ATLANTA (AP) — Quarterback Justin Thomas gave himself a mixed review in his first start for Georgia Tech.
“In the first half I overthrew guys a little bit,” he said. “In the second half I calmed down and the made the throws I was supposed to.”
Thomas had 353 yards of total offense and DeAndre Smelter caught two third-quarter touchdown passes in Georgia Tech’s 38-19 victory over Wofford in both team’s season opener on Saturday.
Thomas went 11 of 15 for 282 yards and completed his last eight passes for 250 yards to help the Yellow Jackets hold off the pesky Terriers.
Coach Paul Johnson wasn’t surprised that Wofford, of the FCS Southern Conference, was a tough draw after watching film of the Terriers giving South Carolina and Clemson fits in recent years before losing.
“The nature of the way they play, if you don’t convert on third downs and score touchdowns, you might not get the ball back for seven or eight minutes,” Johnson said. “What it does is put an unbelievable amount of pressure on you from a play-calling standpoint (because) it’s hard to take chances sometimes.”
Johnson called more pass plays than usual as his spread option attack finished with 226 yards on the ground and a surprising 282 through the air.
Zach Laskey’s 11-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter gave the Jackets a 31-19 lead, and the defense forced a three-out after giving up a 16-play, 75-yard drive on Wofford’s previous possession.
That drive took over 9 minutes and ended with Octavius Harden’s 4-yard touchdown run, cutting the lead to 24-19. But Broderick Snoddy followed with a 65-yard pass reception from Thomas that set up Laskey’s score.
Thomas led Georgia Tech with 71 yards on 13 carries. Laskey had 15 carries for 70 yards.
Smelter, who caught five passes for 132 yards, beat cornerback Bernard Williams on both of his touchdown catches.
His first, a slant route from the right side, covered 19 yards to put Georgia Tech up 24-12. His second, going from right to left, went for 71 yards as Smelter kept his feet moving and used his size to maneuver past Williams, who fell backward and lost his helmet near the sideline at the 40.
“After I caught it, I just wanted to make a play,” Smelter said. “I didn’t want to go down.”
Georgia Tech played a dysfunctional first half, giving up a 92-yard touchdown, missing a 31-yard field goal attempt and getting too many overthrown passes from Thomas.
Wofford was trying to run out the first-half clock when Ray Smith ran up the middle untouched for a 92-yard score. Smith was sprung free near the line of scrimmage on a botched defensive call that brought safety Isaiah Johnson up alongside the linebackers and left no deep help.
The 92-yard run equaled the total yards on Wofford’s first 25 plays.
With linebacker Quayshawn Nealy blocked out to his left and nose tackle Shawn Green out to his right, Smith easily outran free safety Demond Smith for the long score.
Georgia Tech was fortunate when Green blocked the ensuing extra point attempt to keep the Wofford lead at 9-7. Harrison Butker atoned for pushing an earlier field goal attempt far right by connecting on a 30-yarder that put Georgia Tech up 10-9 at intermission.
Under coach Johnson, Georgia Tech had beaten Elon, Western Carolina, South Carolina State and Jacksonville State twice by a combined 252-62 score in five of the last six openers.
Tech’s first play was a screen pass completion to Smelter for 21 yards, and Thomas converted a third-and-5 with a 16-yard run to the Wofford 22. Two plays later, Laskey ran through the left side of the line for a 4-yard touchdown to make it 7-0.
On the Terriers’ second drive, David Marvin’s 39-yard field goal cut the lead to 7-3.
Quarterback Evan Jacks led Wofford with 89 yards rushing on 13 attempts. He and Michael Weimer combined for 55 yards passing on seven completions.
“I thought we accounted for ourselves well,” Terriers coach Mike Ayers said. “I don’t think we were completely outclassed.”
Isaiah Johnson, who sat out last season with a knee injury, left the game in the fourth quarter with an undisclosed injury and did not return.