Paul Johnson won’t ever be accused of being loquacious. But quite often the taciturn Tech coach says a lot without saying much.
Such was the case Saturday, when Johnson summed up Tech’s 30-24 overtime victory over Georgia.
“What a game!” exclaimed Johnson, opening his remarks at the obligatory postgame press conference. “It was a really crazy game.”
That might be not only the best way to describe it, but also the best way to explain it.
“The craziest part, to me, was the third quarter,” Johnson continued. “We take eight, nine minutes off the clock, drive it all the way down to the other end, and have it on the one.
“The next thing you know is that we’re down seven instead of being up seven. Then they kick off to us and we return it back to the 12, and then have to punt. Fortunately, we were able to block a field goal and turn the momentum one more time.”
Actually, Tech ran 6:18 off the clock with the 12-play, 91 yard drive to open the second half. But who’s to quibble over a couple of minutes the way Tech controlled the clock after the first quarter?
The play in question, the craziest of the game, occurred when Georgia’s Damian Swann swiped the ball from Tech’s Justin Thomas, and raced 99 yards for a Georgia touchdown.
“He followed the fullback, and he ran up his back,” Swann said afterwards. “When he did that, the ball kind of came free, and I saw it. I just tried to get into the play before they whistled it dead, and I was able to come away with the ball.”
More craziness: Georgia scored touchdowns on its first possession (75 yards in 10 plays) and final possession (69 yards, 12 plays) of regulation. Those two drives aside, Georgia’s offense managed but a single field goal, despite having the ball inside the Tech 3-yard line on three different occasions.
“Goal-line plays were very interesting,” Georgia coach Mark Richt observed at his press conference. “We fumbled twice and we ripped one out and scored. The goal-line offenses both struggled at times. It was unusual.”
And how about these crazy numbers: Tech held the ball for over 10 minutes of the second quarter, 11 minutes of the third quarter, and almost nine minutes of the fourth quarter. Much of that time was consumed by Zach Laskey (26 carries, 140 yards) and Synjyn Days (16 for 95) pounding the ball right at the middle of the Georgia defense.
“It was the guys up front,” said Laskey. “We were able to get good push on them all game. You know, coach said, ‘They think they’re bigger than you. Go out there and show them they’re not.’ I think we established that today.”
Added Days, “We felt like it was going to be that kind of game, just pounding the ball and running the game. … Me and Zach felt like we would be able to take over the game if they just kept feeding us the ball more and more, and letting us wear down the defense.”
Johnson’s explanation was equally simple: “I thought our offensive line was really coming off the ball and knocking Georgia back.”
Conversely, Georgia’s fabulous Nick Chubb provided his usual spark in the first half, a 65-yard run leading to 117 yards on 14 carries. But in the second half, his numbers were pedestrian: 11 carries for 12 measly yards. The highly-touted Georgia line couldn’t move Tech’s defensive front at all, especially near the goal line.
Who predicted that the Jackets would dominate both lines of scrimmage? Hold their own, perhaps, but dominate?
There’s more. Tech won the turnover battle, three to two. Georgia came into the game second in the nation in turnover margin, having turned the ball over only eight times in 11 games. And Georgia’s three turnovers were all crucial.
Chubb fumbled at the Tech 1, ending a drive that could have put Georgia ahead 14-0. On the Bulldogs’ very next possession, Sony Michel likewise fumbled at the Tech 1. Georgia was two yards away from leading 21-0.
Georgia’s Hutson Mason ended the game with an interception. He hadn’t thrown one in 163 attempts, dating back to the third quarter of the Vanderbilt game on Oct. 4.
Each team had a field goal blocked, which is rare enough. Tech also had its point after touchdown blocked in overtime. By Ray Drew, the same guy who blocked the field goal.
All together now: crazy.
Georgia even executed a fake field goal, with kicker Marshall Morgan loping 28 yards to the Tech 3. It was Georgia’s first fake field goal since 1998, and first successful one since 1997.
But craziest of all, with all due respect to Paul Johnson, was the endgame in regulation. A Thomas turnover, after Georgia inexplicably failed to field a kickoff, led to Georgia scoring the “winning” touchdown with 18 seconds left.
Inexplicably, Richt then elected to squib kick the ensuing kickoff, which resulted in Tech’s Anthony Harrell returning it 16 yards, which was Tech’s longest kickoff return of the day! Thomas then scrambled for 21 yards, which was his longest run of the day!
Then Tech’s Harrison Butker kicked a 53-yard field goal to send the game into overtime. The field goal was the longest of his career.
Denton Ashway is a columnist for The Times. His column appears weekly.