ATLANTA- Georgia Tech coming off a month in the COVID-related wilderness picked up a 56-33 win over Duke snapping a three-game Blue Devil win streak and a snapping a three-game slide for the Jackets that started in October.
Geoff Collins picked up his sixth win and third ACC win of the 2020 season (3-5) eclipsing the two wins in his first season as a high-mark for his Tech tenure.
"That was fun," Collins said after the game. "After 20+ days of not playing football, and getting to play in that kind of environment. Our crowd was awesome tonight. Great positive energy to our guys. Guys flew around, had some mistakes here and there. But I just thought they battled, they stayed together. They competed on offense, defense, special teams as one complimentary football, if something bad happened on one side of the ball, the other side of the ball just tried to make up for it. That's a really good positive sign for the organization."
Tech ran all over the Blue Devils led by a quartet of impressive rushing performances by quarter Jeff Sims (108 yds) and running backs Jordan Mason (105 yds), Jahmyr Gibbs (91 yds) and Dontae Smith (60 yds). Tech ran for 377 yards in the game and scored four times on the ground.
Sims also tossed three touchdowns throwing for 146 yards as part of the 523 yards of offense the Jackets stacked up on a pretty good Duke defense though he was critical of his own performance.
"It was it was a good game," Sims said. "It was fun. I feel like there were a lot of points that we left on the board. There were a lot of missed passes early in the game that could have put it put it away earlier. But we just started, he started grinding and executed offense towards the end and became it was smooth."
Part of that smoothness could be attributed to offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude moving to the field to call plays instead of being in the box. With the smaller crows, communication is a lot easier for the coaches as well. Sims said it helped a lot having Patenaude there on the sideline seeing what he sees and he thought he had a better feel for the game and playcalling.
"It really helped a lot because he was able to see things that he usually wouldn't see from the box and I'm just getting that communication right on the sideline and him telling me what I missed and what he sees," Sims said of Patenaude being on the sideline. "As soon as I come out, the photos are great. It was a great experience for me, just knowing that I have my coach right there by me, telling me what I can do better and what I did wrong."
Facing an aggressive defensive line, Sims said he knew he would have to scramble and make some plays with his legs against the Blue Devil's defense.
"I knew that they had a great pass rush and I knew that their D-line was pretty good. So I knew that I would have to scramble a lot more or just like avoid some pressure and it paid off because I was prepared for it," Sims said.
Junior offensive tackle Zach Quinney said it felt good imposing their will especially in the second half against Duke's defensive line and reminded him some of the old rushing days of the past at Tech.
"It was (a bit of a flashback) and as an offensive lineman, that's what you love to see, you know. Pass protection is great, we love passing the ball and we got to do it, but there's just something about running the ball that we love, and it felt great to be able to do that against a really good team," Quinney said. "Especially at the defensive end position, they had some good defensive ends and I felt good to do it. I haven't beaten Duke since I've been here."
Defensively the Jackets forced five turnovers which Tech turned into 21 points including a defensive touchdown on a strip-sack in the end zone by Jordan Domineck after a Duke special teams miscue.
"On the previous couple plays before that, the ball just didn't bounce our way," Domineck said. "We didn't get the call that we wanted. But coach just told us they'll put the ball down Do we need to do we were able to set them up on the one two-yard line. Coach gave a great call the defense executed to perfection and it just happened that I was the person that came off and got that play. I didn't want to let my teammates down for just setting me up with such a perfect opportunity. So that was really on them. That's not even on me. It was just from the coach's call and my teammates doing their job to let me get that strip sack and everything and that was just it was my first college touchdown. I feel so happy. I got to thank Quez Jackson, David Curry and anybody else that was on the defense at that time or anybody else that's on our defense period for everything that happened today."
Senior linebacker David Curry had his best game of the season with 12 total tackles, a forced fumble and two pass breakups.
Senior safety Tariq Carpenter also made a major impact in the game with his best performance of the year. Carpenter had an interception, two tackles for a loss, five solo tackles and two pass breakups. He said it was cathartic for him to have a good game after a long offseason that saw Carpenter get up to 250+ pounds after two wrist surgeries over the summer and battle through depression and other issues as well as COVID irregularities.
"When we play with energy, I feel like for us like me and Tre (Swilling). You want chaos and we can be the best secondary in the country. Tonight, we just played with a chip on our shoulder because everybody talking about how good of a season or not (Kaleb Oliver) is having and we just add that to our fire and like the social media talk about how bad we've been playing and stuff. We actually see all that stuff. Whenever we get back to wherever you want to be, I just want people to have been talking down to us to stay away."
Junior Kaleb Oliver had been splitting time at the nickel with Wesley Walker and Oliver got the start on Saturday and had a very strong game with a lot of big plays in the first half in particular. Oliver had a sack, a pass breakup and another tackle for a loss in the Jackets' win.
The Blue Devils were able to move the ball with 382 yards of offense, but Tech stopped them on 11 of their 17 third down attempts and forced five turnovers as well. Duke also was held to 68 yards rushing.
Georgia Tech led for the first time this season 28-26 at the half over Duke. Jahmyr Gibbs had 138 yards of total offense including 91 yards and two touchdowns on the ground before leaving the game with a lower-body injury.
SPECIAL TEAMS UPS AND DOWNS
Georgia Tech was without Ray Guy Watch List punter Pressley Harvin III and kickoff specialist Austin Kent took over those duties.
Freshman slot receiver Nate McCollum muffed a punt into the end zone early the game allowing the Blue Devils to get on the scoreboard.
Dontae Smith had a miscue on a kick return that ended up leading to a Tech safety. His foot was not quite out of bounds. If it had been that would've been Tech's ball at the GT35 but instead, it put the ball at the Tech four-yard line.
Collins said that his staff works with players on those scenarios every week and he saw it as more of a freshman mistake on McCollum's part and an attempt at a head's up play by Smith.
"So it's part of our process. It is every single Thursday. For the last year and a half. We've been here every single Thursday (assistant coaches) Tashard Choice and Kerry Dixon take all of our returners and we practice all of the specialized returns," Collins said. "What to do when the ball is within X yards out of bounds what to do, when the ball is close to going into the endzone, what to do when it's being punted. Inside the 10-yard line, all of those things, we do it every single Thursday. Sometimes young men get in the heat of battle, some of them are true freshmen and are put in situations and some bad things might happen. I'm so proud of them."
Gavin Stewart however, hit all of his point after attempts in a very positive sign for the Tech kicking game. Stewart was 8-for-8 on point after attempts.
The Jackets return to action next week with a trip to Raleigh to face NC State who the Jackets beat in the ACC finale last season in Atlanta.