Nov. 24, 2012
By Jon Cooper
With four wins in its last five games and a berth in next week’s ACC Championship Game on the horizon, Georgia Tech had good reason to believe things were going its way.
It didn’t take long for that sentiment to turn around.
The Yellow Jackets hardly resembled the team of recent weeks in the 42-10 loss to No. 3 Georgia on Saturday afternoon at Sanford Stadium.
“If you watched the same game that I did, it was a pretty good thumping,” said Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson. “We could not slow them down and we could not finish drives offensively. We couldn’t match Georgia score for score, which is what we have been doing all season.”
The Jackets also lost the turnover battle, something they hadn’t done in recent weeks. Heading into Saturday’s game, Tech had almost forgotten what it’s like to turn the ball over.
On Saturday afternoon, they were reminded what it’s like and how costly it could be. After committing a mere four turnovers over the last 20 quarters, Tech put the ball on the ground a season-high five times and had two turnovers in the first half Saturday afternoon.
“Today was very frustrating,” said quarterback Tevin Washington, who ran for 20 yards on nine carries and completed six of nine attempts for 55 yards in his career finale against Georgia. “We’ve been preaching all week to take care of the football, and we did just the opposite. We just went out there and laid an egg. It was just a bad overall effort. We shot ourselves in the foot a lot.”
The day started ominously for the Jackets, as UGA’s Malcolm Mitchell took the opening kickoff 47 yards to the Yellow Jackets 44. Four plays and 63 seconds later, it was 7-0.
That early score hurt, but Tech’s response hurt even more.
Starting at their own 16, the Yellow Jackets proceeded to drive the ball 83 yards, all on the ground. That final yard, however, proved to be a killer.
Despite playing without leading rusher Orwin Smith, the Yellow Jackets ran the ball almost at will. But the Bulldogs’ obsession with tackling the football paid off twice on the drive, as twice Bulldogs’ senior free safety and turnover-creator extraordinaire, Bacarri Rambo stripped the ball from Jackets ball-carriers. The first time he separated B-Back David Sims from the ball, turning a 15-yard play into a modest six-yarder. But the Jackets recovered that fumble.
The second time, when he made A-Back Robert Godhigh pay for his extra effort, they did not.
Godhigh did the right thing in refusing to go down on his run that started at the 20, but his continuing to push toward the goal line gain also set him up to be stripped it at the one by Rambo, who returned it to midfield.
The fumble was the first lost by Tech since Nov. 3.
Rambo’s steal brought back painful memories.
“It was almost like deja vu,” Johnson said. “The same kid made a play against us two years ago when he took the ball out of our guy’s hands. You have to give him some credit because that play was a killer.”
Instead of a 7-7 game and a statement in response, the Jackets, who’d held the ball for 4:55, were turned away empty-handed.
Tech barely had time to recover from the stunning turn of events when Georgia concluded its eight-play, drive in 2:42, to double the lead to 14-0.
On their next possession, the Jackets again ground out a solid drive, using 10 plays and eating up six minutes, but they stalled at the 21 and had to settle for a Chris Tanner field goal.
But the Jackets were unable to build any momentum as Georgia was in the end zone in three plays. Quarterback Aaron Murray, who missed on only three passes all day (his .824 completion percentage on 14-of-17 passing, was the highest by a Tech opponent in 40 years) hooked up with Mitchell on a 57-yard play. Two rushes by freshman Keith Mitchell accounted for the final 28 yards. In less than 30 seconds, it was 21-3 and Johnson’s “score on every possession” nightmare had materialized.
The Jackets, who scored almost at will over the previous three weeks, lost the ball on downs on the next series, suffered a Vad Lee interception by Rambo, then missed a field goal to end the half. It was only the second time all season Tech’s offense failed to score a touchdown in a first half and marked the first second quarter in which they were held scoreless all season. Tech had owned the second 15 minutes all year, outscoring opponents 137-90.
“In the other games we have played this year, we have managed to score touchdowns when we get to the other end of the field and we were still in the game,” said Johnson. “This one we couldn’t.”
In the second half Tech could barely move at all, going three-and-out on its first two possessions — both drives answered by Georgia with touchdowns, pushing the lead to 42-3 — then lost the ball on downs.
The Jackets finally put together a touchdown drive, capped off by Sims’ nine-yard run with 7:35 left — after Georgia pulled its starters — but would not score again. It was the first time all season they were held under 17 points.
Tech out-rushed Georgia, 306-164, led by Sims’ 71 yards and 56 by Zach Laskey, but was unable to finish their drives once they got in the red zone. hurt their chances with the five times, even though Godhigh’s was the only one lost.
“We moved the ball on them pretty much the whole game, but we lacked the focus to finish out our drives,” said Godhigh, who had 44 yards on six carries, 7.3 yards per rush. “We also didn’t take care of the football. Georgia’s fast, and they play with a lot of effort. They’re always flying to the ball.”
Tech’s defense, which allowed an opponent season-high 7.7 yards per play, was unable to force any turnovers, something it had done all season. Saturday snapped a streak of 10 straight games with an interception and was the first time the Jackets didn’t force a turnover since the season-opener.
Despite the disappointing loss, the Jackets will get another chance to do the things they do next week, when they take on another 10-win team in Florida State, for the ACC Championship.
“We’ve still got a shot at an ACC Championship and a BCS bowl game,” said Washington. “So we’ve still got a lot to play for.”