ATLANTA — Georgia Tech’s Calvin Booker endured nearly five full seasons before making his first career start at quarterback.
Was the long wait worth the end result for the former Auburn transfer?
“I’d give it a D across the board,” Booker said. “The only reason it’s not an F is because we won, thanks to the defense.”
Derrick Morgan tipped a 43-yard field goal attempt by Gardner-Webb’s Ryan Gates with three seconds left, helping Georgia Tech squeak out an unexpectedly difficult 10-7 victory on Saturday over an FCS opponent.
“I was able to get a piece of it,” Morgan said. “I didn’t know what happened, but I heard the crowd cheering so I knew it was something good.”
Despite boasting a ground game that ranked fifth in the nation, the Yellow Jackets (5-1) rushed for just 79 yards, nearly 210 under their average as third-string quarterback Booker struggled with his timing and suffered from terrible protections in coach Paul Johnson’s triple-option attack.
Starter Josh Nesbitt was in uniform, but took no snaps for the second straight game because of a strained hamstring. Second-string quarterback Jaybo Shaw, who passed for 230 yards in Georgia Tech’s 27-0 win over Duke last week, did not dress after suffering a concussion against the Blue Devils.
At 6-foot-4, 234 pounds, Booker was hardly a good fit in the Jackets’ first year of Johnson’s triple-option.
“There were a lot of times Calvin didn’t have a chance,” the coach said. “It was a comedy of errors, really. It looked like a poorly prepared, poorly coached football team out there.”
Booker, a lumbering quarterback ran a team-high 19 times for just 35 yards, and his difficulty pitching on the perimeter seemed to affect the timing of Jonathan Dwyer, who had only 27 yards on 16 carries despite leading the Atlantic Coast Conference with a 109.6 average.
And Booker was unable to make up for his problems in the running game by passing. He went 3-for-11 for 120 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Early in the second quarter, Dwyer caught a ball in the left flats that he ran untouched for a 79-yard TD.
Scott Blair gave the Jackets a 10-0 lead one possession later with a 29-yard field goal, but Gardner-Webb (2-4) kept the score close despite losing quarterback Stan Doolittle to a broken thumb right before halftime.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs turned to Devin Campbell, who completed 10 of 13 passes for 116 yards, and the senior reserve hit Jamal Patmon for a 26-yard gain on the left sideline and Dobson Collins for a 12-yarder to set up Gates’ chance to force overtime.
Morgan, a defensive end, pressured from the left side to get his arm high enough to tip the field-goal attempt.
The play was an appropriate ending for Morgan, who teamed with right end Michael Johnson and tackle Vance Walker to combine for five sacks, 17 solo tackles and 51 yards of lost yardage.
Johnson was penalized, however, for a personal foul midway through the third quarter that negated a 34-yard field goal attempt that Gates missed wide left.
The officials said Johnson leaped before the snap, which resulted in a new set of downs for Gardner-Webb at the 8. On the next play, Brandon Jackson dove over the left pylon for the Bulldogs’ touchdown.
“I saw an opening, and we tried to catch them off guard,” Jackson said. “We knew we could play with them. I expected them to be a great team. They found a way to win.”
Georgia Tech added Gardner-Webb, its second FCS opponent this year, to the schedule after Army canceled its home game against the Yellow Jackets.
Despite losing their last three games, the Runnin’ Bulldogs began the day ranked No. 3 in the FCS against the run, allowing an average of 45.6 yards. Gardner-Webb’s last two opponents, Sam Houston State and Charleston Southern, combined for just 1.4 yards per carry on 45 total attempts.
The Jackets finished with a 1.7 average, 4.1 under their season mark.
“Nobody has rushed for over 100 yards on us in the last six games,” Gardner-Webb coach Steve Patton said. “Our defensive guys played with a lot of heart. I really think we outplayed them in the second half.”
Notes: Booker sensed that Tech, which lost two of three fumbles, was looking ahead to next week’s game at Clemson. “The excitement level, I just didn’t it when we were out on the field,” he said. “Going three-and-out, we just weren’t playing with pride. We want respect but we didn’t earn it today. That led an embarrassing performance.” ... The Jackets used fourth-string quarterback Bryce Dykes to alternate snaps during a five-minute possession of the third quarter, giving Booker a break from the physical demands of getting hit in the triple-option. The drive ended with Dykes losing a fumbled snap. ... Gardner-Webb’s Philip Peoples ran 17 times for a game-high 53 yards.