ATLANTA — Jordan Cronkite stretched the football toward the goal line, but before it could break the plane for a touchdown, it squirted free and T.K. Chimedza pounced on it, and with the recovery sealed first-year Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins first career victory, a 14-10 win over South Florida on Saturday.
On a day so hot in Atlanta that Bobby Dodd Stadium allowed fans to bring in bottled water, both offenses wilted as each side used three quarterbacks.
The teams produced a combined 500 yards of offense, but two second-quarter touchdowns by the Yellow Jackets held on when South Florida fumbled away a go-ahead touchdown.
"We practice sudden change an inordinate amount of time," Collins said. "The ball was at the one-yard-line, the defense never panicked (and) and got a goal line stand to win the game."
The Bulls lost their eighth straight game.
There wasn't much offense beyond Jordan Mason, who rushed 20 times for 99 yards. Tech totaled 257 yards of offense, USF 262. Each team had two turnovers.
Tech redshirt sophomore Lucas Johnson made his first start while Tobias Oliver, who started last week at Clemson, and James Graham came off the bench. At times, they subbed in and out on a play-by-play basis. Oliver also returned the opening kickoff 16 yards and lined up at least once in the slot.
None found much success throwing the ball while Tech passed for just 76 yards, but they all had some success on the ground as they combined to run 24 times for 86 of Tech's 181 rushing yards.
That ratio was much like the Jackets routinely cranked out over the previous 11 seasons in retired coach Paul Johnson's spread triple option.
"We inherited a roster that's built a certain way ... we have to play to their strengths ... " Collins said. "We will just continue to develop them. We are a player-based offense; we are not a scheme-based program."
A 1-yard scoring run by Mason early in the second quarter and a 7-yard tally by Oliver with 53 seconds left in the first half gave Tech a 14-3 halftime lead. Oliver rushed nine times for 48 yards.
K.J. Sails intercepted a Johnson pass late in the third quarter, giving the Bulls a first down at Tech's 25-yard line and Jordan McCloud pulled within 14-10 on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Jordan McCloud to Johnny Ford with 14:53 left in the game.
Moments later Tech tight end Dylan Deveney fumbled, and USF recovered.
McCloud threw to Mitchell Wilcox for a 54-yard gain to the 1-yard-line, where Tech safety Tariq Carpenter ran him down to save a touchdown.
That was a big play because on third-and-goal from the 1, Cronkite tried to leap over the pile, but Tech defensive back Kaleb Oliver thumped him and caused a fumble that Chimedza recovered with 10:03 remaining.
"We thought he was in (before fumbling), but the officials reviewed it and said he wasn't over, so they gave them a fumble there . . . " said USF coach Charlie Strong. "It's frustrating when you have a first-and-goal at the 1 and you're only down at the time by four points."
USF: A week after getting shut out at Wisconsin, 49-0, the Bulls need to find some offense. USF netted just 93 yards on 30 rushes.
Georgia Tech: While the Yellow Jackets weren't exactly dominant on offense, the decision to mix in three quarterbacks was just enough to squeak out the win. Johnson completed 11-of-17 passes, but for just 45 yards with the interception.
THREE QBS NO CHARM
USF also used three quarterbacks in senior starter Blake Barnett, McCloud and freshman wide receiver Jah'Quez Evans. He rushed three times for 15 yards, and did not attempt a pass.
"We just needed a spark," Strong said after Barnett completed 12-of-20 passes for 79 yards and ran five times for 63 yards when not counting his three sacks for 21 yards lost. "We came out with Jah'Quez early and let him run the ball a few times . . . So we will re-evaluate it after we have a chance to look at it next week."
Tech junior punter Pressley Harvin III might have been the Jackets' player of the game. He punted six times for an average of 41.3 yards, four times pinning the Bulls inside of their 20. His long went for 55 yards, and USF fumbled away one of his kicks.
USF: The Bulls return to Tampa to prepare for their home opener Saturday against South Carolina State.
Georgia Tech: The Jackets hosts The Citadel Saturday.