NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Georgia Tech keeps proving that offense isn’t a problem with coach Paul Johnson’s spread option.
The Yellow Jackets need to show they can be a little defensive as well.
They rolled up a season-high 597 yards offense in a 56-31 victory over Vanderbilt on Saturday night that moved them up to No. 10 in the AP poll Sunday. But they also allowed a team that hadn’t scored more than 10 points in any game against a Southeastern Conference opponent to light up the scoreboard and finish with 397 yards offense.
“I’m disappointed in the way we started,” Johnson said. “We missed some tackles that just killed us in the first half on big plays. They hit a ton of big plays.”
Georgia Tech gave up at least five runs of 10 yards or longer, including a 35-yarder that could have been worse if Vanderbilt quarterback Larry Smith hadn’t pulled his left hamstring at the end. Zac Stacy was nearly untouched on a 62-yard touchdown run, and that didn’t include a 47-yard catch-and-run by Stacy on a pass from Smith’s replacement, Mackenzi Adams.
The Yellow Jackets did recover three fumbles, though, and held Vanderbilt to 140 yards in the second half.
Josh Nesbitt, who ran for two touchdowns and threw for two more, credited the defense with firing up the offense. The defense got him the ball back after he fumbled at the Vanderbilt 3 in the third quarter, and Jonathan Dwyer scored his second of three TDs to put Georgia Tech back ahead to stay 35-31.
“That was the spark we were looking for the whole game,” Nesbitt said.
Georgia Tech (8-1) has won six straight for the first time since 2000 — also the last time the Yellow Jackets won four road games in a season. They return home after consecutive road games and will host Wake Forest in the teams’ first meeting since the 2006 ACC title game.
Dwyer ran for a career-high 186 yards on 22 carries. Nesbitt ran 16 times for 56 yards, and was 6 of 13 for 193 yards passing.
“There are a lot of areas we can get better at,” Johnson said. “All in all, we went on the road and won the game, and we are back on task next week.”
Special teams is one unit that will need some attention. Freshman Warren Norman returned a kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown to become the first player in Vanderbilt history with three TDs off kickoff returns in a season. That also tied Willie Gault of Tennessee as the only players in SEC history to do that, with Gault doing it in 1980.
“I thought we did a better job of covering kicks in the second half,” Johnson said.
Still, Norman finished with 184 yards off five kickoff returns and now has the single-season school record with 852 yards this season.
Vanderbilt (2-7) lost its bid for the first back-to-back bowl berths in school history after ending a drought dating to 1982 last season. The Commodores are playing 12 straight games this season with no break — and next up is No. 1 Florida.
“We still have a lot to play for,” Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said.
The improved offense was good to see from a unit that had been 110th in scoring, averaging 16.6 points per game.
“Our offense needed this success (Saturday), and it was good to get the production we’ve been looking for,” Johnson said.