Nov. 1, 2015
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
One week made a big difference for Georgia Tech, as the Yellow Jackets on Saturday fell 27-21 at Virginia while short of the energy and passion that carried them to an upset win over No. 9 Florida State seven days earlier.
Ominous signs came early and often in Scott Stadium, which was less than half full of fans. Senior defensive tackle Adam Gotsis was lost to injury on the first play from scrimmage, and although the Jackets would force the Cavaliers to punt, Tech freshman Mikell Lands-Davis lost a fumble on the visitors’ third offensive play.
Tackling was a problem much of the day, and the Jackets struggled to find rhythm on offense.
In a word, the Jackets were flat.
“There wasn’t quite as much [energy] as there was last week, but we kind of knew that there wasn’t going to be a big crowd,” said senior safety Jamal Golden, who led Tech with nine combined tackles and assists. “We knew there wasn’t going to be a lot of energy, so we knew that we had to bring our own energy.”
The Jackets led 7-3 after A-back Clinton Lynch scored on a 49-yard run with 5:18 left in the first quarter, and again when Lynch tallied on a 30-yard pass from Justin Thomas with 1:44 left in the first half for a 14-10 edge.
Virginia (3-5, 2-2 ACC) added a field goal and a touchdown in the third quarter for a 20-14 lead, the go-ahead score being set up by a Thomas fumble.
Tech never caught up from there, turning the ball over on downs three times in the fourth period.
Junior running back TaQuan Mizzell was a problem for Tech while rushing 14 times for 75 yards, and catching five passes for 33 yards.
The bigger issue seemed to be all the formation shifts and motion the Cavs employed prior to snapping the ball. The Jackets were caught out of position several times.
“Their back is a good back, and the play that killed us was the speed sweep that we worked on all week, and we had guys rolling down out of the secondary and corners that were supposed to be firing and we couldn’t get it done,” said head coach Paul Johnson. “Guys couldn’t get off the block.”
Thomas passed for 251 yards and two scores to Lynch, but missed on a couple big plays, including wide-open wide receiver Brad Stewart.
Tech is out of balance when out-rushed, the Cavs ran for 233 yards Saturday to the Jackets’ 144. Thomas was hemmed in all day, totaling a modest 18 yards on 10 carries.
Ricky Jeune caught five passes for 103 yards, but the Jackets were tilted out of order, and couldn’t often keep the ball for long. Virginia dominated time of possession, 36:43-23:17, and the Cavs had the ball for nearly 11 minutes in the first quarter and again in the third.
“They were playing the run, and the one we missed in the third quarter, it was play action and we had the guy on the post wide open and it was huge,” Johnson said. “When you fumble the first drive away, and then you fumble the second drive away in the second half, and they were consuming seven and eight minutes when they get the ball, there’s not a lot of turns.
“I thought that when we ran the option, Clinton hit one big play on the pitch, but there weren’t a lot of big plays. Some of it was misreads, some of it was the blocking.”
Cornerback Chris Milton didn’t have a solid theory on why the Jackets had so much trouble slowing the Virginia running game.
“I’m not sure. Everyone messed up,” he said. “You can see the outcome and see that we didn’t do the things that we should have done to win the game.”
After playing nine consecutive games, the Jackets (3-6, 1-5) have a little down time to sort themselves out and mend. They next play Nov. 12, a Thursday night, against Virginia Tech before going to Miami and closing the season at home against Georgia.
“We are just disappointed,” Golden said. “We know that now that we lost . . . we are only going to be able to finish even throughout the regular season. We just have to go out and work because we don’t want to be the first team in 19 years not to make a bowl game.”
Johnson didn’t deny that the Jackets were flat, but did not use that as an explanation for Tech’s erratic afternoon.
“There wasn’t a lot of energy really in the stadium. We talked about that, we knew it. That’s no excuse; you have just got to play,” he said. “When you’ve won three games, you shouldn’t be flat about anything.
“We’ve got a lot of young kids, and I’ve done a very poor job of teaching them what it takes to win. Still the bottom line comes down to turnovers. That’s what it comes down to, if you win the turnover battle.”