ATLANTA — Paul Johnson worried all week about Georgia Tech's depth problems, which grew more severe as the Yellow Jackets' injury list grew longer.
Johnson had no way of knowing freshman safety Cooper Taylor and other backups were so poised to take advantage of the opportunity for playing time.
Taylor, making his first start, led Georgia Tech with 10 tackles while delivering two of the biggest plays in the Yellow Jackets' 31-28 win over Florida State on Saturday.
Taylor's second-quarter interception and 28-yard return set up a touchdown, but his highlight came on Georgia Tech's final defensive snap.
With Florida State only 3 yards away from taking a lead in the final minute, Taylor caused a fumble with his hit on running back Marcus Sims. Another freshman, cornerback Rashaad Reid, recovered the ball in Georgia Tech's end zone with 45 seconds left to protect the win.
"That was a great play by Cooper," said Johnson, who added he cringed when he saw Reid try to pick up the loose ball.
"I was joking with Rashaad," Johnson said. "I'm like 'He needs to fall on the ball!' I saw him try to pick the ball up and I wanted to strangle him. Then when I saw him roll over with it, I wanted to kiss him."
Johnson said he was proud to see the freshmen deliver with the game on the line.
"I think our guys played through a lot of adversity," Johnson said. "I'm not sure people realize how banged up we were. There are some guys playing out there that are really beat up, and I'm proud of them for staying out there."
Taylor said he followed defensive coordinator Dave Wommack's instruction to hit the ball with his helmet.
"He is always telling us that if we get a shot to get our helmet on the ball, good things will happen," Taylor said.
Taylor started at safety for Dominique Reese, who was held out with a head injury. Taylor became the 20th Georgia Tech player to make his first start this season.
Reid made his second straight start for Jahi Word-Daniels, who was held out with a hamstring injury. In a surprise, the Yellow Jackets also were without starting right tackle David Brown (back). Nick Claytor was the fill-in starter.
Left tackle Andrew Gardner had been listed as questionable with a knee injury, but he made his 48th consecutive start. The senior has started every game of his career.
Georgia Tech was handed another key injury when quarterback Josh Nesbitt limped off in the third quarter with a sore right ankle. Nesbitt had the ankle wrapped and tried to test the injury before going back to the bench and finally heading to the locker room.
No details of Nesbitt's injury were available after the game.
Georgia Tech freshman kicker Scott Blair surprised Florida State by lining up for an apparent 54-yard field goal attempt on the first play of the fourth quarter. Florida State called a time-out to adjust, but Blair had another surprise.
Instead of trying for a field goal, Blair lifted a soft pooch punt that was downed at the Seminoles' 1.
Brown delivers again
Florida State junior defensive end Everette Brown forced a fumble with his third-quarter hit on Georgia Tech backup quarterback Jaybo Shaw's first play. It was Brown 37th career tackle for a loss, good for a fifth-place tie with Broderick Bunkley on Florida State's career list.
Brown has recorded at least one tackle for a loss in seven of eight games this season.
Florida State's 2-point conversion in the fourth quarter was its first since 2006 against Clemson. ... The kickoff time for Georgia Tech's Nov. 8 game at North Carolina is expected to be announced on Sunday. ... Georgia Tech already has announced a "whiteout" for its Nov. 20 home game against Miami, already set for a 7:30 p.m. start. Georgia Tech is asking its fans to wear white to the game. ... Georgia Tech's defense gave up a first-quarter touchdown for the first time since Oct. 20, 2007.