Sophomore quarterback Vad Lee attempted only three passes, completing all three, for 88 yards and a touchdown as the Jackets defeated Syracuse 56-0. The 56-point victory is Tech’s largest margin of victory ever in ACC play. The win breaks a three game losing streak for the Jackets and improves their record to 4-3.
“It was good to be back home. I was proud of the way our guys played. They came out and played with a lot of effort. I don’t think we had a penalty, which was a big focus during the week. Other than the pick we threw on the trick play, we didn’t have a turnover. So that was good and in the past three weeks we’ve talked a lot about the things we had been doing that had beaten ourselves,” Coach Johnson said.
B-back Zach Laskey rushed for 75 yards on 13 carries and had his first career three touchdown performance. The Jackets are now 3-0 all-time against Syracuse, with the most recent victory coming in the 2004 Champs Sports Bowl, a 51-14 Tech win. B-back David Sims had 50 yards rushing after the first quarter and appeared to be on his way to his first ever career 100 yard rushing game, but finished with only 56 rushing yards. As a team, Tech rushed for 394 yards on 67 rushes. The Jackets only threw the ball on five of the 72 offensive plays.
“It’s a team effort with the triple option and like I said, when everyone is doing their job correctly, it will work. When one guy misses his block it might be a negative play or things like that, but we came out and we were moving the ball. Our offensive line was getting push and our A-backs were doing a great job blocking,” Lee said.
Linebacker Quayshawn Nealy had an interception, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup for the Jackets in what he called his best career game since coming to Tech.
After committing ten penalties against BYU in a loss last weekend, the Jackets managed to go the entire game against Syracuse without committing a single penalty. This is the first time Tech has gone an entire game without committing a penalty since 1968.
“When you play good teams, you can’t kill yourselves and today I don’t think we had any penalties. I know we didn’t have any false start issues or anything like that. So offensively we did good taking care of the ball,” Lee said.
After Syracuse received the opening kickoff, Tech forced the Orange into a three and out. Tech’s opening drive would begin and end with converted baseball player DeAndre Smelter. Smelter returned the punt to Tech’s 49, but would throw an interception four plays later on a trick play to end the drive for the Jackets.
The Orange would began their drive on their own six with 11:58 remaining in the first quarter. After gaining 40 yards on eight plays, the Orange were forced to punt for the second time of the day, but this time it was blocked by Tech junior Chris Milton and was recovered on the Syracuse 24. The block was Milton’s third blocked punt of the season.
“It was huge. I’ve coached for over 30 years and I can count on one hand the games you have lost when you block a kick. We were up 21-0 and hadn’t really needed a long drive because we had gotten such great field position. We squandered the first series with field position when we had a guy so wide open but we threw it to the one guy that was covering him,” Coach Johnson said.
Four plays later, Junior A-back Synjyn Days would take the option pitch four yards to put the Jackets up 7-0 with 1:40 remaining in the first.
Syracuse returned the Tech kickoff to their own 49, and moved the ball all the way down to Tech’s 22 on a Chris Clark reception. After a false start and a holding penalty, the Orange faced 2nd and 28 from the Tech 40. Tech junior linebacker Quayshawn Nealy picked off Hunt at the Tech 29, where the Jackets would start their next possession.
“I just read the quarterback. That wasn’t really even my man, my man was blocking in the backfield, and I just read his eyes and his eyes took me to the right place. I juts made a play on the ball. I thought I didn’t have it, I thought it was too high, but it was on my fingertips and I’m glad it just fell in my lap,” Nealy said.
It would take the Jackets just nine plays, all rushing, to march 71 yards down the field and score on six-yard touchdown run by junior B-back Zach Laskey to increase the lead to 14-0.
After forcing another Syracuse punt, Tech would take over their own 18. After marching down the field fairly easily, Tech was eventually faced with a 3rd and goal from the Syracuse 13. Lee’s pass intended for Laskey was incomplete, but a roughing the passer call on Syracuse extended the drive. Just two plays later, on a drive that lasted 14 plays and seven minutes and 17 seconds, Lee would punch it in on a two yard quarterback keeper to make the score 21-0.
Tech would add to their lead with 0:54 remaining in the half, another touchdown run by Lee, this time from only one yard out, and the Jackets would head to the locker room with a 28-0 lead. In the first half alone, Lee had 70 rushing yards on 12 carries and did not attempt a single pass.
Lee would attempt his first pass of the day four plays into the third quarter. After three runs to open up the half, Lee would hit junior receiver Darren Waller in stride on a play action pass for a 46-yard touchdown.
“I kind of knew he was going to be open and I just wanted to throw it and give him a chance,” Lee said.
Freshman backup quarterback Justin Thomas would show off his speed on a 50-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter to put the Jackets up 49-0, and Laskey scored his third touchdown of the game midway through the fourth to increase the lead to 56-0.
“We just have to keep building off of this win and off of the great plays that we made today,” Lee said.