ATLANTA — Beating state rival Georgia Southern won’t make Georgia Tech’s season.
Even so, it provided much-needed relief.
Justin Thomas was the difference in the matchup of spread-option offenses, running for two touchdowns and passing for another, and Georgia Tech beat Georgia Southern 35-24 on Saturday to end a three-game losing streak.
“It’s definitely better than being on the other side,” said Yellow Jackets senior center Freddie Burden.
Georgia Tech (4-3) enjoyed a dominant opening quarter and put the game away with two fourth-quarter touchdowns. Dedrick Mills had a 20-yard scoring run, his second of the game, with less than four minutes remaining.
Thomas had a season-high 172 yards passing and 78 rushing. Georgia Tech gained 437 yards with three plays of at least 50 yards.
Georgia Southern coach Tyson Summers said this week he thought his defense’s familiarity with the option attack would help when preparing for Georgia Tech. But the super-quick Thomas adds a different edge to the Yellow Jackets’ version of the spread option.
“It’s the speed and the cutting,” Summers said. “Those are the two things that you cannot simulate.”
Burden said Thomas “is just amazing, he is just one of a kind.”
Georgia Southern (3-3) has lost three straight — all on the road. The Eagles rank sixth in the nation in rushing but managed only 167 yards — more than 100 below their average — on 50 carries.
It was a confidence-building win as the Yellow Jackets look to end a 2-10 two-year skid in Atlantic Coast Conference games, including a 1-3 ACC start this season.
A 58-yard scoring run by Thomas and a 65-yard scoring pass from Thomas to Clinton Lynch gave the Yellow Jackets a 14-0 lead. A 50-yard run by Marcus Marshall set up Mills’ 6-yard touchdown run for a 21-7 lead late in the first quarter.
“We came out fast like we needed to, to put pressure on them,” Thomas said.
Former Georgia Tech standout receiver Calvin “Megatron” Johnson was recognized at halftime for his induction into the school’s sports hall of fame on Friday night. The six-time Pro Bowl player with the Detroit Lions retired after last season. He played at Georgia Tech from 2004-06 as the school’s all-time leader with 2,927 yards receiving and 28 touchdown receptions.
Among seven other inductees was former basketball star Jarrett Jack, now with the Atlanta Hawks.
Favian Upshaw drew the start in Georgia Southern’s two-quarterback system. Upshaw completed 8 of 16 passes for 66 yards and had 10 carries for 41 yards. Kevin Ellison took over at quarterback when Upshaw had to leave the game for the second time with an undisclosed injury.
Summers did not have an immediate update on Upshaw. “It’ll be easier for us to kind of tell tomorrow,” he said.
Ellison completed 10 of 17 passes for 102 yards and a touchdown.
GEORGIA SOUTHERN: The Eagles’ strengths didn’t match up well against Georgia Tech. Georgia Southern leads the Sun Belt in total defense but couldn’t stop Georgia Tech. L.A. Ramsby’s 1-yard scoring run in the first quarter gave the Eagles their only touchdown until Ellison’s 3-yard scoring pass to B.J. Johnson III with 1:03 remaining. Younghoe Koo kicked a 44-yard field goal in the second quarter.
GEORGIA TECH: The Yellow Jackets had the strong showing on both sides of the ball they needed to regain momentum after last week’s last-second loss at Pittsburgh. Thomas showed strong leadership as he didn’t turn the ball over. Corey Griffin had 10 tackles and a fourth-down sack to end the Eagles’ first drive of the second half.
GEORGIA SOUTHERN: The Eagles return to their Sun Belt Conference schedule when they try to extend their two-game winning streak against New Mexico State.
GEORGIA TECH: The Yellow Jackets are off next week and will play another home game against Duke on Oct. 29. Duke beat Georgia Tech 34-20 in 2015 for their second straight win in the ACC Coastal Division rivalry.
AP college football website: http://collegefootball.ap.org