Georgia Tech - Tennessee Close Out College Football Opening Weekend
With Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. Tech Loses In 2OT 42-41.

~ live blog from Mercedes-Benz Stadium ~

By Don Stone - Georgia Tech Express
September 4, 2017

  Its been a crazy opening weekend for college football. Georgia and Florida State both lost their starting quarterbacks. Unranked Maryland, a three touchdown underdog, upset #23 Texas 51-41.  And Howard, a 40-some point underdogs, pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the history of the sport late Saturday night, with a 43-40 road win at UNLV. Liberty University, who is leaving the Big South Conference after this season, shocked Baylor on the road, 48-45. They were so thrilled, the school cancelled classes. And Texas A&M blew a 34-point lead to lose 45-44 to UCLA.
  So, how do you top all that? Just take a look around and realize you're finally sitting in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium to cover the nightcap of the weekend doubleheader of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic. Alabama beat Florida State two days earlier to start things off. Tennessee and Georgia Tech will try to give the weekend a finish.
  Both teams are coming in a bit weakened. Volunteer fans are apprehensive about this season. Tennessee enters 2017 ranked 25th facing a Yellow Jackets team on a three game SEC win streak. Head coach Paul Johnson beat Kentucky, Georgia and Vanderbilt to finish last season.
  On paper, the Yellow Jackets would seem like a bad matchup for the Volunteers, who were terrible against the run last season, ranking 70th in rushing yards allowed per game. They were 94th in rushing touchdowns given up. The Vols gave up 1,055 yards and 12 rushing TDs in their final three SEC games against Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt. That's what Johnson's triple option offense does best. Tech was 9th in the nation in rushing yards per game and 10th in rushing per game TDs. They were also ranked third in the country in offensive explosiveness, striking for big plays numerous times while the opponent focused on stopping the run.
  Then, there are injuries, which seem to be an annual staple of Butch Jones coached teams. Star linebacker Darrin Kirkland, Jr. just suffered a meniscus injury. He had surgery Wednesday and won't play. He'll be tough to replace as will Chance Hall, who will undergo knee surgery and is out for the season. Also out for the year is senior wide receiver Jacquez Jones, gone with a knee injury.
  Jones also announced Wednesday that redshirt sophomore offensive tackle Drew Richmond will be suspended for the Georgia Tech game due to a violation of team rules.
   Both teams will be showcasing new quarterbacks. For Tennessee, they won't have the dynamic Josh Dobbs, now with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL. Jones waited until game time to announce that Quintin Dormady would be starting over Jarrett Guarantano. How the untested QB performs on the big stage could be a key to who comes out on top. Whoever it is would be working with John Kelly in the backfield with an aerial target of Jauan Jennings.
   Given all that, most experts are picking the Vols to win the game, listing them as a three point favorite. They have played in this game once before (2012) with this being the first for the home town team.
   A big reason is that quarterback question. Josh Thomas was probably the best player ever to run Johnson's offense at Tech. He's gone now and redshirt junior TaQuon Marshall was a last minute announcement at starter with junior Matthew Jordan expected to see some time as well. But Johnson would later say that he had made that decision a few weeks ago.
  Many saw the Jackets' chances diminish two weeks ago when they released their star back from last season, Dedrick Mills, for a violating a team policy. Johnson has named KirVonte Benson as starting b-Back. But, third string true freshman Jerry Howard may flourish and take over that role as the season progresses. Qua Searcy should get some action when the ball is in the air.
  Early indications are that the Tennessee side of the stadium was filled well before game time while the Tech side was only about 75% occupied 15 minutes before kickoff. Some in the press box speculated that Tech fans were still outside tailgating. But, 75,107 was announced making it the 4th highest attended in kickoff game history.
  Tech won the toss and, as usual, deferred to the second half. Evan Berry returned the opening kick out to the 40. TB John Kelly carried it for seven followed by a 5 yard catch by Jennings for a first down at the 48. That's as far as they got.
  Tech began their drive at their 18 and went three and out. Field position was helped when the 35 yard Pressley Harvin punt rolled an extra 20 to the TV18. The defense held them to nine forcing a 47 yard punt to the GT 29. Three and out again with a 48 yard punt to the TV20.
  The Vols again went three and out. A combined total of 30 yards of offense in the game's first five drives. A booming 70 yard Trevor Daniel punt forced Brad Stewart out at the GT16.
  Tech got their first first down of the game on a Benson 16 yard run up the middle to the 41. But a bad toss resulted in a 9 yard loss bringing up a third and 12. Then, the firsts big play as Ricky Jeune caught one on the Vol sideline and ran for a 44 yard gain to the TV21. Benson got 6 for a third and 2 at the TV13. Marshall fell forward to the ten for a first and goal. A handoff to Benson put the ball at the one. Two plays later, Marshall dove across the goal line for the game's first points and a Georgia Tech 7-0 lead. Twelve plays covering 86 yards in 6:51.
  But, Berry put his team in a good spot with a 51 yard return to the GT45 as the first quarter came to a close. Ethan Wolfe got things started snatching what looked like a 30 yard catch but had it overruled on further review. A completion to Kelly came up four yards short with the good field position squandered with still just 19 yards of offense. But that gave them a shot to pin the Jackets deep and that's what they did with the punt downed at the five.
  Searcy got them some breathing room with a 12 yard rush to the 22. On a third and 7, Marshall hit Stewart for 15 to the 40. The Volunteers finally got a break when Daniel Bituli forced a fumble for the game's first turnover, recovered by Cortez McDowell at the GT45.
  This time, the good field position wasn't squandered as RB Ty Chandler picked up 7 to the 39 with a completion to Jennings for a first down. Kelly rushed for 22 to the 12. On a big third and five at the GT7, they got another first down at the one then tied the score as Kelly dove over the top. The short field of just 46 yards was covered in 8 plays in 2:30.
  A touchback put the Yellow Jackets at their 25. Then they ran off a prototypical Paul Johnson drive. Benson got seven tough yards up the middle with a Marshall dive getting the first down at the GT37. A toss left to Benson added nine. Benson got another first on a carry to midfield, then six more to the TV44. Another first at the 40. The QB got it to the 31 then fell forward for another first at the 28. Marshall fell back planning to throw but saw an opening to the left side and scampered for 12 to the 18. The game moved into the final two minutes of the half with a third and three looming. Johnson took a time out stopping the clock at 1:29. But a review moved the ball back to the 15 to make it third and 9 at the 15. Marshall took it to the corner and got what he needed for a first and goal at the five. Benson pushed it to the one with 1:15 left in the half. On the next play, the back bulled his way across for his first career touchdown to give the Jackets a two TD lead with just over a minute remaining. The long 70 yard drive used up 7 minutes with 16 plays.
  Tennessee could only manage 23 yards before turning it over on downs at midfield. Tech took a 14-7 lead into the locker room at the half. Johnson had played the game exactly the way he likes it with Tech keeping the ball for 21:17 to Tennessee's 08:43. They also lead in total offensive yards 226 to 94. Not helping Tennessee was the announcement that WR James would not return in the second half.
  Tech got the ball to start the second half at their 20. With that much time on the field, you had to wonder how tired the Volunteer defense was getting. Benson picked up a first down at the 30 with Marshall getting another on a 14 yard keeper. Five more yards and another first down into UT territory at the 46. Another pair of Benson rushes got a first down at the 34. Marshall escaped several defenders as he maneuvered to the right, the crossed field to the 7. With that, his 23rd carry, the QB topped the 100 yard mark for the day. A toss sweep to Searcy got to the one. Not liking something he saw, Johnson called a heated time out. On the next play, Marshall dove across the goal line to make it 21-7. Another perfectly cast drive going 80 yards in 11 plays eating up 5:36 of clock.
  Tennessee got the ball after a touchback for their first drive of the half at their 25. But the defense again held them to three and out. Steward fair caught the 51 yard punt at his 15.
  A toss to Nate Cottrel almost went the distance as the speedy back hustled all the way to the TV47. Marshall got 14 on a pair of carries to the 43. After a penalty, the QB picked up six for a third down at the 30. After an incomplete pass, Johnson took his second time out. Shawn Davis was brought in for a 47 yard field goal attempt that went wide left. That would have put them up by three scores.
  Tennessee got a quick 7 on a completion to Josh Palmer with Dormady getting a first on a carry to their 44. Another hit Brandon Johnson at the 49. They converted with Wolfe getting 14 to the GT35. What looked like a missed tackle and Kelly was off to the races for 30 for a first and goal at the five. A false start moved it back five. A pass to the right corner saw Marquez Callaway get them right back in it 21-14. Their best drive of the night took just 7 plays to move 70 yards in 2:32.
  The Jackets, who had held momentum for most of the last 20 minutes, needed to get it back, taking over at their 25. A quick Quaide Weimerskirch carry got them a first down putting the ball at the 35 as the game entered the final quarter. Tech needed another long clock eating drive that produced points. Cottrell got things started with 14 to midfield. Marshall almost overthrew a sprinting Searcy who pulled it down 42 yards downfield for a first and goal at the seven. Marshall darted to the right pylon for a six yard TD run, his third of the game. They got their point producing drive. It just didn't eat up as much clock, just 2:34. But, more importantly, the Yellow Jackets had their 14 point lead back, 28-14. Time of possession, 33:48 to 14:04.
  The Volunteers began their drive at their 39. They got 10 yard Kelly catch to the 50. But, Callaway made Austin Smith miss and sped down the sidelines to make it a game again, 28-21. That drive took just 1:15 to go 61 yards.
  With still 11:49 left in the game, that time consuming point producing drive was needed again. Not helping was a great kick that pinned Tech at their 13. Marshall got things moving with a first down carry to the 24. The QB came out of the game with Matthew Jordan taking his place  On the next play, Marshall returned for a third an d three at the 29. They couldn't convert giving the ball back after a short 36 yard punt. A hyped up Tennessee squad had the ball in good field position at their 36 with plenty of tie (8:49) down by just one score.
  They got 4 on a Callaway catch. But the defense held. But Tech was again back up deep in their own territory at their 11 with 8:00 on the clock. After a four yard carry, the clock stopped at 7:46 as Kendall Vickers was helped off the field. Cottrell ran out of bounds at the 24 with another first to the 24. Marshall burst free for 27 more to the TV46 with the clock ticking to under 6 minutes. Then, a potential game changer as JJ Green fumbled after a nice carry. UT's Micah Abernathy recovering at their 7. At least they had a long field with just over 4 minutes to go and a chance to tie.
  A holding call on Desmond Branch gave them a new set of downs at their 21. A big third and four from the 27 was converted with a Kelly catch at the 33. The clock stopped at 2:42. Dormady tossed a bomb for 40 up the middle with Callaway coming down at the 22. Kelly shook a few tackles for 16 more to the 11. On the next play, the game was tied as Kelly made it to the promised land. 28-28 with 1:29 to go and overtime looking likely.
  Fourteen points off a pair of turnovers. Tech had a chance with the ball at their 25 and just over a minute remaining. Marshall looked like he wanted to throw but saw green and took off for 19 to the 44. Another first down with a catch by Jeune at the TV45 with 0:57 and ticking. Stewart caught it for 8 at the 37. No one was within 10 yards of Searcy as the ball sailed way over his head into the end zone. 0:25 to go as Jones took his first time out. That gave Johnson time to call the next two plays. Tech got a first down at the 30 then saw Marshall escape tackles to run out at the 24 with 10 seconds remaining. Marshall ran it to the center of the field as Johnson took his final time out. Three seconds on the clock. The ball on the 19. In came Davis to try from 36. Jones decided to ice the kicker and took his second time out. He did it again but could do it no more. Fans on both sides had their hands on their heads. Angst in orange. Angst in gold. The kick was blocked. Two missed field goals and two turnovers sent the game went to OT.
  Tennessee won the toss and chose defense so they would know what they needed to do after Tech's turn. Per overtime rules, the offense gets the ball on their 25.
  Cottrell rushed for 12 and a new set of downs at the 13. Marshall got six more to the 7. A huge third and three at the four saw Benson convert at the one. Marshall put it in for a big TD, his fourth of the game. Tennessee now had to score a touchdown of their own or it would be over.
  Ormandy got a quick six to the 19. Kelly made it all but official barreling to the one. He was stopped on the next play. The clock stopped as Kyle Serge-Henderson was hurt on the play. On review, they gave them the TD to tie it at 35.
  Double overtime with Tennessee starting on offense, again at their 25. A toss to Callaway got a first down at the 9. A pass interference call on Step Durham put the ball at the two. Kelly gave the Voles their first lead of the game 42-35. The Jackets now were the ones needed a touchdown to tie.
  Marshall got it to the 21. Then to the 17. Third and two. Benson for a first down at the 13. Weaving past would be tackles, Marshall got his fifth TD of the game. Johnson lined his team up to do or die and go for two. Jones saw it and called a time out to get different players in. But being a riverboat gambler has its downfalls. And this was one of them. The play didn't work. Tech had blown two 14 point leads. And Tennessee came away with a 42-41 win.
   "That play should have been a walk-in, and we screwed that up, so we didn't deserve to win," Johnson said of the last play. "They didn't have enough guys over there, and we tried to reach out and grab somebody as opposed to releasing inside and clinging the corner because there's one guy you could have pitched to or run it in yourself, and we didn't do it. So we didn't make the play, they did."
  Amazingly, Tech held the for 56:27 to their 18:33. They outgained them 655 to 369. Marshall rushed for 249 yards, setting a GT record for most by any BE in a game,  4th all time by any player in Tech history. His 5 TDs were the most in school history.
  Six Yellow Jackets made their first-career starts: Marshall, Benson, So. AB Cottrell, Jr. RT Jake Stickler, Jr. DT Branch and Jr. DE Anree Saint-Amour. Six appeared in their first collegiate games: true-Fr. P Harvin III, true-Fr. LB Jaquan Henderson, true-Fr. LB Bruce Jordan-Swilling, r-Fr. DB Ajani Kerr, Jr. HOL Chase Martenson and true-Fr. LB T.D. Roof.
  In the end, the fans of both schools came away having watched a great game. Twenty-two Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game Records were tied or broken during the Tennessee-Georgia Tech Game. But, in the end it was the two turnovers and two missed field goals that clearly made the difference. One team is 1-0, the other 0-1.
  On the kicking game, Johnson suggested that maybe Davis lost his job. "Try a different kicker, I guess. You know, it was disappointing. Either of those field goals ices the game, too. The one at the end of the game is 36 yards. He kicked that thing head high, you know, the kickoff, so you know, we'll give the other kid a chance and see what he does."
  The Jackets have to shake it off with a short week and their home opener Saturday at 12:30 against Jacksonville State.  
 

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