Nov. 13, 2015
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
Georgia Tech really needed to flip the script of this season and for a quarter on Thursday night against Virginia Tech it looked like the Jackets had.
This week’s edition of “Next Man Up” saw junior B-Back Marcus Allen make his first start, rambling for nine yards on the first play from scrimmage then complete the opening drive with a four-yard TD run. Fellow first-time starters, True freshman NT Kyle Cerge-Henderson and redshirt freshman left tackle Trey Klock also were superb on their respective lines. Coming off the bye week, quarterback Justin Thomas and the Jackets looked fresh and rested and came out flying.
They hit a big play — a 58-yard pass play from Justin Thomas to Ricky Jeune on the second offensive play — they rushed for 72 yards, forced and cashed in a turnover and drove a flustered Virginia Tech into three penalties. They held a 130-69 edge in total yards, with a whopping 10:19-4:41 time of possession edge. It looked like Georgia Tech would get that first-ever Thursday night win over Virginia Tech in its sixth try and say goodbye to legendary coach Frank Beamer by beating him — in front of the 1990 National Champions, no less.
It was their first 14-0 lead and shutout after 15 minutes since Oct. 3 against North Carolina. But just like Oct. 3, the script flipped back, resulting in a 23-21 loss in a game that was theirs for the taking and leaving a sense of complete frustration afterward.
“[I’m] disappointed. I don’t know how many times we fumbled the ball, three or four in the second half alone,” said Head Coach Paul Johnson. “Penalties, third-and-short when we’re close to field goal range, dropped balls. We’re not good enough to overcome any of that stuff. Ultimately I’m responsible for it so, it’s embarrassing. I don’t think I’ve ever had a season like this.”
Similarly, the players were at wits’ end.
“From injuries to our record, it’s just been real frustrating,” said redshirt senior defensive back Demond Smith, who led the Jackets with a team- and season-high nine tackles (seven solo), one tackle and two solo stops off his career-best. “But the guys never quit. I can’t say we don’t have the effort. We bring the effort each and every game. We just can’t put it all together.”
Most frustrating on Thursday was the offense, which after going 2-for-3 in the first quarter, didn’t score again on any of its final eight possessions, punting four times, fumbling three times, all in a four-drive stretch in the second half then, finally losing the ball on downs late in the fourth on a promising game-winning drive when redshirt senior right guard Errin Joe uncharacteristically lost his cool and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Down 23-21, Tech had driven from its own 21 with 3:56 left to the Hokies 39 and looked at second and five. Things looked all set for kicker Harrison Butker to hit a game-winner.
But following a Thomas run, Rover Chuck Clark stood over Thomas, still yanking at the ball. Joe shoved Clark and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, a 15-yard penalty effectively moving the Jackets out of field goal range.
“We’re not allowed to comment on officiating. It’s probably a good thing,” said Johnson. “I mean the only thing I saw at the end, they kept rocking the quarterback. I don’t know if they blew the whistle or what and then the next thing was the flags. I assumed they were going to be off-setting. Usually they are in something like that but they weren’t. You’ve got to hold your composure, I guess.”
Johnson didn’t blame the call alone. That was simply the final straw.
A bigger issue was the offense, which finished with 258 total yards, 161 rushing, 97 passing or 128 over the final three quarters, with 89 on the ground, 39 through the air and nine first downs.
“We just stopped executing,” said Johnson. “I’m sure [the Hokies’ defense] settled down to the speed of the game. The Mike linebacker, nobody ever touched him so he was out there on the option pretty much every play. We tried to make an adjustment to that then we missed the read. Then it’s second and 10 again. Right now we’re just not very good.”
That untouched Mike Linebacker, redshirt sophomore Andrew Motuapuaka had 12 tackles (six solo), with 2.5 tackles for loss, both game highs, and half-a-sack, with several of his hits being uncontested rocket shots.
“They schemed it. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before,” said center Freddie Burden. “The different schemes you have different assignments. You never know on which play who’s supposed to go to who but obviously, we didn’t get the job done.”
Georgia Tech’s defense did for the most part, allowing only one touchdown following the turnovers, that coming on a short field, where the Hokies needed to go only 18 yards. Prior to that they forced three three-and-outs and stiffened on another drive forcing a field goal attempt that misfired, keeping the Jackets close. It was a tremendous job by the unit, which already was playing without DT Adam Gotsis then, in the second quarter, lost leading tackler LB P.J. Davis, who, ironically, had taken the lead from Gotsis for most consecutive games played (25).
The Jackets’ defense even recorded the only second-half points, as freshman linebacker Brant Mitchell recorded his second career interception and returned it 32 yards untouched down the left sideline for his first career touchdown. VT quarterback Michael Brewer fired a pass right to Mitchell, who did the rest..
“I was a little bit surprised,” said Mitchell. “I knew the receiver was on the outside of me and I wasn’t expecting the ball to come right to me. I thought I would have to push a bit more. But luckily I was in the right place.”
Smith refused to lay blame at the feet of the offense.
“There have been times when we couldn’t get a stop and they were scoring. So it goes both ways,” he said. “We just can’t seem to put everything together right now.”
The Jackets will try to put everything together in their final two games, next week at Miami then the season finale against Georgia.
“There will be plenty of motivation,” assured Burden.
“It’s pride,” said Smith. “If you’re a competitor, who wants to go out there and lose? So you’ve got to have that aim.”