ATLANTA — Georgia Tech needed just 11 plays to score its first three touchdowns Saturday afternoon at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
A reeling Georgia Southern squad was able to regroup, but never got fully back into the game, falling to the Yellow Jackets by a score of 35-24.
The loss is the third straight for the Eagles after beginning the season with three consecutive wins. Georgia Southern is now riding a three-game losing streak for the first time since 2009.
“We approached this as a game against an opponent that we expected to beat,” GS coach Tyson Summers said. “Obviously, we didn’t come out of the gate well. There are places where we continue to fall short - and that falls on me. There are places where we made strides from last week, but there are other places where we still need to work on how we execute.”
Georgia Tech received the game’s opening kickoff and took all of three plays to explode. Yellow Jacket quarterback Justin Thomas sprinted right on an option before cutting upfield and outrunning the GS defense for a 58-yard touchdown.
The Yellow Jackets’ senior quarterback drove the offense throughout the day, rushing for 78 yards and a pair of touchdowns while throwing for 172 yards and another touchdown.
After the Eagles went 3-and-out on their first possession, Thomas again victimized the Eagle defense. This time, the damage came through the air. Facing an all-out blitz, Thomas lofted the ball downfield, finding Clinton Lynch wide open for a 65-yard scoring strike.
“Those first couple of big plays, I think you just have to credit Georgia Tech,” GS linebacker Ironhead Gallon said. “They schemed really well for what we were trying to do on defense and it got opened up for a couple of touchdowns.”
Trying to keep things from getting out of hand, the Eagle offense came up with one of its better drives of the season.
Favian Upshaw prevented another short series by picking up a 3rd-and-14 with his feet. Several more modest runs led to another 13-yard rush that reached the GT 26. Upshaw found Myles Campbell for a 14-yard pitch and catch, Matt Breida carried twice to get to the Jackets’ doorstep, and L.A. Ramsby powered in from a yard out to get the Eagles within 14-7.
But Tech’s offense was ready to rip off more big plays.
Thomas converted a 3rd-and-8 with a 15-yard toss to Ricky Jeune before Marcus Marshall broke loose on a 50-yard run. One play later, Dedrick Mills finished the drive with a 6-yard touchdown run to regain Tech’s two-score advantage.
“Unfortunately, this was another game where we didn’t come out and play like we wanted to early on,” Summers said. “Playing an option team can make that difficult. It can sometimes take two or three drives for a defense to settle in against an option team and Georgia Tech was able to make big plays early.”
The Georgia Southern defense got its first stop in the second quarter and the Eagles chipped away at the lead with a 44-yard Younghoe Koo field goal. The Georgia Tech offense stayed in low gear for the rest of the half, driving deep into Eagle territory, only to watch Harrison Butker pull a 33-yard field goal attempt wide left just before halftime.
Provided a chance to get within striking distance after getting the ball to begin the third quarter, Upshaw drove the Eagles to the GT 37. Georgia Southern elected to go for a 4th-and-5, but Upshaw was sacked.
Upshaw had come up slowly twice before in the game and stayed down again after the sack. Upshaw remained in uniform on the sideline, but Kevin Ellison finished out the game at quarterback.
“Having him go down was touch,” Summers said. “The plan wasn’t to play him the whole game, but I thought he had our offense in a good rhythm and was making plays. I also thought Kevin Ellison did a good job in taking over.”
Georgia Tech ran just three plays over the first 10 minutes of the second half, but while the first long Eagle drive ended on downs, a second promising drive stalled at midfield and resulted in a punt.
Late in the third quarter, the Georgia Tech offense finally got back on track.
Facing 3rd-and-6 at the GT 14, Thomas found Brad Stewart on a jump ball that got the Jackets into Georgia Southern territory. Georgia Tech inched its way downfield before facing another third down, this time at the GS 15.
Eagle cornerback Jesse Liptrot made what looked to be a clean pass breakup, but a pass interference penalty kept the drive alive once more. Thomas made the good fortune count and powered into the end zone from 4 yards out to make it a 28-10 Georgia Tech lead.
“They were able to make a big catch on their sideline for a long first down,” Summers said. “As for the other third down (where the flag was thrown), I’m just going to keep my comments to myself.”
Following the Yellow Jacket touchdown, Ellison got the Eagle offense moving at a quicker pace. Ellison turned in another solid performance through the air, connecting on 10 of his 17 attempts for 102 yards and a touchdown.
After the Jackets went up 28-10, Ellison directed a 10-play, 75-yard drive, capped by another 1-yard touchdown run by Ramsby. The Eagles’ final drive of the day went another 75 yards - this time in 13 plays - and was finished off when Ellison connected with B.J. Johnson from three yards out.
But in between those drives came another Georgia Tech touchdown. The Eagles’ best chance to mount a late comeback disappeared when the Jackets converted another third down with just over five minutes to go. Two plays later, Mills rushed in from 20 yards out to seal the Eagles’ fate.
“Our guys fought hard the whole way,” Summers said. “They kept battling, even after a rough start. I felt like we did a good job of executing what we had prepared for. We just couldn’t pull even with them.”
With the loss, the Eagles are now 0-3 on their four-game streak of road games. Georgia Southern hits the road once again next week as Sun Belt Conference play resumes with a trip to New Mexico State.