Georgia Tech running back David Sims (20) stiff arms Syracuse linebacker Marqez Hodge (33) for a short gain during Saturday’s game at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta. (Photo: Karl L. Moore)
ATLANTA — Coming off a three-game losing streak, Georgia Tech righted the ship against Syracuse last Saturday with a 56-0 rout in what was probably one of most complete victories of Paul Johnson’s tenure.
While head coach Johnson was pleased with his team’s dismantling of Syracuse a week ago, he stressed that it won’t mean anything if the team does not play with the same focus and determination this week.
“I was proud of our team last week,” Johnson said. “The effort and concentration levels were much better. Having said that, it’s like I say every week, that one’s over with now so you move on and we are getting ready to go up to Charlottesville to play a Virginia team that has its back against the wall.”
The biggest improvement from the last three games and this one was likely the fact that the Jackets didn’t beat themselves with costly turnovers and penalties. Wide receiver Deandre Smelter threw an interception on a trick play for the only Tech turnover, and the Jackets were not flagged a single time.
“We tried to put an emphasis on penalties, turnovers and all of the things that get you beat and I thought our guys did a good job handling that in the game,” Johnson said.
After the first Tech possession ended with the Smelter turnover, it was clear that Johnson was going to keep the ball on the ground until Syracuse proved capable of stopping it. Vad Lee had one of the best games of his career with running the option effectively and the Jackets were able to run for 394 yards.
“Both quarterbacks did a pretty good job managing what we were asking them to do,” Johnson said. “They had made a decision by the way they were playing that the quarterback was going to run the ball most of the time. Every play is not going to be perfect, but you can manage second-and-seven or second-and-eight. It’s harder to manage second-and-15. We stayed away from the negative plays.”
Another key to Tech’s victory was slowing down the Syracuse running attack, which had gone for over 300 yards in its three previous games. Part of that was due to the incredible time of possession advantage for Tech, which had the ball for nearly two-thirds of the game. But the Jackets also controlled the line of scrimmage and prevented Syracuse’s running backs from breaking the big play.
“Coming into that game they had rushed for a lot of yards in the previous two games,” Johnson said. “One of the things that we wanted to do, something that we really try to focus on every week, was limit the other team’s ability to run the ball.
“Offensively, we were able to double some of their best players. Jay Bromley is a really good player and we doubled him a lot. The linebacker Marquis Spruill got frustrated because he wasn’t right very often when it came to who had the ball. The offensive line did a pretty good job coming off and doing what we asked them to do.”
Now the Jackets will turn to preparing for a road trip to Virginia.
Last season, Tech handled the Cavaliers at home 56-20. However, it didn’t go so well the last time the Jackets visited Charlottesville.
Johnson’s team was undefeated and ranked No. 6 in the country before the Cavaliers upset them 24-21.