Sept. 23, 2012
By Jon Cooper
It’s difficult to describe the three minutes, 48 seconds that took place on Grant Field Saturday afternoon, a game that will go down as a 42-36 overtime win for Miami.
It was as difficult to watch Georgia Tech players and coaches have to talk about it afterward.
“I don’t know what to say. I think I’m as disappointed as I’ve ever been,” said emotionally drained Georgia Tech Football head coach Paul Johnson. “It was like two or three different games. It looked like we were going to get blown out of our own stadium then we got righted and it looked like we were going to blow them out of the stadium. To their (Miami’s) credit, they came back. They made plays at the end of the game and we didn’t.”
“I’m just really disappointed,” he added. “Disappointed in the way it ended. It was….”
It was heartbreaking, devastating, and, unfortunately, too familiar for Georgia Tech this season.
The Jackets were a yard away from salting the game away with a little over 2:00 left. But at midfield, facing fourth and one, Tech chose to punt. It was the right move. Yet, typical of the day, even the right move misfired.
“You wish you had it back at the 50-yard line at fourth down and one, but you’ve got to punt the ball there,” he said. “You’ve got to make them go 90 yards. It’s almost like it wasn’t meant to be.”
Miami found a way to go 90 yards, aided by a phantom pass interference call, then won in overtime. But Johnson pointed to missed tackles more than missed calls or miscommunications.
Tech’s defense allowed 609 yards in total offense, the third-most ever against a Georgia Tech team.
The ending of the overtime possession was vexing, as Tech was unable to convert on fourth-and-one at the two.
The play was a quarterback follow.
“I checked for the toss. The defensive end widened out,” explained quarterback Tevin Washington, still in his jersey and pads. “So there were two guys on the tackle. There was only one guy to block two guys. So I tried to sneak it.”
He didn’t make it and Miami won the game two plays later.
The frustrating ending fit a game that had extreme momentum swings and saw each team overcome a three-score deficit.
A slow start was something Johnson had sought to avoid, remembering the last three years.
So imagine his agita when the Hurricanes hit a 65-yard touchdown pass play, on the game’s third play, then extended the lead to 19-0 late in the first quarter. The Jackets gift-wrapped a safety on a special teams miscue by Orwin Smith, then allowed a touchdown on the series following the free kick.
“The off-returner Jamal Golden decides whether I come out or not. We had some miscommunication,” said Smith, who had 93 yards on six kickoff returns. “My plan was to come out. I saw him put his hand up. He told me to stop, but my momentum kind of made me lean out of the end zone.”
But the Yellow Jackets hit back.
“We knew there were going to be opportunities,” said Washington, who ran for three touchdowns and completed 3-of-8 for 132 yards. “We just had to try to hold up our end, try to score every time we got the ball.”
For a time they did just that. Tech, which had scored 34 points over the last three years against Miami, scored 36 unanswered points in a little more than 20 minutes of play bridging the second and third quarters. It was the first lead for Georgia Tech against Miami since the first quarter of 2009.
They appeared headed for 50 points for a third straight game and at the end of their three-game losing streak to the ‘Canes.
But then Miami got off the deck.
“You’ve got to give their kids credit, too. they fought back from 17 down,” said Johnson. “I thought that when we came out and got two quick scores in the third quarter and went up 17 we might have had them on the ropes. But we had a couple of series offensively where we didn’t do anything and we were having a hard time stopping them. I don’t know if they punted in the second half. They might have punted once.”
Had Tech won, it would have featured the largest comeback in Tech history since 1998, when the Jackets rallied from 38-17 down to beat Virginia, 41-38. The winning points that day came from Scott Sisson, who fittingly was in attendance and among those honored during the game by the Georgia Tech. Instead, it’s the biggest lead lost since the Gator Bowl against West Virginia on Jan. 1, 2007.
Miami quarterback Stephen Morris, who stunned the Jackets in his second career start two years ago, throwing for 230 yards and a touchdown, had another monster game, throwing for 436 yards (the sixth-most ever against Tech), completing 31 of 52 attempts, with two touchdowns.
Morris’ highs beginning Saturday was 215 yards, while his high for attempts was 45, on opening day.
“We were expecting more of a run,” said cornerback Jemea Thomas, who recorded his fourth career interception in the second quarter. “Watching film, we were waiting for the run but they came out and changed to a passing game.”
Miami’s hurry-up offense and the running of backs Mike James and and Duke Johnson, who combined for 161 of the Hurricanes’ 173 rushing yards also caused the defense fits.
James’ 25-yard run on the second play of overtime put the final nail in the coffin Saturday.
“It’s a process. We still have eight or nine games still to go,” he said. “So we’re still getting better every week. We have to put this one under the bridge and go out Monday and keep getting better.”
Smith feels the Jackets need to get more consistent and better late in games.
“We just have to find a way to pull out a ‘W’ when it’s clutch time,” he said. “The defense played great at times and the offense played great at times. We just have to find a way to keep it going. When we’re on top we have to stay on top. That’s two losses in overtime, especially when we were up.”
The loss also may prove even more costly, as Tech suffered injuries to corner Louis Young, who left the game with an injured shoulder, punter Sean Poole, and right tackle Will Jackson was lost with an ankle injury.