With all the negative talk (and deservedly so) about Georgia Tech’s defense, all the rumblings in Atlanta about the direction of the program, and the yearly losses to division rivals VA Tech and Miami stacking up on Paul Johnson’s Yellow Jackets, you would most certainly have to think Saturday’s trip to Blacksburg was a huge win for this Georgia Tech football team.
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The first half left a lot to be desired on defense (SURPRISE). The Hokies seemed to convert every third down situation (7 of 9 to be exact), and QB Michael Brewer was 17 of 23 for 207 yds. It felt like this was going to be the same ole’ Jackets who simply could not get off the field on 3rd down and force punts.
But here’s the real surprise; to their credit, long and sustained drives were not allowed in this game like they had been in the previous three, and the defense forced the Hokies to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns in the first half.
The 2nd half was a totally different story. To be honest, Ted Roof’s unit played lights out.
After throwing an interception in the first half, Brewer threw two more in the 2nd and they weren’t pretty, including a 41 yd pick-six, and the dagger, on the first play from scrimmage at just over 2 minutes to go in the game.
As key as the interceptions were, the bigger story on defense is really the fact that the Hokies running game was held in check, thus putting more pressure on QB Brewer, which obviously fed the pass-rush and pressure on the QB in the 2nd half.
If it’s not clear by now, Georgia Tech QB Justin Thomas is not just a “gamer” as Johnson referred to him on the post-game ESPN interview with Tom Luginbill, but he is also a “winner”, and Yellow Jackets fans know by now he is something special.
Thomas is most likely the best QB since Josh Nesbitt, Thomas may finally be the player Paul Johnson has been waiting for.
Sep 20, 2014; Blacksburg, VA, USA; Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets quarterback Justin Thomas (5) rushes the ball against Virginia Tech Hokies linebacker Chase Williams (36) during the fourth quarter at Lane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports
Much has been made about the decommitment from Nick Saban and Alabama before the 2012 signing day. Saban wanted Thomas’ talent, but wanted to put him at defensive back instead of QB. Thomas then got to know Paul Johnson, and Johnson told him he would definitely have a chance to start at QB at the Institute.
You can’t blame Saban, because considering the system that Alabama likes to run on offense (the power-run/play action NFL pro-style), Thomas’ smaller size doesn’t make him a good fit, but Saban also clearly knew the kid had special talents.
Thomas is built perfectly for what Johnson wants to do. He is the 2nd fastest player on the team, and ran a 4.3 on the 40m dash in high school. His speed has been on display, including yesterday’s game against the Hokies. Thomas squirted down the sideline on an 80-yard touchdown run, although it was ultimately called back because of an illegal block.
Perhaps though, it’s Thomas’ passing skills that are most intriguing. Thomas had very ‘option-esq” passing stats at first glance yesterday, but if you watched the game, you saw how he made key plays, including several big throws in the 4th quarter to win the game for the Jackets.
The biggest, was easily a 19yd pass to WR Deandre Smelter on 4th and 15 from midfield. Then Thomas found Smelter down the sideline for 31yd TD pass. you can easily say that the 4th and 15 play won the game for the Jackets. Then again, three interceptions by the defense surely helped too. It’s amazing what can happen when the defense gets the ball back every now and then, huh?
I wrote last week that this was a BIG game for Paul Johnson. The much-maligned coach took this team into a place it has had its fair share of misfortune in the Johnson era, and pulled off a gutsy victory.
VA Tech isn’t a Top-10 team, and and may not be for a while (although the Hokies can still have a very successful season), but in 9 of 10 seasons since the league split into divisions, this game has decided the Coastal Division winner. You have to believe winning this game puts the Jackets a step ahead in the Coastal heading into October.
The work is not finished for Johnson and the Ramblin’ Wreck, but the Coastal Division is there for the taking. With improved defensive play and continued success from Justin Thomas and his gutsy play-making abilities, this could very well be a special season in the making for the Yellow Jackets.
Like Johnson told the team in an intense, emotion-filled post game speech in the locker room, “…we can get so much better!” That begins in two weeks, when the Hurricanes visit Bobby Dodd Stadium.