Tech’s level of play must ramp up against Vandy

The competition will ramp up for Georgia Tech this week when it hosts Vanderbilt in the second of four straight games at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

The Commodores (1-1) are coming in off a 47-24 win against Middle Tennessee, an opponent that still causes the Yellow Jacket Nation to cringe. Vandy led 33-24 heading into the final period before putting a couple of touchdowns on the board.

Both Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt view this game as one they should win. The Vanderbilt faithful honestly thought the Commodores would start off 4-0, a plan that was thwarted when they lost the opener to South Carolina. But they still Georgia Tech as their win for the taking.

It won’t be easy for the Georgia Tech defense. Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Sharmur isn’t among the best in the Southeastern Conference, but he’s got an excellent running back in Ralph Webb to help him.

Georgia Tech (2-0) has now won their first two games for the fourth straight season. They need to continue to show improvement or the season could get away.

“We’ve got a lot of room to improve,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “We’ve got a lot of things to get better at and it’s a process. Hopefully we’ll keep working and we’ll get better.”

Here are five things we learned about Georgia Tech after its 35-10 win over Mercer:

Found the A-back: He’s wearing No. 1. Two outstanding games by Qua Searcy has illustrated why the Yellow Jackets missed him so much last year after he lost with injury. He owns one of the two starting slots and could become the go-to guy.

On Saturday Searcy rushed for 91 yards and averaged 13 yards per carry. His 31-yard run at the end of the first half, when Georgia Tech was backed up to the 9, fueled a touchdown that provided needed separation. Searcy also caught a pass for 12 yards.

“I’m really pleased with him,” coach Paul Johnson said. “He’s become a real playmaker for us.”

Matthew Jordan is a competent backup. The sophomore looked much more confident than he did a year ago when given the chance to play. He’s tough in short-yardage situations, a role he inherited from former backup Tim Byerly, and Jordan engineered two long scoring drives.

But question becomes: How hurt was starting quarterback Justin Thomas. Johnson brushed off the question on Saturday by saying Thomas was just dinged up a little and could have played, but he felt confident enough to bring in Jordan because the outcome was decided. However, Georgia Tech led only 21-7 at the time. Thomas should be OK to start against Vanderbilt.

The defense isn’t good and it isn’t bad. The Georgia Tech defense only allowed 10 points, but it couldn’t get Mercer off the field. Mercer had nine possessions and went three-and-out only twice. Georgia Tech didn’t create a turnover against the Bears after causing three the first week.

“The time of possession was even and they punted once,” Johnson said. “It shouldn’t be that way, not against us. … We’ve been bend but don’t break for two weeks. We need some three and outs.”

Harrison Butker is a kicking machine. For the second straight week, none of Harrison Butker’s kickoffs were returned. He had four non-returned kicks against Boston College and seven non-returned kicks against Mercer.

That’s 11 kickoffs that have either gone out of the end zone or too deep in the end zone to be returned. That’s 11 times the opposition didn’t have a chance to return a kickoff and had to start their drive on the 20.

“Harrison Butker is a real weapon,” Johnson said. “When you don’t have to cover kicks, it makes the kickoff cover team really good.”

Anyone got a punter? Grant Aasen won the punting job in practice last week, but ownership may be short-lived. He kicked a 42-yarder in his only attempt, but it was not a good kick. It’s like the outfielder playing a single into a double. Johnson indicated the situation there remains unsettled, which means you could see Aasen or the deposed Ryan Rodwell there on Saturday against Vanderbilt.