5 hidden plays that helped win the game for Georgia Tech

November 26, 2016 Athens - Georgia Tech defensive back A.J. Gray (15) holds a sign to celebrate their 28-27 win over Georgia at Sanford Stadium on Saturday, November 26, 2016. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

November 26, 2016 Athens – Georgia Tech defensive back A.J. Gray (15) holds a sign to celebrate their 28-27 win over Georgia at Sanford Stadium on Saturday, November 26, 2016. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

The big plays from Georgia Tech’s 28-27 win over Georgia will long be remembered, namely Lance Austin’s interception and Qua Searcy’s six-yard touchdown run. But elsewhere in the 122 plays from scrimmage (as well as those in the kicking game) were difference makers that helped shape the final outcome. Here are five.

The opening kickoff

The play: Kicker Harrison Butker put the ball into the end zone, but Reggie Davis chose to run it out of the end zone and was tackled at the 16 by Chase Alford.

The impact: It’s impossible to know, but had Georgia started its drive at the 25 instead of the 16, the Bulldogs’ drive may well have stalled out nine yards closer to the goal line, which would have given Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship a 33-yard attempt rather than a 42-yard try, which he missed. It was within his range, but undoubtedly he would have had a better shot from closer in. As it turned out, the points were critical.

Freeman’s run stop

The play: After charging down the field for a first-drive touchdown (11 plays, 75 yards), Georgia kept it going on the second drive, picking up 16 yards on the first two plays. On 1st-and-10 from the Georgia 36, Tech defensive end KeShun Freeman stopped the momentum by bringing down UGA running back Nick Chubb for no gain. A run blitz by A.J. Gray on the right edge appeared to cause a mix-up on the offensive line, leaving Freeman unblocked and free to make the stop. Freeman followed it up on 2nd-and-10, teaming with defensive tackle Patrick Gamble to limit Chubb to a two-yard gain, leading to an unsuccessful screen pass on third down. Freeman was free again, apparently again because Gray’s blitz diverted the fullback to him and away from Freeman. Gamble fought off a block to help with the stop.

Impact: Tech temporarily halted Georgia’s offense, and after the Bulldogs punted on 4th-and-10, the Jackets answered with their second touchdown drive of the game to re-take the lead at 14-7. Freeman played with his standard high effort and was consistently around the ball, finishing with a career-high nine tackles.

Gray’s rejection

The play: After A-back Isiah Willis had fumbled inside Tech territory, giving Georgia the ball at the Tech 28-yard line, Georgia was poised to take control of the game, which at that point was tied at 14. The Bulldogs moved quickly to the Tech 14, where Chubb advanced the ball another four yards. On 2nd-and-6, safety A.J. Gray, playing up in the box, leapt to bat down quarterback Jacob Eason’s pass for an incompletion, forcing 3rd-and-6. Eason was throwing to fullback Christian Payne, who, with a well-thrown ball, had an easy shot at picking up the first down, if not scoring.

Facing heavy pressure, Eason threw incomplete again, with Step Durham breaking up the pass.

The impact: Starting inside the Tech 30, Georgia had to settle for a field goal and a 17-14 lead, thanks in no small part to Gray’s playmaking. Given the field position, it was a huge win for the Tech defense.

Gamble steps up

The play: The Bulldogs had all the momentum after stopping A-back Qua Searcy on 4th-and-4 from the Georgia 42. The score was 27-14 with 11:58 remaining and a touchdown would have effectively ended the game. Even a field goal – about 20 yards would have put Georgia on the edge of Blankenship’s range – would have boxed the Jackets in, forcing them to score two touchdowns with two two-point conversions just to tie.

Georgia had done nothing to indicate that it couldn’t do it, having driven for three scores on the first three possessions of the second half and controlling the Jackets with the run. But Alford brought down Chubb for a two-yard gain on first down, taking advantage of a blocking bust to wrap him up, a former walk-on squaring up a former five-star prospect and potential first- or second-round draft pick.

Gamble stopped Chubb to a three-yard run on 2nd-and-8, setting up 3rd-and-5. Tackle Kyle Cerge-Henderson held his point, linebacker P.J. Davis evaded a block to fill a gap to funnel Chubb inside and Gamble fought off a block to bring him down.

The Bulldogs were pushed back five yards by a false start, and the Bulldogs couldn’t convert a 3rd-and-10 and punted. On third down, Gamble pushed back the pocket while Cerge-Henderson and end Antonio Simmons created pressure appearing to run a line stunt, causing Eason to step up and throw an awkward checkdown that fell incomplete.

Impact: Forcing a punt after being stopped on fourth down near midfield was a big save for the Tech defense and ultimately set up the comeback from 13 points down. Like Freeman, Gamble left it all on the field, amassing a career-high 11 tackles.

Block and run

The play: Needing to score a touchdown to stay in the game, Tech moved from its 6-yard line to the Georgia 27-yard line in four plays. On 2nd-and-3 from the Georgia 27, B-back Marcus Marshall bounced a run to the outside, where Searcy threw an effective block to clear the way for Marshall to pick up extra yards down to the 8. Searcy put defensive back Deandre Baker on the ground and Marshall sped by. (This is kind of funny. Marshall’s momentum carried him right at Uga X’s doghouse on the sideline, where he bumped a security guard who either stepped in front of Uga to protect him from Marshall or was simply moving to avoid him. Either way, the light impact jostled the doghouse.) Dedrick Mills punched the ball in the end zone two plays later, cutting the lead to 27-21 with 6:28 to play. Searcy, of course, would be heard from again.

The impact: Marshall’s run wasn’t the big gainer in the drive – that would be the 23- and 39-yard passes from Justin Thomas to Stewart and Searcy, respectively – but it picked up big yardage in an area of the field where it was more difficult to come by and saved time on the drive. As it turned out, the Jackets would need nearly all the seconds remaining on the clock.

 

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