of positives during the season opener.
In addition to Dwyer's impressive outing, the Yellow Jackets received a dominating rushing performance from their entire offense, gaining 349 yards on the ground. In all, Georgia Tech blasted the Gamecocks for 484 yards of total offense.
Playing under Johnson's triple-option offensive system for the first time of the new head coach's tenure, the Yellow Jackets were expected have big production in the running game, sparked by a slew of long runs.
“The thing about our offense is that you don't know just when someone breaks a long run or will make some kind of big play,” Dwyer said of the system's unpredictability.
Adding two touchdowns to his repertoire, Dwyer started the game's scoring with a 21-yard run, before jetting into the end zone on another 27-yard run.
On both those plays — as well as another 39-yard carry — the Gamecocks placed six, seven, and even eight players on the line of scrimmage. But speeding past that first set players, Dwyer only had a couple of defenders left to beat before reaching the end zone, Johnson said.
“There's just nobody left on those plays, there's nobody behind them on the line (when the opposing team stacks the defensive front),” Johnson said. “So you're going to have those big plays.”
Also exhibiting a strong performance Thursday was Georgia Tech's own defense, blitzing into the Gamecocks' backfield numerous times, putting tons of pressure on Jacksonville State starting quarterback and LSU transfer Ryan Perrilloux.
“We did a pretty good job against — what I think — could be one of the best quarterbacks we face all year,” senior defensive lineman Darryl Richard said. “I mean, he's one heck of an athlete; a good scrambling quarterback. I know him well. I played against him a lot in high school (in Louisiana).”
With pressure on Perrilloux from the defensive line, the Yellow Jackets' secondary had several opportunities to make key plays of their own. Sophomore rover (safety) Morgan Burnett had two interceptions Thursday, and according to Richard, they were both the result of the young defender's growing confidence as a starter this season.
“He has this mentality that when the ball is in the air, it's just ‘Morgan's ball,’ ” Richard said. “He's definitely stepped up in that role this year. He just wants the ball.”