Nov. 20, 2017
Jon Cooper | The Good Word
Georgia Tech doesn’t have any more road games scheduled for the 2017 regular season.
There won’t be any tears shed over that.
The Jackets, needing a win to become bowl-eligible and looking to record their first road win of the season, got neither, falling 43-20 to Duke on Saturday.
“I don’t know what to say. That was a pretty thorough butt-kicking,” said head coach Paul Johnson. “It’s embarrassing. They went like we weren’t even out there. We just couldn’t keep up with them.”
“Couldn’t keep up with them” were words Johnson hoped to avoid having to say following what has become the annual track meet between the schools — since 2010, the winning team in this game has scored at least 30 points, while the losing team has tallied no fewer than 20.
The Yellow Jackets actually got off to a fast start, doing something they hadn’t all season — scoring a touchdown on their first possession of the game, when quarterback TaQuon Marshall hit A-back Qua Searcy on a 35-yard score. They led 14-3 two plays into the second quarter and were up 20-13 after Marshall’s eight-yard touchdown run 2:09 to go in the opening half.
But after that score, a road issue that has plagued the Yellow Jackets all season long once again reared its ugly head, as the defense was unable to make a half-ending stop so to keep momentum heading into the locker room.
As they did in previous road losses at Miami, Clemson, and Virginia, the Jackets allowed a touchdown in the waning moments of the half, this time allowing Duke to drive 72 yards in just 1:43 to knot the score at 20-20 going into halftime.
“The end of the first half killed us again,” said Johnson. “We score with 2:00 left and they come down, tie the game up and they get the ball first to start the second half.”
The response to the score was what really hurt Georgia Tech.
“They come out and get it to start the second half and they score again (a 9-play, 75-yard drive taking 3:07) and we go three and out and that was pretty much it,” said Johnson. “Because they come down — at least we held them to a field goal the next time — and then we try to hit a play-action pass because they were firing out of the secondary and we couldn’t make a play and we punt and then we’re down 17.”
Marshall, who ran for 140 yards (his sixth 100-yard rushing game of the season) and scored for the 17th time this year, brushed off suggestions about the loss of momentum at the end of the first half.
“It can affect the team but at the same time, coming out in the second half, [you’ve made] halftime adjustments,” he said. “So you really just come out with the same confidence and focus that you had in the first half, just knowing that we have to make a play and make something happen.”
On this day, however, the Jackets could not make anything happen. In the second half that extended to the offense.
“We played pretty good in the first half on offense,” said Johnson. “In the second half we missed a couple of opportunities.”
“It’s very frustrating,” Marshall added. “We started the way we’ve been talking about wanting to start all season — getting the ball first, went down and scored. That’s really what you want to do in the first half. We just didn’t match it in the second half. We didn’t play well in the second half.”
Duke’s offense did. They scored on eight of 10 drives, only punted once and the other drive ran off the game’s final 6:23.
The loss dropped Georgia Tech to 5-5 and left them 0-4 on the road for the season.
“It’s disappointing,” said Johnson. “We’ve struggled on the road. We struggled at Virginia, we struggled here, Miami, Clemson.”
Georgia Tech still can become bowl-eligible by beating Georgia next Saturday. Fortunately for the Jackets, the game is at Bobby Dodd Stadium, where they are 5-0 this season and have won eight-straight dating back to a 35-24 victory over Georgia Southern on Oct. 15 of last season, good for their longest home winning streak in 17 years.
“The energy’s going to be there, playing back at home,” said Marshall. “We still have a goal of going undefeated at home. Everybody’s going to be ready to play. I mean, it’s Georgia.
“Bobby Dodd’s going to be rocking,” he added. “The fans are going to be into the game, the players are going to be into the game. I’m excited about it. I know a lot of people that play there, a lot of people from back home that are Georgia fans. It’s going to be real exciting.”