Backup quarterbacks Justin Thomas and Tim Byerly led the Gold squad to a 22-10 win over starting quarterback Vad Lee’s White squad in front of about 5,000 chilly fans in Bobby Dodd Stadium. The temperature was 49 degrees at the start, and several fan festivities were canceled because of a lousy forecast.
“The thing you’ve got to be careful about is not reading too much into these things,” said Tech coach Paul Johnson, whose team beat Southern California 21-7 in the Sun Bowl to finish 7-7 last fall when defensive struggles were frequent. “A lot of times it’s about matchups.”
Perhaps most importantly, although it’s dangerous to draw deep conclusions from the annual scrimmages that end the spring practice season, the defense of new coordinator Ted Roof made positive impressions.
All three quarterbacks ran fairly well, yet struggled to pass in a scrimmage dominated by defenses — especially the Gold’s collection of starters. Several starters on both sides of the ball did not play because of injuries or because they’re mending from surgeries.
Lee, a redshirt sophomore who played quite a bit last season along with senior starter Tevin Washington, rushed nine times for 62 yards and completed 4-of-13 passes for 34 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Wide receiver Darren Waller dropped what would have been a 30-yard touchdown pass from Lee, and Lee’s interception came when Waller — a former North Cobb High School standout — broke off a route, and the quarterback threw deep. Senior cornerback Jemea Thomas ran it down for a pick.
“It was a miscommunication between me and the receiver,” Lee said. “I was actually trying to throw it away.”
Lee also lost a fumble that was returned 34 yards for a score by Gold linebacker Quayshawn Nealy.
Thomas, a redshirt freshman, originally committed to Alabama as a defensive back before deciding to attend Georgia Tech. He rushed 13 times for 26 yards and a 1-yard score.
He was 3-of-7 passing for 35 yards with an interception. That came when a short pass over the middle bounced off the helmet of A-back Synjyn Days, a converted quarterback and Hillgrove High School product, and was picked off by linebacker Anthony Harrell.
“I felt good out there,” Thomas said. “We got a lot accomplished.”
Byerly, who redshirted last fall after transferring from Middle Tennessee State, rushed seven times for 27 yards, including an 11-yard score in the third quarter. He also completed 2-of-3 passes for 23 yards.
Days led all receivers with three receptions for 33 yards, and added 33 rushing yards on four carries. Matt Connors led all rushers as the B-back carried 12 times for 84 yards.
Roof may have made the biggest impression.
The Gold team had 287 yards of total offense while the White mustered 191. The squads were a combined 8-for-22 on third downs, and failed on a pair of fourth-down tries. Tech’s defense has struggled the past several seasons, and Roof — a former Tech player who left a job at Penn State to return to his alma mater — favors an attacking style.
Tech’s pass rush was weak last season, but Lee was under duress almost constantly against the No. 1 defense. Thomas was harassed as well.
Senior outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu led the Gold defense with six tackles, and walk-on safety Holland Frost, a former Pope High School standout who redshirted as a freshman, led all tacklers with eight stops for the White.
“I think our (defenders) enjoy being a little more aggressive,” Johnson said.
The quarterbacks seemed to agree.
“Our defense is tough,” Lee said. “I’ve been saying it all spring.”
Justin Thomas added: “The new defense that they’re putting in … as spring went along, they got faster.”