Justin Thomas

Georgia Tech fends off Kentucky for TaxSlayer Bowl victory

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Georgia Tech (9-4) held off a late rally attempt by Kentucky (7-6) and pulled out a well-timed pass play to lead to a cushion-padding touchdown to win the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, 33-18. Dedrick Mills rushed for 169 yards and a touchdown for Georgia Tech and Justin Thomas passed for 105 yards and ran for 42 more yards and a touchdown in the win over the Wildcats.

Georgia Tech got things started early with the defense putting the first points on the scoreboard. P.J. Davis picked up a loose ball fumbled away by Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson on a third down play on the game’s third play of the game. Davis returned the recovered fumble for a touchdown, which was later followed by a Georgia Tech field goal on the first offensive series for the Yellow Jackets in the first quarter. After Kentucky put a dent on the scoreboard with a field goal early in the second quarter, Georgia Tech padded its lead with 10 more points before halftime. Quarterback Justin Thomas took off running for a 21-yard touchdown in the second quarter.

Georgia Tech continued to pad its decisive lead with a pair of second-half field goals, while Kentucky finally got a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Johnson completed a pass to Dorian Baker from 20 yards out, which needed a video review to confirm. The Wildcats needed 12 plays to cover 75 yards for the score, but Georgia Tech responded by putting together a time-consuming drive over 12 plays resulting in a field goal to create a 16-point advantage with 6:16 left to play.

The win by Georgia Tech helps improve the ACC 7-3 in the bowl season (Louisville lost in the Citrus Bowl at the time this game was played). The ACC will end the bowl season with a winning record against the SEC, even if Clemson should happen to lose to Alabama in the national championship game. Georgia Tech now has three bowl victories under head coach Paul Johnson and ends the season with its second-highest win total under Johnson (Johnson won 11 games twice at Georgia Tech).

Georgia Tech’s 2017 season will begin with another game against an SEC East opponent. The Yellow Jackets are scheduled to face Tennessee on Monday, September 4, 2017 in the brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta as one half of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff, with Alabama and Florida State playing in the spotlight game of the opening weekend two days prior. For Georgia Tech, this will mark three straight games against SEC East opponents with a regular season finale against rival Georgia, this bowl game against Kentucky and the 2017 opener against Tennessee.

Kentucky will start the 2017 season on the road against Southern Miss on Saturday, September 2, 2017. Kentucky avoids the toughest of crossover opponents from the SEC West next season by getting Ole Miss at home and Mississippi State on the road. Kentucky will not face Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Arkansas or Texas A&M. Kentucky will also host rival Louisville in Lexington at the end of the 2017 season. The Wildcats will hope to back a second-straight postseason bowl trip for the first time since going to five straight bowl games from 2006 through 2010.

No. 21 UNC scores 21 unanswered points to pull away from Georgia Tech for big ACC Coastal win

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No. 21 North Carolina (7-2, 5-1 ACC) started on the right foot and found a way to close things out in the second half against Georgia Tech (5-4, 2-4 ACC). Elijah Hood scored three touchdowns and rushed for 168 yards for the Tar Heels in  48-20 victory to keep UNC in strong contention for the ACC Coastal Division coming down the final stretch.

After Georgia Tech kicker Harrison Butker kicked a 42-yard field goal in the third quarter to cut UNC’s lead to seven, the Tar Heels scored 21 unanswered points, including one short touchdown run by Hood (who had two in the first half). T.J. Logan added a 20-yard touchdown scamper and Mitch Trubisky took off running 18 yards for a score inside the red zone in the fourth quarter. Trubisky also passed for 329 yards and a score. UNC’s offense piled up 636 yards of offense against Georgia Tech, who also managed to pick up 518 yards of offense against the Tar Heels.

Dedrick Mills led Georgia Tech with 132 rushing yards. Quarterback Justin Thomas passed for 184 yards with a touchdown and rushed for 82 yards. Both teams converted eight third downs on 14 (Georgia Tech) and 13 (UNC) opportunities. Georgia Tech, however, was the only team to turn the football over (twice), which led to 14 UNC points in the second half.

For now, UNC leads the ACC Coastal Division with a 5-1 ACC record. They entered the day tied with Virginia Tech, but the Hokies own a head-to-head tiebreaker with the defending division champions. One Virginia Tech loss would give UNC the inside track once again. With Pitt losing at Miami, the division is a two-team race the next few weeks between UNC and Virginia Tech.

Georgia Tech is still within reach of a postseason bowl game, but must pick up one win in the final three weeks, with road trips to Virginia Tech (next Saturday) and Georgia in the regular season finale and a home game with Virginia in between.

Duke holds off No. 22 Georgia Tech for early ACC Coastal edge

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The end result may have become a bit tighter than David Cutcliffe would have preferred given the way things started, but he will surely take it. Duke (3-1, 1-0 ACC) scored a nice win in the inclement weather in Durham Saturday afternoon, holding off No. 22 Georgia Tech for a 34-20 victory. Safety Jeremy Cash came through with the big play by breaking through the line of scrimmage and coming from behind Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas to knock the ball loose. Duke recovered the fumble with just over two minutes to play, and Shaquille Powell broke up the middle for a 30-yard touchdown to put the cherry on top of a division win.

Both teams entered this game coming off a loss. Georgia Tech lost last week at Notre Dame, while Duke lost at home against Northwestern. While the weather may not have cooperated early on, the Blue Devils came out on a mission to get back in the win column. Duke scored 19 points in the first quarter to build a good early lead, and the offense had answers for Georgia Tech’s attempts at a rally in the second half.

After Georgia Tech kicked a field goal in the third quarter, DeVon Edwards returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. The Yellow Jackets would keep chipping away in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Justin Thomas ran in for a 12-yard touchdown to cut the Duke lead to 26-20 after the PAT. Georgia Tech got the ball once more with a little over three minutes to play, but Cash’s forced fumble was the set-up to the knockout blow by Powell’s touchdown run.

The big question now becomes whether or not either of these two has what it takes to be the team to beat in what could be a wide-open ACC Coastal Division? Judging by the way each played on Saturday in Durham, there is room for improvement on both teams. The two teams combined for five turnovers and neither offense had a great showing. Georgia Tech got 326 yards of offense, while Duke picked up 279 yards of offense.

Duke gets a chance to go 2-0 in ACC play next week when they host Boston College. Key game sin division play will come later in October with road games against Virginia Tech and UNC wrapped around a home game against Miami. Georgia Tech will host North Carolina next week, and a win would put them right back in the running. Going 0-2 in the division is not something that will be easy to rally from, even in this division.

Irish hold 13-7 lead on Yellow Jackets at half

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Notre Dame’s new starting quarterback, DeShone Kizer, completed a 46-yard touchdown pass to Will Fuller to give the Irish a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, and C.J. Prosise ran one in to the end zone from 17 yards to give the Irish a 13-7 lead on Georgia Tech at the half in South Bend.

Georgia Tech’s option offense has taken some time to get going. Notre Dame has held Georgia Tech without a third down conversion in the first half, although the Yellow Jackets do have a fourth down conversion. Notre Dame has fared better on third downs, moving the chains on three out of the seven opportunities that have popped up so far. All of Georgia Tech’s halftime yardage has come on the ground. Patrick Skov had a five-yard touchdown in the second quarter to cap a quick four-play, 80-yard drive highlighted by a Broderick Snoddy 48-yard run topped by a Notre Dame personal foul. That tied the game at 7-7, but Notre Dame strung together quite the answer to regain the lead.

Notre Dame closed out a well-executed 10-play drive over 80 yards to take a 14-7 lead with about 90 seconds to go until halftime. Kizer, replacing the injured Malik Zaire at quarterback, has completed 11 of 17 pass attempts for 150 yards and a touchdown. He has been picked off once.

Utah pours salt on Harbaugh’s Michigan debut, 24-17

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The long-term future looks to be in good shape for as long as Jim Harbaugh sticks around Ann Arbor. The short-term future, on the other hand, suggests there could be some tough roads ahead. The Harbaugh era at Michigan got off to a losing start Thursday night in Salt Lake City. Utah’s (1-0) defense held firm in the fourth quarter with Justin Thomas picking off a pass from Michigan (0-1) quarterback Jake Rudock and returning it for a 55-yard touchdown and later stuffing the Wolverines on a fourth and short with 5:13 to play. For a second straight season, Utah flexed its muscle against Michigan, winning this year by a final score of 24-17.

Kyle Whittingham had his Utes ready to play typical Utah football, which is to say Utah played well on defense, forced some turnovers and managed to avoid having Travis Wilson implode. Utah’s quarterback was picked off once, but he completed 24 of his 33 pass attempts as Utah kept to mostly safe plays to wear down Michigan’s defense. That meant putting the ball on the ground with Devontae Booker leading the rushing attack and Wilson taking off as well. Each had a rushing touchdown in the victory.

While Michigan will fly home with a loss, there were some bright spots worth noting. Tight end Jake Butt proved to be a reliable target for Rudock as the two connected eight times for 93 yards and a touchdown. Amara Darboh also had a good game with seven catches for 91 yards. Jabrill Peppers had a good evening, making some key plays in the second half. He also had a kick return for 36 yards. And it was encouraging to see Rudock put together some plays late in the game to at least give Michigan a chance, if they had just recovered an onside kick.

This game alone should not go far in assessing the overall strength of the Pac-12 or the Big Ten against any other conference. Those arguments will continue to play out in games to come. However, the Big Ten could have benefitted from Michigan winning this one to carry over momentum gained from last year’s postseason. Now, the Pac-12 claims another notable victory to its profile. These types of wins can end up playing a deciding factor when it comes time to weighing playoff teams against one another, even if it does not involve Utah or Michigan. So point for the Pac-12 (and Pac-12 South), and no points for the Big Ten.

Michigan will welcome Harbaugh home in Ann arbor next weekend as the Wolverines once again play a Pac-12 opponent. This time it will be Oregon State, with former Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen making his way back to Big Ten territory almost as quickly as he left it. Michigan will have some time to work out some kinks, but BYU will offer another stiff defensive test at the end of the month before Harbaugh’s Wolverines jump into Big Ten play.

Utah will stay home next week to play Utah State. The Aggies were in a real tough battle with FCS Southern Utah, losing 9-5 at the conclusion of the Utah-Michigan game), with Chuckie Keeton having an ineffective night. Maybe Utah State wasn’t showing much to refrain from giving Utah much film? Or maybe this game will be a tad easier than initially expected for the Utes.