Led by strong play from a pair of redshirt freshmen, quarterback Synjyn Days and inside linebacker Quayshawn Nealy, the Gold team—which featured Tech’s second-string offense and its first-string defense—forced five turnovers and defeated the White team 21-7 in Tech’s annual T-Day spring football game on Saturday, April 23 at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
The game marked the culmination of spring practice for the Jackets, who will be entering their fourth season under Head Coach Paul Johnson and are coming off a disappointing 6-7 campaign in the 2010 season.
“The spring was productive…While we’ve got a lot to work on, I’m encouraged. We’ve got a base to move forward with for fall camp,” Johnson said.
Several positional battles were in focus during the game. Foremost among these was the race for the starting quarterback job between Days and redshirt junior Tevin Washington, who entered the spring as the incumbent after starting four games late last season in relief of the injured Joshua Nesbitt. Both quarterbacks had played well during the spring, but Days appeared to fall behind in the race after committing multiple fumbles in a scrimmage a week earlier.
On Saturday, it was Washington who struggled early on. After picking up two first downs, Washington attempted to make an option pitch to redshirt senior A-back Roddy Jones but missed, and Nealy recovered the fumble at the White 41-yard line.
Days led the Gold offense onto the field and guided them to the end zone. He carried the ball on four of the first five plays as Gold picked up two quick first downs, and Days capped the drive with an 11-yard touchdown pass to sophomore A-back B.J. Bostic to give Gold a 7-0 lead.
Both quarterbacks’ fortunes continued in that manner. Washington fumbled on each of White’s next two possessions, dropping the ball when he was sacked by redshirt senior defensive end Jason Peters and fumbling during an exchange with redshirt senior B-back Preston Lyons. Washington recovered the second fumble but Gold turned the first mistake into points, as redshirt junior B-back Richard Watson scored on a 15-yard run to put his squad ahead 14-0 in the first quarter.
The second quarter did see Washington improve somewhat. The redshirt junior completed passes to junior A-back Orwin Smith and senior A-back Embry Peeples to start White’s fourth possession, and ultimately he scored on a 15-yard run to cut the Gold lead to 14-7.
It was the last score of the first half, and the second half saw a generally quieter contest as both teams began to bring in reserves at all positions.
The first possession of the second half, though, saw the Gold offense quickly drive 70 yards for a touchdown. On a trick play, Bostic took a right-side pitch and threw down the right sideline to redshirt junior receiver Daniel McKayhan, who made the catch in double coverage for a 35-yard gain. Days later finished the drive by scoring from a yard out, and Gold took a 21-7 lead.
Neither team was able to do much offensively after that. Washington struggled through the air amid fierce pressure from the Gold defense, completing just four of 15 pass attempts in the second half.
On the day, Washington was 10-for-26 for 134 yards and threw three interceptions, including one to junior defensive end Izaan Cross. He scrambled out of the pocket frequently and consequently took numerous hard hits during the game. Still, Johnson was not concerned by his performance.
“[Washington] is probably banged up a little bit…but I think he’s gotten better this spring. He has certainly played better than he did today. We try to judge it based on the whole body of work,” Johnson said.
Johnson pointed to White’s inability to protect Washington as a bigger issue. Washington was often forced to scramble because Gold’s linemen and linebackers broke through White’s protection schemes with ease throughout the game.
“I’m concerned about the offensive line. That would be an understatement,” Johnson said.
Offense aside, both teams shined over the final 30 minutes in other areas.
The best defensive performance on the day was that of Nealy. The redshirt freshman linebacker did plenty to disrupt the White offense, recording seven solo tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. He was also sharp in pass coverage, knocking down two passes.
“I give credit to the [defensive] line,” Nealy said. “It makes things a lot easier, in terms of reads, when those guys up front are leading the way.”
The young secondary units made some strong plays; White sophomore cornerback Louis Young and sophomore safety Isaiah Johnson worked well in coverage together, and the Gold defensive backs intercepted Washington twice.
“We have two gifted corners, Louis Young and [junior] Rod Sweeting, and I feel so comfortable with them in the game,” Johnson said. “The pressure that those corners put on helps the safeties a lot.”
The White special teams unit also made a big play, as redshirt senior punter Chandler Anderson got off a 59-yard punt that his teammates downed inside the one-yard line. However, both sides struggled in the kicking game; the five kickers that took part in the game did not miss an extra point but connected on just one of four field goal attempts.
Ultimately, Gold took home the 21-7 victory.
Powering the effort for Gold was Days, who rushed 24 times for 112 yards and a touchdown; the redshirt freshman also completed two of seven passes for 46 yards and a score.
“It felt great,” Days said. “Just having the opportunity to play is a blessing in itself.”
Amid a strong overall performance, Days did show one weakness: he tended to hold onto the ball too often. On option plays he kept the ball far more often than he pitched, and he scrambled from the pocket on several pass plays.
“A lot of times when he drops back to throw, he’s not looking to throw; he’s looking for a lane [to run]. He doesn’t even look downfield unless you specifically tell him who to look for sometimes. But that’s [what you expect from] a young quarterback,” Johnson said.
“The offensive line did pretty well today. I feel like as the offensive line keeps getting stronger, I won’t scramble as much…and so when I actually do have to run, I can save my body for that,” Days said.
Another prominent position battle, the B-back race, saw little resolution. For White, Lyons’ hard running style allowed him to gain 50 yards on 11 carries, but the offensive line’s struggles hurt second-stringer and redshirt freshman Charles Perkins, who gained just 11 yards on seven carries. Watson played well for Gold, picking up 48 yards and a score on six carries, and redshirt sophomore David Sims—who played quarterback last season—had 27 yards on the ground.
“I feel good about all four of those guys,” Johnson said of the B-backs.
With the end of the T-Day game, spring practice has wrapped up for Tech. The Jackets will resume preparations for the 2011 season in August.