Jacket’s defense shines in season opener

Photo by Austin Foote

When the clock hit zero at Boddy Dodd Stadium last Saturday, the score was 70-0. It was a special day, not only because it was the first game of the year, but because it was the beginning of the 100th year of Tech football at Grant Field. It will be a day to remember by Tech fans because many fans have never witnessed such a victory.

While it wasn’t as impressive as the 1916 Cumberland game, where Tech won with a score of 222-0, it was a still a decisive victory by the Yellow Jackets. The 70 points scored might be most people’s favorite thing about the game, but for me, the shutout was more impressive. Shutouts are very rare in college football, even against FCS teams like Elon. It was the first Tech shutout since 2008, when the Jackets knocked off the Duke Blue Devils 27-0. The 70 point margin of victory against Elon was also the largest margin of victory in the history of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

After struggling mightily the past few years on defense, Tech defence appears to be a major force this year. From the beginning of the game, the defense swarmed to the ball and caused an early fumble, foreshadowing things to come. Seniors Brandon Watts and Jemea Thomas set the tone early, and the rest of the team followed their lead.

“The defensive line took up a lot of blockers, and we were able to run around them and make plays,” Watts said.

Watts was also excited about the shut-out.

“It meant a lot. That’s the first one we’ve had since I’ve been here. When the 2’s and 3’s went in, we were cheering them on,” Watts said.

On the day, four turnovers were caused by the new Ted Roof-led defense. Three  were interceptions and two of those three were returned for touchdowns. Linebacker Tyler Marcodes had a 95 yard interception return for a touchdown, and safety Chris Milton had another in the second half.

“A lot of guys got good reps today, and we got to see our depth on defense and see guys make plays,” Marcodes said. “Jabari Hunt-Days got a pick, and Chris Milton got a pick for a touchdown so we had a lot of big plays on D.”

Those were the first touchdowns that those players have scored in their Tech careers. This was the first game with a defensive touchdown since last year’s homecoming game versus Brigham Young University. The 173 interception yards were also a new school record.

With the bye week following the Elon game, Tech has to begin preparation for ACC play. The teams will begin to get much harder as the Jackets progress through the year. Duke, North Carolina and Virginia Tech are on the horizon, and Tech must win these games for the Jackets to win the coastal. Even though everything seemed fine in the game, Coach Johnson knows there is still much to work on defensively before the Jackets start ACC play.

“We had a hard time getting them off the field. The good thing was that when they got down there, we didn’t let them score. They were six-of-16 on third down conversions. I’m sure if Coach Roof was here, he would tell you he would want to be better than that,” Johnson said.

Lots of old and new Jackets got onto the field Saturday. The depth of the defense was shown, and they were able to keep the shutout intact. Coach Johnson did recognize the significance of that.

“The bottom line… is they didn’t score. That’s what happens when you get turnovers like that. The game was out of reach before the offense really had to do anything.

When we started the game, the defense got a few turnovers and the game’s gone,” Johnson said.

Even though the Jackets only recorded one sack against Elon, there shouldn’t be any concern. Elon called a lot of short passes and running plays. However, the Jackets did record six tackles for loss, so the presence in the backfield was there.

Freshman Paul “PJ” Davis was one of two true freshman to play against Elon. He showed the skills and hustle that the coaches and players have been raving about during the preseason. Davis recorded six tackles and one tackle for loss and was all over the field when he played. He wears the number 40, which fits him very well as it was the old number of former Tech captain, Julian Burnett.

Based on the way Davis played against Elon, it is clear that he shows the same tenacity and toughness as Burnett. Davis will  add to the great depth already at the linebacker position and will be a name to remember for years to come.

Coach Johnson named safety Chris Milton the defensive player of the week against Elon. Several Tech players on defense missed the preseason, including star linebacker Jabari Hunt-Days. Hunt-Days recorded the first interception of the game while Elon was deep in Tech terrority.

“It felt good. It’s definitely a continuous practice from the end of last season to now. It’s not about what I do individually but about the whole team. As a team, everybody progressed today, and we had a fun time,” Hunt-Days said.

The players seem to be enjoying playing on defense this year, unlike last year when many players feared it. Al Groh’s defense was very complex and going into last year’s opener versus Virginia Tech, he stated that there were only 12 players he felt were comfortable playing his defense.

Thankfully, that is not the case this year. Roof has done an excellent job so far, and the players are responding well to his defensive style. If the players can continue to grow and improve, it will be a terrific surprise for Coach Johnson. Johnson’s strategy has always been to out score his opponents. A great defense for the future will be Coach Johnson’s best friend as Tech goes into the season.