ATLANTA, Ga. -- Don't look at the stats, it will just make you mad.
Despite rolling up 655 total yards of offense, including 535 rushing yards and a record setting performance by quarterback TaQuon Marshall, Georgia Tech still found a way to lose 42-41 in overtime to Tennessee in Monday's Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game at Mercedes Benz Stadium.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been in game where you run 96 plays and have 655 yards an lose,” said Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson.”
Marshall, who wasn’t unveiled as the starter until game time, had a monster performance, totaling 249 rushing yards on 44 carries. The 249 yards was a single game school rushing record for quarterbacks. And his five rushing touchdowns is a new Georgia Tech record for touchdowns in a game by a single player.
Marshall also connected on 5 of 9 passes for 120 yards, including a beautiful long ball to Qua Searcy that set up a first half Georgia Tech score.
“He played his tail off,” Johnson said. “I thought he played tremendously, and I knew he was going to be the starter for about two and a half or three weeks. He gives us a guy (who can) actually throw the ball well too.”
Marshall was helped by a solid performance by b-back, KirVante Benson who chipped in with 124 rushing yards on 26 carries and a score of his own. And there were moments in the game, as Marshall and Benson ran wild on Tennessee’s defense, where going to overtime didn’t seem like anything close to a possibility.
The game looked well in hand, even after a second half push from the Volunteers. Tech was still leading 28-21 when A-back, J.J. Green broke for a long gain, but then had the ball punched out by Tennessee’s Rashaan Gaulden. The fumble was recovered by Micah Abernathy, and then Tennessee went to work on a 7-play, 93 yard drive that was punctuated by tailback John Kelly’s 11 yard touchdown run.
The score tied the game at 28 with 1:29 left in regulation, and it was one of two Georgia Tech turnovers that the Vols turned into touchdowns.
Tech had a chance at a game winning drive, however, and Marshall nearly added a passing touchdown to his record setting five rushing scores when he launched a pass to a wide open Qua Search, but because he was doing so under duress — a Tennessee linebacker smacked him as he released the ball — he overthrew what could’ve been a game winning score.
Two plays later, it was Shawn Davis who had a chance to win the game with a 36-yard field goal. But Davis’ kick came low off his foot and was blocked by Paul Bain as time expired, sending the game into overtime.
In the first extra frame, Tech scored first when Marshall pushed in from one yard out to give his team a 35-28 lead. But the Jackets’ defense which had been stingy through much of the game, suddenly could find no answer for Kelly who scored on a one-yard plunge to knot the score again.
Per overtime rules, Tennessee would promptly get the ball back on offense and after a pass interference penalty called on Tech corner, Step Durham, the Vols had the ball at the two yard line which paved the way for another Kelly touchdown run.
Tech would need to score a touchdown in order to extend the game, which happened when Marshall bullied his way into the end zone on a 13-yard keeper for his fifth rushing score. And with no hesitation, the Jackets elected to go for a two point conversion to try and win the game — a decision Johnson had made even before his team scored.
“I just felt like we had a better chance of getting a two-point conversion than we did of stopping them,” Johnson said.
The two point conversion play failed after Marshall tried to run right on a counter and cut it up toward the end zone, but when he found no running room, he attempted a late pitch to Benson which fell to the ground, ending the game.
Marshall suggested in hindsight he could’ve made a better decision to give the play a chance to work.
“We had numbers on the backside,” he said. “Reversed out and tried to get outside of it. They overran us and I thought I could get up under it. We tried to make the play at the time, but it might have been a little selfish of me. But you’ve got to put it in the past and move on.”
In many ways it was a game where the Paul Johnson offense did what it’s designed to do, even against an SEC opponent in Tennessee. And despite the loss, Johnson nor any one on his team seemed to be in the mood to feel sorry for themselves.
“Well, I was sorely disappointed with the outcome,” Johnson said. “I think there were some positives that we can build on in the game. Our young guys on offense, I thought went out and played pretty well. That last fumble killed us. (But) you give them credit. The guy just knocked the ball out.”
Marshall said he’s already looking ahead to the next game.
“You just have to put it in the past and move on,” he said. “It’s still going to be in the back of my mind that we should have won. But I’ve got to move on from this and get ready for next week. I really wish the results would’ve been different. I can’t change that. We’ll get in the meeting room tomorrow and watch film. I’ve to put it behind me and come back this week ready to work.”
The Yellow Jackets looked ready and prepared to work the Tennessee defense into submission from the onset.
After a slow start highlighted by a couple of 3-and-out drives, Georgia Tech settled in with its freshman quarterback TaQuon Marshall, and settled in for a 13-play, 86-yard scoring drive that ended when Marshall pushed into the end zone from one yard out to give the Yellow Jackets a 7-0 lead.
The defense, which played salty all night, pressuring Tennessee quarterback Quinten Dormady and getting good penetration against the run, would stuff the Vols for another 3-and-out. But then Marshall handed the Vols its first gift of the night when he fumbled and Tennessee’s Cortez McDowell, a Locust Grove High (Georgia) alum, recovered it.
Several plays later, Kelly dove across the goal line for a score to tie the game at 7 at the 8:11 mark of second quarter. Tech’s offense promptly responded, though, with a 16-play, 75-yard drive, punctuated with a one-yard touchdown run by Benson, putting Tech back on top 14-7. That score would remain unchanged at the break.
Georgia Tech kept the pedal to the floor offensively when it took the opening kickoff and marched down the field on a methodical drive of 80 yards that took 11 plays and chewed off over five minutes from the clock. Marshall ended the drive with a one yard run, extending the lead to 21-7.
On the ensuing drive, Tennessee finally started finding some rhythm offensively, particularly through the passing game. But it was Kelly’s 30-yard scamper that gave the Vols a 1st and goal situation on the Tech 10-yard line. That’s when Dormady found Marquez Calloway who beat Lamond Simmons on coverage for a 10-yard scoring strike that cut the lead to seven with just 42 seconds left in the third quarter.
Marshall would promptly add another Tech score on a six-yard keeper at the 13:08 mark in the fourth quarter. But on Tennessee’s next drive, Dormady hooked up with Callaway again for a 50-yard touchdown pass that cut the Tech lead back to 28-21 before the late game and overtime heroics commenced.
Georgia Tech won’t have much time to stew over the loss though, as it will have just five days to recover before hosting Jacksonville State (1-0) on Saturday. And while the loss is a bitter pill to swallow, Johnson said his team will be helped by the fact that all its goals are still intact.
“This doesn’t do anything to your goals, other than it’s a game that we should have won and we didn’t,” Johnson said. “So we’ve got to play a team here on three days’ rest that’s pretty good. My big concern now is those kids on offense that just played 96 plays, and then have to turn around and play again on Saturday.
“There won’t be a whole lot of practicing going on. We’ll have to try to get them rested to play.”