LOUISVILLE, KY. —
There were so many sporting images to draw from to mark Georgia Tech’s fabulously successful first football visit here Friday night, other than the game at hand.
Playing within sight of the twin spires of Churchill Downs may inspire certain horse racing references. For instance, there’s the fact that as a team, the Yellow Jackets ran for almost 2 ½ furlongs this night (542 yards to the non-horsey set). Their seemingly recharged quarterback, TaQuon Marshall contributed 175 yards toward that total.
And the chalk won, easily. A five-point favorite, Tech squeaked by Louisville 66-31. That’s a 35-point cushion, but call it 35 lengths if you wish. It was that dominant.
The late, great sport of boxing is invoked here as well because of Louisville’s late, great champion Muhammad Ali. The Cardinals celebrate Ali’s legacy every time one of them score a touchdown, and he is draped in the “Touchdown Gloves” bearing his autograph. There’s also a “Turnover Belt,” fashioned like a championship belt, for whoever scoops a fumble or picks a pass.
All that’s missing is a “Tackle for a Loss Spit Bucket,” but give the Cardinals time.
Fighting out of its class, Louisville did get to break out the gloves on the sideline – which looked increasingly ludicrous the farther behind it fell. A little sad, really, like the Ali-Trevor Berbick fight.
But the Cardinals never got to model the belt, and really that is the key to what Tech has been doing lately. When the Jackets don’t turn over the ball, when that option offense doesn’t self-immolate, it can on occasion still put up ridiculous numbers like Friday night.
This is not so much a Louisville thing, but what happened Friday night also was also something that might have appealed to the gamers out there, if they ever did put down their consoles and engage with the real world. Over the last two weeks, against the lesser resistance of Bowling Green and Louisville, this offense has scored at a pace that may be unknown to even virtual existence. Seventeen scores in 18 full possessions. Twice visiting the other side of 60 points. Friday night, Tech had 10 possessions. Scored a touchdown on nine of those, and settled for a field goal once.
“I played a lot of video games last night and today, scored a good bit of points. I guess it translated over,” Marshall said.
“That’s probably the best string (of scoring) I’ve seen in 40 years of coaching,” said Paul Johnson, who is going to be hard-pressed to be as grumpy and critical as he is supposed to be when reviewing this one.
“There were two or three busts on the trap play in the third quarter. I know we can fix that offensively,” he said, already practicing for that chore.
Fans of the transitive property – and you know who you are, Techies – will have great fun with this. No. 1 Alabama put up 51 points on Louisville to start the year. Georgia Tech put up 15 more than that Friday night. You complete the equation from there. I refuse.
This was more points than Tech has put up against an ACC opponent since 2012 (68 vs. North Carolina).
The most points scored against Louisville since Bobby Petrino landed here in 2014. Life after Heisman quarterback Lamar Jackson has been difficult. As Falcons fans will attest, Petrino has been known to skip town when he loses his star quarterback. If he had anywhere else to go, he’d be out of here by the end of the month.
More points than Tech basketball scored on its visit here last season. By a lot. Those Yellow Jackets only scored 54.
Johnson calls his punter, Pressley Harvin III, “one of our better players.” But how will we ever know if he stays confined to the sideline like a mascot?
“He got a little bored tonight. He said he wanted to get in at A-back or B-back,” laughed actual back Qua Searcy. But Harvin would have only gained eights yards per rush and brought down the team average (8.3 per carry).
So, yes, that offense you love to hate is on a little bit of a roll now. The Tech offensive line was creating fissures, more than just mere holes. Marshall had an extra gear on the artificial turf of the stadium formerly known as Papa John’s, and was perfect in his reads.
Johnson credits the recent flourish to going back and simplifying his offense, proving that, yes, there is something simpler than Run Right, Run Left, Run Middle. “Once we got back and simplified and got back to basics, the kids got better,” he said.
Friday night, all this production came against a familiar gypsy coach who is now wearing the title of Louisville defensive coordinator. In his travels, Brian VanGorder also gained the reputation of being the Option Slayer. That title was buried forever Friday night beneath the stampede of wild and unharnessed Tech runners.
Mostly, Friday night was good for Tech’s soul. There might be a week reprieve in the fans’ constant confirmation battle over Johnson as their coach. And more substantial than that is the end of the Yellow Jackets long and miserable streak on the road, where every game had turned into a siege of Stalingrad.
After losing six in a row on the road, being able to travel home happy is no small thing.
“It’s huge. I’ve been telling the guys we haven’t won a road game since UGA 2016,” Marshall said. “It’s been a long journey. Us getting this win shows everyone – including us – that it can be done. Not only put up little points, but big numbers. Have a lot of turnovers on the other side of the ball (Tech recovered two fumbles and returned one interception for a score).
“It’s huge to be able to get back on the plane home knowing there won’t be any sad faces, any regular looks. You can walk on the plane smiling, crack some jokes with Coach Johnson, crack some jokes with your teammates and it will be all good.”
As of Saturday morning, Tech (1-2 in the ACC) is still last in the Coastal, the only two-loss team in that division at least for a few hours more. But there are five games left with teams ahead of them, and the hope that just maybe some of them can be out-scored.
There is one sad note coming out of here, however. Tech doesn’t have Louisville on the schedule again until 2023.