Oct. 26, 2013
By Jon Cooper
Football is not a beauty contest.
But any win is sweet regardless of how ugly it may have been to get it.
Georgia Tech found plenty of beauty in its 35-25 win over Virginia Saturday afternoon in Charlottesville even with its uncharacteristic sloppiness.
“We made the game a lot harder than it had to be, but we ended up getting a win,” said B-Back David Sims, one of three Yellow Jackets to rush for over 100 yards, on Tech’s five turnovers and three lost fumbles.”
“Anything to get a win,” agreed defensive end Emmanuel Dieke following the win. “We haven’t won here a lot. It’s been like once in 20 years. We knew it was going to be a tough game so we just came out where with the mindset that we had to get it done.”
With one win since 1990 — the 34-9 win in 2009 — Scott Stadium had been a house of horrors for the Yellow Jackets. It was again on Saturday, as, in addition to the turnovers, the Jackets committed nine penalties, giving back nearly a football field’s worth of yardage.
But there was a difference between this game and other visits to Scott Stadium. The Jackets’ offense went for 507 yard, 394 of them on the ground, while the defense, although allowing 444 yards, 376 of them through the air, rose up when needed.
It was the ideal team win, as both sides of the ball picked each other up, and special teams occasionally chipped in to save both.
“I have to give our kids credit for finding a way to win,” said Head Coach Paul Johnson. We couldn’t get ourselves off the field defensively but yet we weren’t giving up a lot of points. So we were able to hang in.”
The Jackets hung toughest in the first half, when they committed four turnovers, the most by the Jackets in an entire GAME this season and tying for the most in a game in the Paul Johnson era. Still, they defense fended off the Cavaliers, who have now lost five straight games and three straight at home, with the last two coming within the Coastal Division. Each time they either limited the damage or kept the Cavs scoreless, providing the offense an opportunity to extend the lead.
It was the ultimate display of each unit playing for each other.
“We knew the offense was having a tough first half so it was up to us,” said Dieke. “It’s a team game. The offense has our backs and we have their backs.”
The biggest stand of the game came at the end of the first half, with Tech clinging to a 14-10 lead. With six seconds left and the ball at the Jackets’ one, the Cavaliers chose to go for the jugular, foregoing an easy field goal for a shot at the end zone.
“Our backs were against the wall,” Dieke said. “We knew if we stopped them right here with six seconds left they wouldn’t have time to kick a field goal. We just bowed it up. It was just like Coach [Johnson] said. When your backs are against the wall you find out who the true men are. I think it was [Brandon] Watts, he made a great hit and we got him down.”
The Jackets proved to be real men stuffing Virginia running back Kevin Parks, who was held to 54 yards on 13 carries (Virginia managed only 68 on the day) on back-to-back plays to preserve the lead. On that final play, the Cavs ran left but defensive end Euclid Cummings stopped James cold at the one to end the half.
“We saw their alignment and it was like an overload to one side,” said Dieke. “It was up to us to move the line. We penetrated. The defensive line did a great job penetrating and the linebacker came over the top and made a great play.”
In the second half, the Yellow Jackets then made their usual halftime adjustments and came out and put a zero on the board in the third quarter. The defense has now pitched a shutout over the last six third quarters.
The fourth quarter turned wild, as the Jackets allowed a pair of scores and a two-point conversion, each time allowing the Cavaliers to pull to within a touchdown. But then the offense picked up the defense, adding on a score to extend the lead.
A key was the ability to run the ball. The Jackets rolled up 394 yards on the ground, with three different backs rushing for more than 100 yards. Zach Laskey led the way with a career-best 133 yards and two touchdowns, giving him five scores in the last two games. Robert Godhigh added 111 yards on only five carries, with a touchdown, and David Sims had 107 yards with two scores. Godhigh and Laskey each made the one catch, with Godhigh going for 38 yards on his, while Laskey had a catch and run good for 24 yards.
Virginia quarterback David Watford had a huge day, completing 43 of 61 for 376 yards, all career highs. The completions and attempts each set school records while the yardage was the fourth-most prolific game in school history.
“I think we went in with a defensive plan that we were going to try to limit the run and get [Watford] off the field on third down,” said Johnson. “[Watford] had some good throws, but he had guys wide open too. It was kind of a combination. We got them in third and long some, but they converted more than you would like.”
Virginia was 9-for-20 on third down.
The Jackets committed many more penalties than Johnson liked, with the nine flags one off their season high set in the loss at BYU, while the 97 yards in penalties were 21 fewer than against the Cougars.
“The penalties really hurt us on [the defensive] side of the ball,” said Johnson. “I think we had one motion penalty early on offense. The rest were all on defense or special teams, which is the opposite of what it has been. Those pass interference penalties are key, especially on third and long. I don’t know if I have ever won a game where we were minus-five in turnovers and had 10 penalties. “
There’s a first for everything and on Saturday, the Yellow Jackets did enough to get it done.
They’ll return home for Homecoming Weekend against Pittsburgh, knowing that at 5-3, 4-2 in the Coastal Division, their chances for a special season are still in tact.
They made sure those dreams stayed alive.
“That’s the game of football. Sometimes you get the bounces, sometimes you don’t,” said Sims. “I think the thing that impressed me most about our team is that we kept fighting back. We put the defense in bad positions, but they kept answering the bell. Offensively, we did things we don’t normally do as far as fumbles. But we’ll take it as a learning experience and learn about ball security next week.”
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