RALEIGH, N.C. — Georgia Tech's offense did its normal yard-churning work. This time, though, the once-struggling defense pitched in on the scoring to give the Yellow Jackets a dominating road win.
D.J. White and Quayshawn Nealy scored defensive touchdowns in the second quarter to help Georgia Tech beat North Carolina State 56-23 on Saturday, the Yellow Jackets' third straight win in their Atlantic Coast Conference division race.
White's 38-yard interception return and Nealy's 43-yard fumble return put the Yellow Jackets (8-2, 5-2 ACC) in firm control, blowing open a close game to keep them right behind No. 22 Duke in the Coastal Division standings.
It was a welcome contribution for a defense that has struggled amid the brilliance of the league's top total offense.
"I can definitely say no matter what adversity takes place on the field, we keep grinding and fighting," Nealy said. "It's not pretty. But at the end of the day, guys are just fighting and battling out there on the field."
Georgia Tech's defense was giving up 6.4 yards per play this season, but it allowed 22 yards rushing and 284 total yards in last week's 35-10 win against Virginia. N.C. State (5-5, 1-5) finished with 368 total yards, but managed just 12 offensive plays after halftime.
Defensive coordinator Ted Roof has "really been preaching just resiliency and bouncing back," White said. "And that's something I feel is the character of our defense as a whole. We may not make plays when we should but it's about bouncing back and getting back on the field and giving it your all. I think our defense does that."
The offense finished with 549 yards behind a big day from Synjyn Days, who ran for 157 yards and a touchdown. Reserve quarterback Tim Byerly ran for two scores and starter Justin Thomas ran for one.
Jacoby Brissett and Matt Dayes each ran for scores for the Wolfpack, who led early but was outscored 49-3 over the next 35-plus minutes.
N.C. State had lost four straight games and 12 straight in league play before winning at Syracuse last week, bringing the Wolfpack a needed dose of confidence while also pulling the program within a win of bowl eligibility.
Yet N.C. State couldn't build on that win, instead watching Georgia Tech take control of the game in a bizarre second quarter.
Trailing 14-13, N.C. State drove near the goal line early in the second quarter before Nealy intercepted a pass that bounced off the foot of a teammate. He returned it 69 yards before fumbling after being chased down from behind and stripped by Jaylen Samuels.
But that took N.C. State back to the 28, and two plays later, White stepped in front of Brissett's pass for Marquez Valdes-Scantling and raced down the sideline for the interception return that made it 21-13.
Then, Nealy got a second chance for a big play, grabbing Brissett's fumble on a sack and running 43 yards for a TD that made it 28-13 with 7:12 left in the half.
"We were going to have to go score for score for score for score and then get a takeaway or two," Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said. "That was kind of the formula to come out with it. It backfired obviously with the two turnovers and (the game) went their way."
At that point, N.C. State's offense had run 22 straight offensive plays going back to the final play of the first quarter. Georgia Tech didn't take an offensive snap in the quarter until the 4:02 mark, though that started another scoring drive that ended with Byerly's 2-yard keeper for a 35-13 lead just before the break.
Georgia Tech came out of the break with a 75-yard drive that ended with Byerly's 1-yard score, ending what little drama was left and sending Wolfpack fans flocking for the exits as the second half wore on.
It was N.C. State's most lopsided home loss since falling to Maryland 37-0 in November 2007 under former coach Tom O'Brien, according to STATS. It also stood as the Wolfpack's seventh straight home loss against ACC opponents.