ATLANTA — Joshua Nesbitt made it easy to forget about the offensive stars Georgia Tech lost to the NFL.
Nesbitt ran for 130 yards and three touchdowns, Roddy Jones added two scoring runs and No. 16 Georgia Tech beat South Carolina State 41-10 on Saturday.
The Yellow Jackets lost some big names from last year's Atlantic Coast Conference championship team. Demaryius Thomas, the leading receiver, was a first-round pick by Denver. Top rusher Jonathan Dwyer was a sixth-round pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Dwyer returned to watch Saturday's game from the sideline.
But the most important player in Georgia Tech's triple-option is Nesbitt and he kept the offense moving, despite an inability to establish a passing game. Nesbitt was only 1 for 6 for 8 yards with an interception, but he averaged 8.1 yards on his 16 carries.
"A couple of passes I was just throwing away because they did a good job of covering," Nesbitt said.
"I think I did all right. I could have done a lot better."
Jones had touchdown runs of 1 and 15 yards. Tevin Washington, who replaced Nesbitt late in the third quarter, added an 11-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter as Georgia Tech had 372 yards rushing with six touchdowns.
"We'll take that," said Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson of the six touchdowns. "It doesn't matter how you get them. I don't know if it would have been better if (Nesbitt) got them passing."
South Carolina State's Asheton Jordan ran 125 yards on 17 carries and set up the Bulldogs' only touchdown with a 55-yard run to the Georgia Tech 3 in the third quarter. Quarterback Malcolm Long then scored from a yard out.
The Bulldogs' 178 yards rushing was a surprise even to their coach.
"It was the strangest thing," South Carolina State coach Buddy Pough said. "It caught us off guard that we were able to rush the football as well as we did. There were times when we probably should've just stuck with that and stayed on the field more."
Georgia Tech gave up only one touchdown in its first game with new defensive coordinator Al Groh's 3-4 scheme.
"We would have liked to have played better," said Groh, the former Virginia coach. "We were disappointed with the long runs."
Georgia Tech's replacements for Thomas and Dwyer had quiet debuts as starters.
Stephen Hill had two catches for 12 yards. Anthony Allen, who replaced Dwyer as the featured B-back, had six carries for 28 yards.
"They were keying on me today," Allen said. "But I got my feet wet. It's definitely good to have guys come out and key on you."
Georgia Tech led 20-3 at halftime and pulled away with two quick touchdowns after the break.
Georgia Tech's Quentin Sims recovered a fumbled punt return by Lennel Elmore to give the Yellow Jackets the ball at South Carolina State's 21 early in the third quarter. Nesbitt scored on a fourth-down keeper from the 14.
A 25-yard punt by South Carolina State's Blake Erickson, who had a 16-yard punt earlier in the game, set up Jones' 15-yard scoring run for a 34-3 lead.
Pough said Erickson also was too short on his attempted squib kickoff to open the game. The kick, which looked more like an onside kick, allowed Georgia Tech to start its first drive on South Carolina State's 42.
"Our kicker didn't have the best of days," Pough said.
Nesbitt had two touchdown runs on fourth-down plays, including his 35-yard run on a fourth-and-3 play on the Yellow Jackets' first possession.
Erickson kicked a 28-yard field goal in the first quarter to end a 17-play drive. The Bulldogs had first down on the Georgia Tech 5 but were kept out of the end zone.
Long was 11 for 25 passing for 94 yards for South Carolina State, an FCS team from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
Georgia Tech starting left guard Will Jackson left the game with a left knee injury late in the first quarter. He did not return. Johnson said he does not believe the injury is serious.