#TGW: Down But Not Out

Oct. 16, 2017

Jon Cooper | The Good Word

Excuses are easy to make and are readily available when bad things happen — bad things like those that transpired at the end of Georgia Tech’s 25-24 loss to No. 11/10 Miami on Saturday afternoon at Hard Rock Stadium.

But there were no excuses coming from Georgia Tech following the game. There was only honesty and hurt. The kind that accompanies a tremendous effort that didn’t end in the result that the Yellow Jackets felt they should have.

“(I’m just) really hurting and really disappointed for our guys,” said head coach Paul Johnson, who saw his Jackets’ three-game winning streak end while the program’s losing streak at Miami extended to five-straight and 8-of-9 overall. “It was a tough football game, a hard-fought game and, in the end, they made one more play than we did. We had our opportunities on offense, defense to ice the game and just couldn’t get it done.”

The players were hurt, especially recognizing the opportunity they didn’t cash in.

“It hurts a lot. I haven’t beaten Miami [in three years],” said senior strong safety Corey Griffin, whose seven stops (four solo) tied for the team lead. “Going into this game, coming off two weeks, we felt confident in our game plan. They made one more play than we did.”

“We came down here to win,” said junior linebacker Victor Alexander, who had five tackles (three solo). “We had in our mind, `This is our year. We’re going to beat these dudes.'”

They could not, primarily because of that one more play, one that left everyone — players, coaches, and fans, both in the stadium and watching on national TV — with mouths agape.

It was a play where Jackets’ defenders did their job, but Miami’s receiver did his just a little better.

On fourth and 10 at the Georgia Tech 43 with 42 seconds left in the game and Tech clinging to a 24-22 lead, Miami redshirt junior quarterback Malik Rosier launched a ball down the right sideline toward redshirt junior wide receiver Darrell Langham.

Junior free safety A.J. Gray swung in vain at the ball as he crossed in front but junior corner Lamont Simmons, step-for-step with Langham, swiped at it and, with his arms in between the arms of Langham, got an arm on it. As if in slow motion, the tipped ball bounced off Simmons’ arm, then Langham’s helmet and hung in the air. With Langham now lying on Hard Rock Stadium’s wet turf, the ball fell onto his stomach and he held on for a 28-yard gain that prolonged the drive and set up the Hurricanes’ game-winning 24-yard field goal three plays later.

“I tried to play my best through his hands but the receiver had great concentration,” said Simmons, who had one pass break-up and an assisted tackle. “The ball hit my wrist and just popped off my wrist and [into] to his hands. He made a great catch.”

“I think that was perfect coverage on Lamont’s behalf,” said Alexander. “Sometimes you get big breaks in big-time games. Lamont did the best he could do. We praise him for that. He did his job to the fullest. They just got a lucky catch off it.”

Great catch or lucky catch, the reception hurt even more in the wake of Tech’s last offensive drive, when a third-and-eight pass from quarterback TaQuon Marshall reached wide receiver Brad Stewart, but Stewart was unable to hold on to the rain-slicked ball. A catch would have given the Jackets a first down and probably sealed the game.

“I thought he caught it,” said Marshall. “I think he tried to make a play and Miami made a play and he didn’t come up with it.”

The Yellow Jackets’ inability to come up with a play to put away Miami was counter to the way the game started, as they had things going their way for much of the game.

The Jackets jumped out to a 14-3 lead, courtesy of a pair of J.J. Green touchdowns, the first on a five-yard run and the second on a three-yard pass, where Marshall evaded the blitz and somehow got the ball to the wide open B-back. The Jackets even turned Miami coach Mark Richt’s calculated risk — an attempted onside kick to open the second half — into a touchdown, as Simmons made a heads-up play by scooping up the ball that died short of the required 10 yards and racing to paydirt. The 42-yard touchdown extended a narrow 14-13 halftime lead to 21-13 just seconds into the third quarter.

“Before we came out, we had a feeling that they were going to try to do an onside kick,” said Simmons of his first career TD. “The ball didn’t go all 10 yards and I saw the outside guy back off. When I saw the outside guy back off, I tried to run and get it and score a touchdown.”

But the game turned ugly the rest for the Jackets in the second half, as would the weather — with the teams playing through torrential rain at one point.

“It didn’t really impact at all. I was able to keep traction,” said Marshall of the weather. “It’s something you have to overcome. I still had a good grip on the ball. I had tape on my fingers. So it wasn’t too bad. We didn’t fumble it.”

The heaviest rain eventually stopped but the Jackets could not make that one stop they needed. Instead, they were left with the same kind of hand-wringing frustration that accompanied their other loss of the season, another one-point loss to a ranked team, 42-41 in double overtime on opening night to then-No. 25/24 Tennessee.

“They almost ended the same way,” said Johnson. “This one was different because we were never in control offensively in this game like we were in the Tennessee game. We struggled on offense, especially in the second half.”

The loss was further worsened by injuries to B-back KirVonte Benson and linebacker Brant Mitchell that kept both key players out of action in the second half.

“There were a lot of guys that were banged up,” said Johnson. “We had to play with a lot of guys. I thought our guys went in and tried to play hard. We were one play away. Their guy doesn’t catch a double-batted ball, we win. That’s football.”

“Those guys know exactly what to do,” Alexander said of true freshman Bruce Jordan-Swilling and junior Tre’ Jackson, who filled in for Mitchell after he left the game. “They came in and did exactly what Coach needed them to do and expected them to do. It was tough losing Brant because he’s a leader on this team but the backups did their job. I commend them for that.”

It’s back to work for the Yellow Jackets and, while it won’t be easy, they are as determined to bounce back from Saturday’s loss as they were following the loss to Tennessee.

“It’s going to be really tough to let go of. I’m not going to lie to you,” said Marshall. “They made one more play than we did at the end of the day. We have to come back next week and get ready.”

The defense was as resolute.

“We’re sticking strong. We understand there were a lot of opportunities in this game to go ahead and seal it,” said Alexander. “We’re going to work hard. We’re not going to lie down. We just have to play better, become stronger as a team and execute better. We’re not going to go backwards.”

“It feels just about the same [as Tennessee],” said Griffin. “We gave it everything we had and they made one more play than we did. They’re a great team but the days keep going. Monday we have to get ready for Wake Forest.”

“You just take the good with the bad and just try to keep improving, getting better during practice,” said Simmons. “This team has a lot of heart, a lot of confidence. Our schedule doesn’t get any easier from here, starting with Wake Forest next week. So come Monday, we’ll work on the small things. We have a couple of injuries but I think we’re going to be okay.”

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