Georgia Tech running back David Sims (20) stiff arms Syracuse linebacker Marqez Hodge (33) for a short gain during Saturday’s game at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta. (Photo: Karl L. Moore)
ATLANTA — It would be understandable it Georgia Tech, particularly its offense, had built up more than a little frustration in losing its last three games.
If they did, the Yellow Jackets unloaded whatever wrath was built up Saturday, and the Syracuse Orange were the unfortunate targets.
Tech rolled up 482 yards of total offense — 394 of it on the ground — and held Syracuse to just 208 yards in posting a dominating 56-0 rout before 45,704 fans at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Quarterback Vad Lee — whose struggles the past three weeks in losses to Virginia Tech, Miami and Brigham Young have garnered much scrutiny in the media and internet message boards — had a particularly big day.
The redshirt sophomore ran for 72 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries and completed all three of his passes for 88 yards and a score as the Tech (4-3, 3-2 in the ACC) rolled.
“It was big-time,” Lee said. “This is something we’re going to build off of. We’ve set standards for ourselves. We want to be able to run the ball at will. We set a standard (Saturday) by not getting penalties and too many negative plays. If we do that, we can establish ourselves.”
The Jackets established their offense throughout the day, especially on the ground, where nine different ball carriers averaged 5 yards or more per carry — led by Lee, back-up quarterback Justin Thomas (10-95, TD), Zach Laskey (13-75, 3 TDs) and David Sims (12-56) — without being flagged for a single penalty for the first time since 1968.
“I was proud of the way our guys played,” Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “They came out and played with a lot of effort. I don’t think we had a penalty, which was a big focus during the week. Other than the pick we threw on the trick play, I don’t think we had a turnover. So, that was good, and in the past three weeks, we’ve talked a lot about the things we had been doing that had beaten ourselves.
“I thought we got contributions from everybody. The defense played really well. They got a few turnovers and good field position for the offense. We also got a blocked punt. … Overall, it was a complete victory.”
Tech actually started the game with one of its rare miscues on the day to squander a golden opportunity to get some early points.
After a big punt return from DeAndre Smelter and three runs by Sims moved the ball all the way to the Syracuse 33-yard line.
Smelter then took a pitch from Lee on a reverse and appeared to have nothing but grass in front of him.
But instead of running for at least a first down and possibly a score, the junior receiver pulled up and threw a pass that came up short of its intended receiver and was picked off by Ri’shard Anderson at the 6.
However, after forcing the Orange to punt after they moved the ball out near midfield, the Jackets got another prime scoring chance when Chris Milton charged in from the left side and blocked it, setting Tech up at the Syracuse 24.
“When something bad happens, we’ve got to forget about it, especially on a play like that because we have a receiver throwing the ball,” Lee said. “It’s just something you’ve got to get over. Our defense is great, and they’re doing a great job of getting teams off the field. We just know we have to capitalize and score touchdowns.”
The Jackets would cash in, with Synjyn Days taking a pitch from Lee on an option play to the left and dashing into the end zone from 4 yards out to give Tech a 7-0 lead with 7:16 left in the first quarter.
Tech then forced a turnover with Quayshawn Nealy’s interception at the Jackets’ 29, which the offense turned into more points.
Laskey capped a nine-play, 79-yard drive with a 6-yard touchdown run up the middle to extend the lead to 14-0 with 46 seconds left in the opening frame.
Tech then took advantage of another break on its next possession midway through the second quarter.
Having driven 70 yards to the Syracuse 13, it looked like the Jackets might have to settle for a field goal attempt when Lee threw incomplete on his first pass attempt of the day — just the second for the team — on third and goal.
But the Orange’s Micah Robinson was flagged for roughing the passer on a blow to the head to give the Jackets a first down at the 6.
Two plays later, Lee followed a strong lead block over the left side on the option into the end zone for a 3-yard TD, and the lead had reached 21-0 with 6:35 left in the first half.
Tech was forced to punt for the only time in the first half on its next possession after Justin Thomas briefly entered the game at quarterback.
But after a second turnover produced by Nealy — this time, a recovery of a fumble caused by a blitzing Jemea Thomas and a 7-yard return to the Syracuse 7 — Lee was back, and Tech was soon back in the end zone.
Lee followed his line into the end zone from a yard out on third and goal with 54 seconds left in the half, and the Jackets went into intermission with a commanding 28-0 lead.
“It’s football,” Syracuse coach Scott Shafer said. “Sometimes you get your rumps kicked. We got our rumps kicked (Saturday). It’s a great job by that Georgia Tech team. I wish them all the luck in the future.
“We went into it, and we thought we had a really good plan, but we got our butts kicked (Saturday). That starts with me. … Football is still a game of blocking and tackling, and really when I looked at it, they blocked us better than we got off of blocks and put us in compromising positions to make one-on-one tackles. That’s what a good option team does, and a good defense needs to do a better job defending it.”
While Tech did most of its damage on the ground in the first half, they did more by taking to the air early in the second.
First, after a pair of first-down runs put Tech just past midfield, Darren Waller got behind the Syracuse secondary, and Lee floated the ball to him for a 46-yard scoring strike that pushed the lead to 35-0 just 1:55 into the third quarter.
Then, after Louis Young’s interception set the Jackets up at the Syracuse 44, Lee quickly connected on another long ball — this time, a 37-yard completion to Dennis Andrews down to the Orange 3.
That’s where Laskey scored from on the next snap for his second TD of the game, making the lead 42-0 with 10:25 left in the third quarter.