Tech’s first game under Head Coach Paul Johnson was a success, topping the Jacksonville State Gamecocks 41-14 Thursday night at Bobby Dodd Stadium. The Yellow Jackets’ victory makes Johnson the fifth straight Georgia Tech head coach who has won his opening game. But the Jackets victory did not come without some errors.
“Any time you win you should be happy. I learned a long time ago that an ugly win is better than a pretty loss, [but] we have a lot of areas to work on,” Johnson said.
Sophomore B-back Jonathan Dwyer led the Jackets with 112 yards rushing in 11 attempts. Dwyer’s longest carry of the evening came in the first quarter when he picked up 37 yards to put the ball on the JSU two yard line. Dwyer also ran in two touchdowns, which tied him with sophomore quarterback Josh Nesbitt for most touchdowns of the game.
“I knew we could put up some points, if everything [went] right. This offense can be very explosive. The way Coach Johnson calls his plays can be very aggressive, but he can be conservative,” Dwyer said.
After JSU went three and out for the game’s opening drive, the new offense came onto the field 2:30 into the game. Surprising some, Tech’s first offensive play was a pass. Johnson’s tough to be run heavy offense attempted 15 passes throughout the game, of which eight were complete.
“I didn’t really think we were going to throw it that much tonight. Coach Johnson is very good at finding the weaknesses in the defense, and we thought we could get some passing plays off. Josh [Nesbitt] did a good job looking down field and getting them completed,” said freshman quarterback Jaybo Shaw.
The first quarter was the most productive for the Jackets, with the offense scoring two touchdowns and the defense shutting out the Gamecocks. Sophomore Lucas Cox and freshman Roddy Jones, both A-backs, each had their longest reception in the first quarter. Cox’s 29 yard reception would set the Jackets up for their second touchdown of the game. Jones’s 39 yard reception, which came in the next drive for Tech, helped the Jackets to their third touchdown early in the second quarter.
By the end of the second quarter though, the Jackets’ momentum began to taper off. The Jackets second possession of the second quarter ended with the ball being turned over on downs, after Nesbitt failed to pick-up the needed yard in the fourth and one situation.
After Tech scored another touchdown in their next series, sophomore placekicker Scott Blair missed the extra point. Blair, who was the Jackets’ go to guy for kick offs last year, looks to replace Travis Bell as place kicker. Blair, however, was filling two roles on Thursday night as he was also punting since freshman punter Chandler Anderson was scratched for the game.
But that was not the end of the problems for the special teams. Senior James Liipfert fumbled the kickoff to start out the second half, which was ultimately recovered by JSU on the Tech 33 yard line and led to JSU’s first touchdown of the game. The subsequent kickoff was also mishandled, but Tech was able to maintain possession.
Two field goals were also missed in the second half. The first was in the third quarter from 38 yards out and the second came in the fourth from 52 yards out.
“The kicking game was horrendous. It couldn’t be much worse…We fumbled a kick-off. We didn’t cover particularly well. We didn’t kick particularly well. We didn’t snap the ball well. We didn’t protect the kicker well. Other than that I thought it was particularly good,” Johnson said sarcastically.
Defensively, Tech’s main struggle came from trying to contain junior Jacksonville State quarterback Ryan Perriloux. Perriloux was a high profile transfer from last year’s national championship team Louisiana State University. He led JSU Thursday in passing yards and rushing yards picking up 136 and 67 respectively.
Tech’s defense was only able to sack Perriloux four times throughout the game, led by sophomore defensive end Derrick Morgan who had one and half sacks. Last year, Tech’s defense had 47 sacks over the course of the thirteen game season. Sophomore free safety Dominique Reese led the Jackets with seven tackles against the Gamecocks. Also, sophomore rover Morgan Burnette picked off two balls for interceptions, the only two Tech interceptions of the game.
“I thought the defense, especially in the first half, did a really nice job. I think we lost some intensity in the second half. [JSU] did a nice job protecting [Perriloux]. We did not get as many sacks on him as I thought we would, but [the defense] held a lot of people in to block,” said Johnson.
“We had ideas about things [JSU] was going to do, looking at Jacksonville State last year and couple of things from LSU with [Perriloux’s] mechanics. I think the young guys did a pretty good job though,” said senior defensive tackle Darryl Richard.
More so than anything else, Tech can use this game to judge how certain plays and schemes work during actual game play. With the first game now behind them though, the Jackets can now focus on the tough road ahead, as they go up to Boston College next week, and to Virginia Tech the following week.
“I think it was good to get out and play to get some things on tape. They say teams make their most improvement from game one to game two. Certainty, we will need to do that next week,” Johnson said.
“A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step, and this was that first step,” Richard said.