ATLANTA -- There was only one debate on Saturday concerning Georgia Tech's emphatic win over Syracuse: Which was more impressive, the offense or defense?
A case could be made for both in the 56-0 victory at Bobby Dodd Stadium, a win that signaled the end of the team's three-game losing streak and put the Yellow Jackets back on the path to becoming bowl eligible for the 17th straight season.
"It was a complete victory," coach Paul Johnson said. "I'm happy for the guys and we'll continue to work in order to get ready to go to Virginia for the next one."
For at least a week the focus can get away from changing quarterbacks and votes of confidence and return to football. Tech's mistakes were few. The option looked fresh and the defense was aggressive and engaged from the first possession. Tech wasn't penalized for the first time since the 1968 Navy game.
It was a rough welcome to Atlanta for Syracuse, which was playing its first ACC contest against Tech and making its first appearance at Bobby Dodd. It's unlikely that much of the historic day will end up on the 2013 highlight reel. Syracuse was shut out for the first time since 2007 and suffered its worst beating since enduring a 62-0 loss to Virginia Tech in 1999.
"It shows what you can do when you don't shoot yourself in the foot," B-back Zach Laskey said. The case for the Tech offense revolves around the running game, which reappeared with a flourish. The Jackets rushed for a season-high 394 yards, allowing them to keep possession for 37:39. Tech rushed for 197 yards in the first half and only tried two passes, one of them an ill-fated option pass that was intercepted.
"The way they were playing, it was really no use (to throw the ball)," Johnson said. "I think you saw what happens when you can run the ball well on the play action. The receivers are wide open behind people because you've run them into oblivion."
Starting quarterback Vad Lee didn't even throw a pass until the fourth play of the second half. It went for a 46-yard touchdown to Darren Waller. His second pass came on the next possession and covered 37 yards to Dennis Andrews. It was that kind of day. Lee wound up completing 3 of 3 passes for 88 yards and rushed 14 times for 72 yards and two touchdowns.
Backup quarterback Justin Thomas played one three-and-out series in the first half, but got a chance for extended play after the Jackets took a 42-0 lead. Thomas showed why fans have been clamoring to see more when he used his quickness to dart through a hole en route to a 50-yard touchdown run. Thomas wound up with 95 yards on 10 carries with one touchdown.
"Vad and Justin both did a good job," Johnson said. "You could see (Justin's) quickness when he finally got a chance to get in the open field and run with the ball."
The B-backs were able to pound the ball up the middle and off tackle. Laskey rushed 13 times for 75 yards and a career-best three touchdowns and David Sims ran 12 times for 56 yards. "The guys up front were blowing off the ball all day and we were able to take advantage of it," Laskey said. The defense had its best first half of the year, reversing a trend that has plagued them all season. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof took his act upstairs to the box and relayed adjustments down to linebackers coach Andy McCollum.
The Jackets quieted the Syracuse running game and limited the Orange to 75 yards on 26 carries. Forced to pass, Syracuse completed only 13 of 29 for 133 yards. "I thought (the defense) played really well," Johnson said. "When a team can't run the ball it makes it tough. And we knew their quarterback likes to look at one guy and then pull it back down, and I thought our guys did a good job of staying in their lanes and not allowing him to hurt us by putting his head down and running."
The stalwart on defense was linebacker Quayshawn Nealy, who had an interception, recovered a fumble and harassed quarterback Terel Hunt throughout the first half.
"We felt like they were going to try to run it down our throat and we took it as a challenge," Nealy said. "Guys bought into it and took the challenge head-on and delivered out there today."
The Tech defense got contributions from everyone. Louis Young intercepted his second pass of the season, the first since the North Carolina game. Jemea Thomas had a team-high seven tackles. He had a sack that caused a fumble and a tackle for a loss.
"It's football. Sometimes you get your rump kicked," Syracuse coach Scott Shafer said. "We got our rumps kicked today. It's a great job by Georgia Tech and I wish them all the luck in the future."