Football

Defense improves as Yellow Jackets prepare to face Georgia

Georgia Tech’s Qua Searcy, right, runs the ball against Virginia’s Juan Thornhill, left, to score a touchdown in the third quarter in Atlanta on Saturday. Tech won 31-17.
Georgia Tech’s Qua Searcy, right, runs the ball against Virginia’s Juan Thornhill, left, to score a touchdown in the third quarter in Atlanta on Saturday. Tech won 31-17. Associated Press

The Georgia Tech defense has played better the last two weeks, which is a positive sign going into the final game against Georgia.

The defense had a stellar first half against Virginia Tech two weeks ago, shutting out the Hokies in the first half en route to a 30-20 win. They excelled in the second half last week against Virginia, allowing the Cavaliers only seven points over the final two quarters of a 31-17 win.

“Defensively we started to get some pressure,” coach Paul Johnson said. “We got some turnovers in the last couple weeks, which is always huge. We played better in the second half against Virginia than we did in the first, and it was kind of a flip against Virginia Tech.”

The turnovers have been crucial and a welcome turnaround from the limited takeaways from early in the season when they had only six through the first five games, with three of those coming in the opener against Boston College on the wet field in Ireland.

The Yellow Jackets have forced seven fumbles and come away with nine interceptions. Seven of those 16 takeaways — two fumbles and five interceptions — have come over the last two games.

Georgia Tech got three sacks last week and has 16 for the season. Pat Gamble leads the team with 5 1/2 sacks and five hurries and Anree Saint-Amour has four sacks and two hurries. Antonio Simmons leads the team with 12 hurries and KeShun Freeman has nine.

Specialists can’t afford lapse

The Yellow Jackets have done a good job on special teams for most of the season and can’t give the Bulldogs a break in that area if they want to win.

Kicker Harrison Butker has put 43 of his 61 kickoffs into the end zone for a touchback. Opponents average only 21.7 yards per return and their longest runback has been 37 yards.

Punter Ryan Rodwell, after some early season struggles, has been solid since regaining his job after the second game. The senior averages 42.8 yards on 41 kicks, with nine kicks exceeding 50 yards and 14 of them pinned down into the 20.

Stewart could play

Wide receiver Brad Stewart was back at practice and could play on Saturday. Stewart injured his left ankle against Virginia on Saturday. He is the team’s No. 2 wide receiver with 15 catches for a 19-yard average, and averaged 11.5 yards on 10 punt returns.

Georgia Tech Tweet of the Week

Former running back Roddy Jones, who had the pivotal run in the 2008 victory in Athens, tweeted, “Car w/UGA tags was trying to get over into my lane on Peachtree. Nope. Not this week. Best block I’ve thrown all year.”

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