#TGW: Not the Jackets' Day

Sept. 20, 2015

By Jon Cooper | The Good Word

– Saturday afternoon was an opportunity for Georgia Tech to take a giant step forward on the national stage. They were favored against eighth-ranked Notre Dame — on the road, no less.

Instead, the Yellow Jackets left Notre Dame Stadium with, a 30-22 loss after a late and furious rally came up short.

“Clearly we were disappointed with the way we played,” said head coach Paul Johnson. “You have to give Notre Dame credit. Their kids showed up, played hard. They played a good football game, did what they had to do to win the game. I thought right from the start we kind of got rattled a little bit. When it wasn’t going good at first, we didn’t respond very well.”

The Jackets were agonizingly close for much of the game, then pulled themselves back to within one possession by scoring a pair of touchdowns 26 seconds apart and tried an onside kick for the opportunity to play for a tie. It was a gritty ending by the Jackets but not enough to overcome a tough, frustrating day. Adding to that frustration was the amount of damage that was self-inflicted.

“We didn’t execute. We had a lot of great opportunities to put some great stuff on film, but we did the opposite, we put some bad stuff on film,” said B-back Patrick Skov, who ran 18 times for 66 yards and a touchdown and caught two more passes for 39 yards and two scores — both TD receptions in the final minute. “All we can do now is move on and learn from our mistakes, and hopefully we can put a better foot forward next week.”

Johnson pointed to mistakes in all facets of the game, yet his team trailed only 7-0 after one, 13-7 at the half, and had an opportunity to go into the locker room with a lead.

“I told our guys at halftime, as poorly as we played, I don’t know we can play any worse, we’re six points down,” Johnson said. “What do we do? Come out and fumble the ball. That’s kind of the way the game went.”

Georgia Tech, which came in leading the nation in rushing yards per game (457.5), couldn’t establish the same level of success on the ground, barely extending their streak of 200-yard rushing games, now a nation-leading 17. Ironically, they even out-rushed the Fighting Irish, 216-215.

But few of those yards came on third down, where Tech gained three yards on six third-down rushes and was 3-for-15 for the game, starting the game 0-for-9. Running the ball on third down was rarely an option, as the Jackets’ average third down play required a gain of 7.6 yards.

Jackets QB Justin Thomas endured one of his most frustrating days of the season, completing 8-of-24 passes for 121 yards. He threw two touchdown passes, but missed on his first five attempts and never really got into a rhythm. Typical of the frustration was his missing on a home-run ball to A-Back Qua Searcy — just as he did in last week’s rout of Tulane. But unlike against the Green Wave, the Fighting Irish weren’t as charitable in giving second chances.

Tech’s defense created a pair of turnovers, including one that looked like it would be a momentum-changer — an end-zone interception by corner D.J. White in the second quarter, with Tech trailing 7-0. The Jackets marched downfield after the score, with Skov punching it in from five yards out to cap an 80-yard, four-play drive, which included an electrifying 48-yard run by A-back Broderick Snoddy.

“It was huge,” said Johnson of the White pick. “It turned the momentum, turned everything. We got the ball, hit a couple nice running plays, got it down there and scored. It was also equally huge that after we scored, they took it back down and scored. They kind of grabbed the momentum back a little bit.”

Notre Dame went 82 yards on 10 plays for the crushing score.

Down 13-7, Tech forced another fumble at the end of the half, nearly making Irish coach Brian Kelly regret using timeouts to get the ball back. But the drive broke down and Harrison Butker missed a 43-yard field goal, his second miss of the game and the half ended.

“We played good and then there were (bad) plays here and there,” said linebacker Tyler Marcordes, who tied his career-high with seven tackles (four solo) in addition to forcing the fumble by Notre Dame’s Alize Jones at the end of the half. “We can’t do that. We’ve got to play a complete game and execute every play.”

The Jackets never really established anything on either side of the ball in the second half, either.

A Thomas fumble on the second play of the third quarter set up a field goal, then, later, a crucial holding penalty negated a touchdown run and the 11-play, 43-yard drive would net nothing. Notre Dame proceeded to wear down the defense, appearing to put the game away with a 91-yard run on a second-and-15, following a holding penalty.

P.J. Davis led the Jackets with eight stops (six solo) and Chris Milton added seven (all solo).

The never-quit manner in which the game’s final minute transpired was commendable but provided little solace.

The Jackets will have little time to dwell on the Notre Dame loss as next up is Duke, in Durham next Saturday. The Blue Devils, who fell to 2-1, losing 19-10 to surprising 3-0 Northwestern at Wallace Wade Stadium, know they need to beat Tech to have a shot at winning the Coastal Division in the ACC and will have redemption on their mind, after the way they felt they let the Coastal slip away last year. Tech will seek revenge, as well, as Duke gave Tech its first regular-season and only home loss last year.

“We start the conference next week,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to go on the road again. We’ll see how much we grow from this week to next week. Again, we’ve got to go play a team that’s a good defensive football team, that’s sound, doesn’t beat themselves. We have to play better. If we play like we played today, it won’t be pretty.”

Johnson expects the team to bounce back in a big way and will pay a lot greater attention, starting in practice.

“Sometimes when you’re winning and you’re winning big, you hear the corrections and you hear people talking, but it doesn’t register. Sometimes it has to take one of these to register,” he said.

“I think you just got to get better at what you do. When we look at the tape, I don’t think there’s going to be a whole lot we would want to do differently. We felt like we got in our formation, we had angles. We just got to play. Outside relief, block the linebacker, cut off the backside, play. We were our own worst enemy.”

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