The Jackets took on unranked Duke this past Saturday in a battle that could determine who will finish at the bottom of the ACC. Tech started the game looking strong, with an explosive 61-yard touchdown run by Jahmyr Gibbs. Not to be outdone, the defense caused a quick three-and-out, giving the Jackets the ball at their own ten yard-line.
Pushed back by a false start, Tech continued their season-long struggle with passing. It would be the same story all evening. Receivers, finding themselves open downfield, were missed multiple times by freshman Jeff Sims. Other times, Sims looked as if he expected the receivers to be somewhere they were not. The disconnect between quarterback and receivers was magnified by an offensive line that struggled to block the pass rush. Oftentimes, Jeff Sims would have to dodge multiple Duke defenders to get a pass off. Gibbs and Jordan Mason both helped rescue the offense by providing a strong running alternative for the offense.
The first Duke touchdown came from a fumbled Tech punt return in their own end zone tied the game at seven. Special teams have been a challenge all season and would continue to plague the Jackets throughout the evening.
Tech was quick to respond. A deep run downfield by Jordan Mason put the Jackets on the Blue Devil 20 yard-line. Sims lobbed a perfectly placed pass to Malachi Carter on third down for the Jackets second touchdown of the evening.
A few drives later, the Blue Devil showed momentum for the first time in the evening, moving the ball successfully through a combination of runs and screen passes. The end of the first quarter saw the Blue Devils right outside the Tech red zone, by far the furthest their offense had made it in the game. A quick slant route by tight end Noah Gray put the Blue Devils on the Jackets three yard-line, and two plays later, the Blue Devils found themselves in the end zone after a short, one-yard run. The play tied the game 14-14.
Duke came out with the same momentum on their next drive, with a deep pass by Blue Devils quarterback Brice Smith to Dennis Smith putting the Jackets defense on their heels at their own 27 yard-line. The next play turned what seemed to be an upcoming Duke touchdown on its head as a high snap led to a fumble, giving the Jackets the ball on Duke’s 42 yard-line.
Sims showed his unique playmaking ability on the ensuing, avoiding multiple defenders who slipped through the offensive line on third down and making a quick pass to move the chains. Two plays later, a 26-yard run by Jahmyr Gibbs put the Jackets in the end zone.
A few drives later, a refocused Blue Devil offense took the field, finishing their steady march downfield with a deep pass into the endzone to tie the game at 21-21. A poor return on the ensuing kickoff put the Jackets on their own four yard-line. Once again, a porous offensive line let multiple Duke defensive players through, causing a safety.
In a surprising turn of events, a mistake by the Duke kicking team put the Blue Devil offense on their own 1-yard line. This time it was the Jackets who had the opportunity for a game-changing play, with a fumble by Chase Brice in his own end zone giving the Jackets a touchdown to go up 28-23.
At the end of the half, Sims, scrambling from pressure, threw an interception and gave the Blue Devils the ball on the Jackets’ 17 yard-line. Once again, the Tech defense made the necessary stop, forcing the Blue Devils to settle for a field goal and closing the Jackets’ lead to 28-26 going into the half.
An interception by the Tech defense put the Jacket offense deep inside Duke territory to start the second half. Sims took advantage of the opportunity, completing a 24-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Camp to put the Jackets up 35-26
Duke found themselves in the end zone a few drives later, connecting on a short pass that cut Tech’s lead back to just two points.
Sims continued to face relentless pressure from Duke blitzes, but he showed his running abilities the next drive and connected with Adonicas Sanders for his third touchdown pass of the evening, putting Tech up 42-33.
The fourth quarter began with a 36-yard Dontae Smith touchdown run, helping solidify both the Jacket lead and the dominant run game that had given the Blue Devils trouble all night. Tech was in total control from this point on as another touchdown by Smith put led to the final score of 56-33.
Though not without its mistakes, the victory was a breath of fresh air for Tech. The Yellow Jackets arrived needing a victory after a tumultuous season. Some of the same problems that have shown themselves throughout the season plagued the Jackets, but the win will put them one game away from improving their record from last year.