Tech defeated Duke in Durham, N.C. to clinch the ACC’s Coastal Division, 49-10. The Jackets improved to 10-1 on the season, giving them double-digit wins for the first time since 1998.
The win crowns the Jackets as the Coastal Division champions for the second time ever and the first since 2006. The team will play in the ACC Championship game against Tampa on Dec. 5.
“I think [the team is] excited, those guys have worked really hard. A lot of people have doubted them along the way, especially early. They have just been resilient and kept playing. I’ll give them credit, they find a way to win,” said Head Coach Paul Johnson.
Junior quarterback Josh Nesbitt threw for two touchdowns and rushed for one more. While he only had 30 yards on the ground, he completed six of 10 passes for 195 yards through the air, his second-highest total of the season. He finished with a quarterback rating of 289.80, the second-highest single-game rating in school history.
“[Nesbitt] hit some big plays, guys made some catches for him and we moved the chains,” Johnson said.
Like many of the previous games this season, Tech found itself trailing at some point. It was the ninth game where the Jackets faced a deficit. The defense allowed Duke’s only touchdown drive of the day on the first possession and the offense had just 12 net rushing yards towards the end of the first quarter. That number improved dramatically as the game went on.
“We didn’t adjust, we just played better…. We settled down and played a little better on offense,” Johnson said.
At the end of Tech’s second offensive drive of the game, Tech faced a fourth-and-one at its own 31-yard line. The offense first lined up to try and draw the Duke defense offsides, but Nesbitt called a timeout and the punt team was sent on to the field. Instead of punting, the team attempted to fake a punt with a direct snap to junior A-back Anthony Allen. The attempt was unsuccessful as Allen was unable to secure the ball, and he was forced to fall on the ball back at Tech’s 14-yard line. Since it was fourth down, Duke took over on downs deep inside of Tech territory.
The Jackets’ defense prevented the Blue Devils from picking up a first down, though, and Duke kicked a field goal to put them ahead 10-0. After this, Tech would score 49 unanswered points.
“Getting that stop on defense to [hold them] to a field goal, that really brought us back up,” said freshman wide receiver Stephen Hill.
On the ensuing kickoff, freshman kick returner Orwin Smith initially dropped the ball, then picked it up and ran all the way to Duke’s 2-yard line before being brought down from behind Had Orwin been able to make it into the end zone, it would have been Tech’s first kickoff return for a touchdown in nearly 11 years.
“[Smith] caught grief when we were running down the field,” Dwyer said.
Nesbitt rushed into the end zone on the next play for Tech’s first score.
At the end of the first quarter and still trailing 10-7, a personal foul penalty was assessed against junior wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, pushing the Jackets back to their own 10-yard line. Quarters cannot end on a penalty, so Tech was able to run an untimed play. Junior B-back Jonathan Dwyer took the ball up the middle and ran for 46 yards before stepping out of bounds. Eight plays later, sophomore A-back Marcus Wright carried the ball 16 yards and put Tech ahead 14-10.
“Offensively, we just took a little bit to get settled down,” Johnson said.
Dwyer had his fourth straight 100-yard game with 110 yards on 14 carries. He also had two rushing touchdowns.
For the rest of the half, Duke was unable to move the ball against Tech and was unable to stop Tech from scoring. The Blue Devils had five consecutive three-and-outs and its last drive of the half consisted of just three plays to end the half. The Jackets were able to score three touchdowns on the next four offensive possessions, gaining nearly 200 yards in the second quarter alone. It would have been even more if a long pass to Thomas had not been overturned by review. Still, despite the incomplete passes and the strength of the running game, the team kept attempting deep passes.
“We had a huge height advantage and we tried to throw deep and take advantage of that,” Johnson said.
On the next possession, Nesbitt threw a strike to Hill on a deep route in the back of the end zone. An official review confirmed that Hill had gotten a foot in the end zone before running out the back, so the touchdown was upheld.
The 28-10 lead continued to grow in the second half, and early in the fourth quarter Johnson brought in most of Tech’s second-string players. Sophomore quarterback Jaybo Shaw, the starter in last year’s shutout of Duke, finished the game in place of Nesbitt.
The defense allowed the Blue Devils just 208 total yards after the first drive of the game. Tech also forced a turnover and sacked Duke quarterbacks Thaddeus Lewis and Sean Renfree a total of four times. The total included two sacks by redshirt junior defensive tackle Ben Anderson.
“For the past few games of the season, I have gotten to the quarterback just as he gets rid of the ball…To finally get some sacks under my belt feels pretty good,” Anderson said.
Junior defensive end Derrick Morgan had a sack as well. Morgan now has 12 sacks on the season, putting him atop the ACC in that category and second in the nation behind Von Miller of Texas A&M.
Tech has its first bye week of the season before taking on rival Georgia in the final regular season game of the year on Nov. 28.
“[After the game], I told [the team] ‘Congratulations, and now we know the biggest game of the year is next,'” Johnson said.