ATLANTA — After Georgia Tech’s first possession ended with an interception, Paul Johnson decided to keep calling run plays as long as they worked and Syracuse never came close to making Johnson change his plan.
Zach Laskey had three of Georgia Tech’s seven rushing touchdowns as the Yellow Jackets (4-3, 3-2 ACC) rolled to a surprising rout of Syracuse (3-4, 1-2) on Saturday.
There was little need to throw the ball when the spread-option offense was producing 5.9 yards per carry.
“As long as you’re churning out seven, eight yards a pop, you get behind schedule throwing it,” Johnson said, adding that by keeping the ball on the ground “you kind of run them into oblivion.”
Georgia Tech ended a three-game losing streak with 482 total yards, including 394 yards rushing.
The Yellow Jackets had 67 rushing attempts and threw only five passes, including Vad Lee’s 46-yard touchdown pass to Darren Waller early in the second half. Lee also ran for two scores.
The victory surpassed Georgia Tech’s 49-10 win over Duke on Nov. 14, 2009 as the Yellow Jackets’ biggest margin of victory in an Atlantic Coast Conference game.
“It was really a confidence-builder for the whole team just because we have big expectations and we still want to do great things this year,” Lee said.
Following the early interception – thrown by receiver DeAndre Smelter on a trick play – the Yellow Jackets had few mistakes and no penalties.
Even the hard-to-please Johnson said, “It was a complete victory.”
Syracuse (3-4, 1-2) also brought a .500 record into what was expected to be a competitive game. Instead, it resembled Georgia Tech’s 70-0 win over Elon, a FCS team, to open the season.
The Yellow Jackets took advantage of a blocked punt and three Syracuse turnovers for the runaway win.
“Sometimes you get your rumps kicked,” said Syracuse coach Scott Shafer. “We got our rumps kicked today, and it was a great job by Georgia Tech.”
The three straight losses forced the Yellow Jackets to take a must-win approach to Syracuse’s first visit to Bobby Dodd Stadium.
“We’re approaching every game like it’s a playoff game,” Laskey said.
Linebacker Quayshawn Nealy had an interception and fumble recovery to lead Georgia Tech’s defense.
Syracuse, which averaged 342.5 yards rushing in its first two ACC games, was held to 75 yards on 26 carries and 208 total yards. Jerome Smith had 11 carries for 43 yards.
“They did a multitude of things,” said Shafer of Georgia Tech’s defense. “But at the end of the day, when you’re down by 14 and 21 points early ... you can’t rush the whole game.”
Orange starting quarterback Terrel Hunt completed 7 of 14 passes for 68 yards with an interception. Drew Allen took over in the second half and completed 6 of 15 passes for 65 yards with an interception.
“We shot ourselves in the foot, hurt ourselves a lot,” Hunt said. “We could have done better.
“It’s disappointing. We’re going to flush this down the toilet and go back to work.”
Georgia Tech backup quarterback Justin Thomas ran for 95 yards, including a 50-yard scoring run, and Synjyn Days had a 4-yard touchdown run. Laskey had 13 carries for 75 yards and scored on runs of 6, 3 and 1 yards.
A procession of mistakes left the Orange with a deficit that continued to grow during the first half.
Georgia Tech’s Chris Milton blocked Riley Dixon’s first-quarter punt, setting up a quick 24-yard drive capped by Days’ scoring run. On Syracuse’s next possession, Nealy’s interception set up a 71-yard touchdown drive.
Syracuse had a chance to stop Georgia Tech on a third-down incompletion midway through the second quarter, but defensive end Micah Robinson was flagged for a blow to Lee’s head. Two plays after the personal foul penalty, Lee was untouched on a 3-yard run for a 21-0 lead.
Syracuse drew nine penalties for 91 yards.
Late in the half, Syracuse’s second turnover set up Georgia Tech’s fourth touchdown. Backup center Jason Emerich’s shotgun snap was high over Hunt’s head. Hunt tried to fall on the fumble but lost the ball when tackled by Jemea Thomas, who was credited with a forced fumble. Nealy recovered the ball at the Syracuse 7, setting up Lee’s second touchdown run.
Emerich entered the game after starting center Macky MacPherson left with a reported upper body injury in the first quarter. MacPherson returned in the second half.
Syracuse defensive tackle John Raymon was taken off the field late in the first half with an apparent right knee injury.