Sept. 27, 2013
By Jon Cooper
– There was a time when a Georgia Tech defense allowing 55 yards on the ground would be a dream come true. Allowing only two rushing first downs and 2.0 yards per carry in a game against an ACC rival — in particular Virginia Tech — would almost certainly guarantee victory and be more than head coach Paul Johnson could ask for lest he be accused of excessive greed.
Those were the numbers that the Yellow Jackets’ defense allowed against the Hokies Thursday night at Bobby Dodd Stadium, yet no one would have blamed Johnson for asking for a little more, as the defense’s effort wasn’t enough in the 17-10 loss.
“I thought we did an okay job in the second half,” said Johnson, whose team allowed three points, 23 rushing yards, and 95 yards of total offense in the second half. “The quarterback was 19-for-25 and he comes in completing less than 50 percent. So that’s not real good. But points are what are important, and we held them to 17 and that should be enough to win the game.”
The effort by the defense was even more remarkable considering they allowed touchdowns on two of their first three drives, and gave up an easy jaunt around the left corner on the second play, a 21-yard screen pass off play action by D.J. Coles. The play came two plays after a Vad Lee fumble at the Tech 27.
“It was a sudden change. They wanted to get something really quick. It was a great call, great execution,” said defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu, who admitted he bit on the play-fake. “We came out there on the sudden change and I guess, for them, it was a perfect time to call that and luckily for them we were in the wrong places and it worked for them.”
The defense allowed only one sustained drive the rest of the game. That came two possessions later, in the second quarter, a 10-play, 91-yard drive that ate up 6:02 and resulted in a Logan Thomas five-yard TD run.
After that, the defense rose up and shut the Hokies down. Virginia Tech managed only one drive that lasted as long as 3:32, and one other that had more than six plays. The only second-half drive that even came close to scoring followed a missed fourth-down by Georgia Tech at its own 34, but the resulting field goal attempt misfired.
“We played really well as a defense tonight,” said linebacker Brandon Watts, who made eight tackles (seven solo), one off Jabari Hunt-Days’ team lead, and included one of the Jackets’ two sacks on Thomas. “It wasn’t good enough to get the `W’ but I thought we played pretty well after the first couple of series.”
Unfortunately for the Jackets, the 14 points proved too much to spot the Hokies, who entered the game with the fifth-best total defense in the nation.
As usual, Thomas proved too much for Tech. The redshirt senior QB, who has been a thorn in the side of the Jackets the last three years, was again, as he rushed for a game-high 58 yards and a touchdown, and passed for 221 more in raising his career record to 3-0 over Georgia Tech. Thomas completed his first nine passes Thursday night and completed 19 of 25 for 221 yards and a touchdown for the game.
“He was hitting his receivers tonight,” said Watts. “He checked his team into some good plays. They saw us blitzing sometimes and they checked into some good plays. He’s a great player so we expected him to play well.”
In three career games against Georgia Tech, Thomas completed 61.8 percent of his passes (47-of-76), for 760 yards with six touchdowns and without an interception. He’s a .542 career passer (531-for-980), with 41 touchdowns and 32 interceptions.
Never seeing Thomas again won’t make anyone sad, although the Jackets regret not being able to say goodbye to him without recording a victory against him, despite a pair of hard-fought games the last two years.
“It’s frustrating, but it’s just one game in a big season,” said Attaochu, who had three tackles (two solo), including a TFL. “We can’t let it bring us down. We have a lot of things in front of us that we can accomplish. That includes the ACC Championship.
“As a leader I can’t be too down about one loss,” he added. “We have to look at Miami, get back to work and really encourage the guys to be upbeat. Football is a game of ups and downs and week to week a situation can change. So we’re just going to go into next week ready to beat Miami.”
Watts believes there is plenty of good going on with the defense, which stifled Virginia Tech’s other three runners, Demitri Knowles, Trey Edmunds and Chris Mangus, holding them to a combined one yard on nine carries.
“We can tell we’re getting better,” he said. “We still have a ways to go but we’re working hard at practice every day. Coaches are putting us in position to be successful. That’s the main thing. Coach [Roof] puts us in position to be successful and we go out there and fly around and make plays for him.
“We’ve just got to go back to the drawing board on Saturday,” he added. “We’ve got to detail the things that we did do right and get better at the things we did wrong. We just have to get better every day.”
He assured that the Jackets would be ready for Miami in nine days, and will draw extra incentive from last year’s game with the Hurricanes, a 42-36 overtime win at Bobby Dodd in which, the Yellow Jackets overcame a 19-0 first-quarter deficit, scoring the next 36 points but then allowed Miami to score the game’s final 23.
“We had a great game last year,” said Watts. “We gave it away, though. It would be big since it’s an ACC Coastal road game. We need this game and we’re going to come out not holding anything back.”