One completion? Running Jackets couldn't care less
ATLANTA (AP)One completion.
"As long as we're ahead at the end of the game," said Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt, breaking into a sly grin, "it doesn't matter how many passes we complete."
He's got that right.
The No. 11 Yellow Jackets have clearly demonstrated that coach Paul Johnson's funky spread-option offense is more than just a gimmick for keeping up with the big guys. It can actually beat the big guys.
Georgia Tech (6-1, 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) posted its biggest victory yet in the not-quite-2-year-old Johnson era - yep, even bigger than last season's drought-breaking win against rival Georgia, everyone insisted - by knocking off then-No. 4 Virginia Tech 28-23 on Saturday night.
It was the Jackets' first victory at home over a top-five team since 1962, and the way they did it was definitely a throwback to an era when offenses such as the wishbone and veer ruled the college football landscape.
Throwing, of course, had nothing to do with it. Georgia Tech put the ball in the air a grand total of seven times (as long as you're not counting all those option pitches being flipped this way and that). Virginia Tech caught as many (an interception by Dorian Porch) as the Yellow Jackets (whose lone completion was Nesbitt's 51-yard throw to Demaryius Thomas in the second quarter).
Not to worry. With the Hokies focused on stopping running back Jonathan Dwyer up the middle and A-backs such as Anthony Allen and Roddy Jones from getting loose on the outside, Nesbitt kept carrying the ball himself. He ran it 23 times for 122 yards, the last of them a thing of beauty when he cut throw a gaping hole to the left and tiptoed down the sideline for a 39-yard touchdown with 3 minutes remaining.
In all, the Yellow Jackets ran 63 times for 309 yards - all but 37 of those yards coming after Johnson made a few subtle adjustments at halftime, taking advantage of a defense that he said never changed the way it played the option.
"We were our own worst enemy in the first half," Johnson said. "We acted like we had never seen that defense. Once we got settled down at halftime and understood where everyone was supposed to go, we executed better in the second half."
Georgia Tech leaped eight spots in the latest Associated Press rankings, just out of the top 10 and its highest mark since 2001. The Yellow Jackets are 12th in the BCS standings.
For Virginia Tech, it was a long fall. The Hokies (5-2, 3-1) tumbled 11 places to No. 15 and likely doomed their national championship hopes with a second loss in Atlanta, having opened the season with a 34-24 loss to No. 1 Alabama in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at the Georgia Dome.
Coach Frank Beamer said his defense got into a "little bit of a guessing game" trying to stop Georgia Tech's offense, and wound up guessing wrong a bunch of times after halftime. Over the last two quarters, the Yellow Jackets ran 42 times for 272 yards - a staggering 6.5 yards per carry. They were relentless with all those pitches and fakes, winding up with eight runs of at least 13 yards.
In the end, they just wore down the Hokies.
"They would be driving the ball, and we would be getting tired," said Virginia Tech linebacker Barquell Rivers, who wound up with a game-high 16 tackles. "We were tired and ready to get off the field, but they kept getting the extra inch for the first down."
Virginia Tech had the clearest path to the ACC title game, but that's gone. So, who's in the best position now? Who knows?
Virginia, a team that opened with three straight losses (one of them to lower-division William & Mary) actually leads the Coastal Division with a 2-0 mark in conference play but has yet to play any of what appear to be the ACC's three strongest teams - Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and No. 8 Miami, all of which have one conference loss.
Next Saturday, the Yellow Jackets get a chance to bring Virginia back to the pack, but they've lost eight straight games in Charlottesville since a 1990 win helped catapult them to a share of the national title.
"We have to make sure we're dialed in next week and ready to play," Johnson said. "Whatever was ailing them earlier, they found and figured out. They might be playing as well as anybody in the league."
Virginia Tech is off next week, then hosts North Carolina on Oct. 29.
"We'll put this behind us," Rivers vowed. "We can't lose any more games."