ATLANTA - Turns out all Georgia Tech needed to snap its funk was a visit south from one of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s newest members. The Yellow Jackets rushed for 394 yards and blew out Syracuse 56-0 at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
The Orange, in their first season in the ACC after 22 years in the Big East, were ranked 22nd nationally in rushing defense, allowing a little over 120 yards per game, but it didn’t show Saturday. Georgia Tech (4-3, 3-2 ACC), which snapped a three-game losing streak in securing its largest margin of victory in a league game since joining the ACC in 1983, had its way on the ground all day, getting three touchdown runs from running back Zach Laskey and two from quarterback Vad Lee to roll to its most lopsided conference win since a 49-10 triumph over Duke in November, 2009
It was a nice change of pace for the Tech defense as well, which allowed an average of over 33 points during the losing spell. Syracuse (3-4, 1-2) collected just 75 rushing yards and 208 total yards, running only seven plays in Tech territory.
“I thought the defense played really good,” said Tech Paul Johnson. “When a team really can’t run the ball it makes it tough on them.”
Lee didn’t throw a pass until the fourth play from scrimmage in the third quarter, though he made it count, tossing a 46-yard touchdown to a wide open Darren Waller to put the Yellow Jackets up 35-0. Laskey added his second touchdown run soon after, and backup quarterback Justin Thomas had a 50-yard touchdown scamper to make it a 49-0 game with 4:38 left in the third.
“I was proud of the way our guys played, got contributions out of everybody. So it was a complete victory, happy for the guys,” said Tech coach Paul Johnson.
It was a mistake-filled opening half for Syracuse and each miscue cost the Orange.
Synjyn Days was making his first career start in the Tech backfield and the redshirt-junior made an impact right away.
Chris Milton had just blocked a Riley Dixon punt and given Tech excellent field position at the Syracuse 24. It took the Yellow Jackets four plays and just a minute and a half to score the first points of the game as Days scooted into the end zone un-touched from four yards.
“(The blocked punt) was huge,” Johnson said. “Anytime you block a kick, I’ve been coaching for a long time, I can count on one hand the games we’ve lost with a blocked kick. It’s such a momentum changer.”
Tech’s defense came up with a turnover late in the first that led to seven more points. Syracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt tried to sneak a second-and-long toss past Quayshawn Nealy, but the Tech linebacker made a great play to intercept the ball.
The Yellow Jackets kept the ball on the ground for the entirety of a nine-play drive, capping a four-minute jaunt with Laskey’s six-yard scoring run that made it a 14-0 game with less than a minute to play in the opening quarter.
The Orange looked to have held to Tech to a field goal attempt when the Yellow Jackets’ long drive, which included the first third down play of the day with 9:03 left in the second quarter, had stalled at the 13 on Lee’s incompletion.
But Syracuse was hit with a personal foul penalty on a late hit of Lee by defensive end Micah Robinson, setting up the hosts with a first-and-goal at the 6. Two plays later, Lee capped a 15-play drive with a four-yard touchdown run.
Jemea Thomas forced a fumble of Hunt late in the second, Nealy recovered (his first fumble recovery since the opening game of the 2011 season) and Tech went up 28-0 as Lee scooted in from a yard out.
That was part of a miserable day for Hunt, a sophomore who was 7-for-14 for just 68 yards and was replaced by Drew Allen on Syracuse’s first possession of the second half.