Tech breaks hearts, records

Photo by Casey Miles

The Good

Justin who? Looks like the Jackets might be just fine under center.
TaQuon Marshall shone in his first game starting as quarterback, setting the Tech record for rushing touchdowns, making an incredible 44 carries, and rushing for 249 yards – one of the finest offensive performances by a Tech QB arguably ever. The rest of the offense, despite being hampered by the loss of BB Dedrick Mills and an injury to AB Clinton Lynch, was superb, providing 635 total yards of offense, impressive even against a porous Vols stop unit.

Paul Johnson’s vision of the triple-option death march was on full display, as Tech ate up the clock (41:18 time of possession) and steadily outgained Tennessee 635-369. Despite having all summer to prepare for the triple option, Tennessee’s defense looked completely helpless against it all game.

The offense continues its trend of unsung B-backs bursting onto the scene. Two years ago, it was Marcus Marshall against Alcorn State. Last year, it was Dedrick Mills’ entire freshman campaign. With Marshall and Mills’ careers in white and gold finished, it was redshirt sophomore KirVonte Benson’s turn. Benson rushed for more than 100 yards and a touchdown, but more importantly, only eight of his carries (including a one-yard score) earned less than four yards. That consistency will help the Jackets grind out games as the season goes on.

The Bad

With the game on the line, the Tech defense repeatedly folded. As Head Coach Paul Johnson noted in his post-game press conference, a defense that is offered long spells of rest as Tech’s was, thanks in large part to methodical offensive drives, should have no issues with
fatigue late in the game. Yet by the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Jackets’ defense was showing weakness.

The game began well for Ted Roof’s group, which forced four punts and a turnover on downs in six first half drives. It would only go downhill from there. The Volunteers scored touchdowns on five of their last seven drives (including a two-for-two performance in overtime.) The pass rush flagged, tackling form declined and the players who looked so dominant a few hours before were painfully mortal.

Special teams are off to a rough start. The obvious concern is redshirt kicker Shawn Davis, who missed both field goal attempts, including a 36-yard chip at the end of regulation. Davis’s difficulties, especially in high pressure spots, likely factored into Johnson’s decision to go for the two point conversion in the second overtime rather than attempting another point-after try.

Johnson suggested after the game that he would try another kicker. Changes may also be made to the kickoff coverage team, which allowed multiple long returns and afforded the Volunteers a critical advantage in field positions, even when they did not capitalize.

The Rest

A game in Atlanta could not be complete without a traffic jam.
Immediately following the game, Tech and Tennessee fans alike were stuck at Mercedes Benz Stadium as MBS staff faced difficulties funneling fan traffic effectively. Reportedly, fans were funneled to dead-ends and forced into already crowded areas, and it took much longer for fans to leave than expected from the 100-level sections. Such issues must be worked out before the Atlanta Falcons open their home schedule in two weeks.

The Jackets now own an ignonimous
piece of history.
Tech’s 535 rushing yards were the most in the past 10 years in a loss, courtesy of ESPN Stats. The 535 rushing yards were also the most Tennessee had ever allowed.

Tech’s failure on the two-point conversion was less about playcalling and more about execution. A frustrated Paul Johnson described the play as a “walk-in” if run correctly. The option allowed Marshall to take it himself (foiled by blocking failures) or toss it to KirVonte Benson (foiled by a late toss). Instead, Marshall was stuffed and a desperate heave to Benson was of no avail. The Volunteers and their fans celebrated, and somehow, the Jackets walked off the field without a win despite controlling the clock for the majority of the game.

The team will have to shake off the result in time for a quick turnaround.