COLLEGE PARK, Md. – In search of a full, four-quarter effort, Georgia Tech left Byrd Stadium Saturday still looking for it. But the Yellow Jackets did regain their offensive footing and located the right opponent for confidence-building purposes.
In what may go down in the annals as “The game when Tech played against the quarterback who was a linebacker,” the Yellow Jackets pushed aside Maryland 33-13 in their attempt to reclaim the season and finish on an upward trajectory.
“I know they’re on, like, their fifth quarterback,” said A-back Orwin Smith, his tone void of sympathy. “It has to be tough. We’re moving on to North Carolina.”
A week after BYU body-slammed the Jackets in all phases of the game, Tech offered a performance that was rugged and energetic, though not free of flaws. The Tech defense didn’t permit a first down until midway through the second quarter and shut out the Terrapins through the first 44 minutes of the game. Quarterbacks Tevin Washington and Vad Lee directed Tech to 370 rushing yards against the No. 4 rushing defense in the country, more than three times what Tech gained against BYU last Saturday and 202 yards more than the Terrapins’ previous season high.
However, Tech lost two fumbles and again encountered turbulence on kickoff coverage and extra points, as kicker David Scully bounced one try off an upright and then failed to clear the line of scrimmage on another. The defense, given an opportunity to close down a Maryland offense that was eminently capable of cooperating, gave up 161 yards and two touchdowns on the Terrapins’ final three possessions.
That said, in a season in which Tech has lost three games in which it led in the fourth quarter and this week compelled coach Paul Johnson to stick up for the state of the program, a victory was more than enough. On a chilly and overcast afternoon, Tech improved to 4-5 overall and 3-3 in the ACC. Maryland fell to 4-5 and 2-3.
“As I told our guys, we keep alive what we’re playing for this season,” Johnson said. “We still have a chance mathematically (to win) the league, still have a chance to have a winning season and go to a bowl game. That’s what we’re playing for right now. It makes next week’s game against North Carolina the biggest game of the year for us.”
Maryland quarterback Shawn Petty, a true freshman recruited to College Park as a linebacker but forced to switch positions after the Terrapins’ first four quarterbacks suffered season-ending injuries, was largely ineffective. As Tech coaches expected, Maryland mostly kept the game on the ground, trying zone-option plays and also using a Wildcat package with running back Wes Brown.
Crowding the tackle box with as many as seven players, Tech held Maryland to 144 rushing yards and a 3.3 yards-per-carry average. On Maryland’s final three possessions of the game, Petty led the Terrapins to a pair of touchdowns, both on passes. The second was on the final play of the game.
“The speed of the game was something that it took him a little bit of time to get used to,” Maryland coach Randy Edsall said of Petty. “You can’t go out there and line up at this level after only seven practices and think that everything is going to happen the way you hope it will.”
Interim defensive coordinator Charles Kelly “was, like, Stay inside the box and let him prove that he can pass and then we’ll widen things out,” said inside linebacker Quayshawn Nealy.
Nealy led Tech with a career-high 12 tackles, including a jarring point-of-attack stop on a 3rd-and-1 play in the second quarter when he knocked tailback Albert Reid back for a 1-yard loss. After the punt, Lee drove the Jackets 49 yards for a touchdown and a 20-0 lead with 8:47 to play in the second quarter. It went a great length to doom Maryland, which has scored more than 21 points just twice this season.
Johnson rotated Washington and Lee, giving Washington two series to begin the game and then Lee the final three of the half. In the second half, Washington had the first two possessions and Lee had the final two. Washington led Tech to two touchdowns in his four series. Lee was 3-for-5.
It was the A-backs’ day, as Johnson called a number of tosses and option plays that often ended with the ball in their hands. They gained 220 of Tech’s 370 rushing yards. Smith ran with speed and force and led Tech with 89 yards on 10 carries. He scored the second touchdown of the game, a second-quarter 5-yard run to the corner freed up by a block by B-back David Sims.
“Coach found a couple of plays that were very successful,” Lee said. “We just took advantage of it and kept running it and it was working. We just kept grinding.”