Oct. 4, 2015
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
Saturday afternoon looked like the day Georgia Tech turned things around.
For the first 25:26 the Jackets led North Carolina 21-0, having run — literally — 21 plays in the first quarter for 118 yards (69 more than their previous two first quarters combined). They successfully unveiled a no-huddle offense and held nearly a 5:1 edge in time of possession.
Then, over the final 34:34, things slowly unraveled and Tech suffered a 38-31 loss, that dropped them to 2-3, the first time they’d dipped below .500 since falling Dec. 1, 2012, following a 21-15 loss to Florida State in the ACC Championship Game. This second straight loss to UNC, which gave the Jackets its third three-game losing streak in four years, was difficult to swallow.
“I’m sure that the players feel like I do. I feel like I’ve been gut-punched,” said Head Coach Paul Johnson. “I’m really disappointed. I thought we had plenty of chances. You have to give them credit. They made plays when they had to and came back and won the game but we kind of let it slip away from us. We played the game the way we needed to play. They didn’t have the ball very much but when they had it we didn’t stop them much.”
It was death by a thousand cuts, several self-inflicted that included missed connections, missed turnover opportunities, missed tackles and a missing player on what appeared to be a missed call.
“Obviously, it’s frustrating when a lot of small things add up and that’s definitely a pattern we saw there,” said senior left guard Trey Braun. “It’s frustrating but a loss is frustrating and it’s something that you have to move up from and you can’t let break you down.”
A key play came on the drive immediately after Tech took a 14-0 lead in the second quarter. On first and 10, senior defensive tackle Adam Gotsis took down Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams, but was flagged for targeting. A review upheld the call.
“It’s a killer because we’re already down Pat [Gamble],” said Johnson, who was offered no further explanation by officials. “When you lose Adam, obviously, he’s a team captain. He’s one of your better players. He’s one of the guys with experience. Yeah, it hurt to lose him. No question.”
Still the Jackets held Carolina at bay until they got the ball down 21-0 with 4:34 remaining in the half, when the Heels drove 75 yards in nine plays.
The frustration mounted on the Jackets’ next drive, as they went three-and-out for the first time, yet could have built on the lead.
On first down, Tech ran play action. Quarterback Justin Thomas rolled right and lofted a ball downfield for A-Back Clinton Lynch, who was five yards clear of any defenders. But instead of the redshirt freshman making his first start, enjoying his second score of the quarter and third of his career, and Tech celebrating a 28-7 lead, the ball fell incomplete.
“It was really just a Wheel Route,” said Lynch, who’d scored on a 14-yard run to make it 14-0 early in the second. “We’ve just got to connect on those. That what happens. You can’t get them all.”
After a four-yard loss on second down and an incompletion on third, punter Ryan Rodwell dropped a low snap but salvaged the play, eluding the rush to get the punt away but with a net of only 23 yards.
Williams confidently drove the Heels to the Tech seven as the clock wound down toward halftime. That confidence nearly backfired, as on first and goal, with 11 seconds remaining, Williams threw a wide receiver screen into the left flat intended for wide receiver Quinshad Davis.
Big-play corner D.J. White, jumped the route and had nothing but clear sailing ahead of him, but did not pull the pass in. Given a reprieve, Williams took the ball the final seven yards himself on the next play, cutting the lead to 21-14.
The Jackets appeared to regain momentum coming out of the locker room, holding the Heels to a field goal on the opening drive, recovering their attempted onside kick then driving 43 yards in four plays to extend the lead to 28-17 lead.
But the loss of Gotsis started to affect the defense, which was unable to slow the Tar Heels.
“It’s not anything they did. It was us, missing tackles and lining up wrong,” said cornerback Jamal Golden, who was second on the Jackets with five tackles (all solo). “They were moving fast so we had to get lined up and execute. We were in place to make plays. We just have to make tackles.”
“[Losing Gotsis] was something big but Coach Preston always teaches us to try to handle adversity,” added D-Lineman KeShun Freeman, who had three tackles (two solo) and one of two Tech sacks on the day. “We can’t just depend on him to make a whole bunch of plays. Some of us have to step up and make plays as well.”
The Heels scored on six of seven drives beginning with that late second-quarter burst, with Williams frequently keeping plays alive with his feet. It was a little thing like staying in containment.
“We’re not a very good pass-rushing team with four guys,” said Johnson. “Not only that, we lost contain a bunch. It seemed like a lot on third-and-long he scrambled for first downs.”
Even with the Heels ability to move the ball, the Jackets continued to match them.
That was until early in the fourth, up 28-24, and facing third and goal at the one. It had been a gritty drive, having marched 74 yards on 14 plays, eating up 7:39 and even converting a fourth-and-five.
But the next two plays would fail to gain.
“If we can punch it in and go up 11 at least you can hold serve,” said Johnson. “[It was] a quarterback follow. The offensive line blocked down and backed in and didn’t block out. It’s the story of our season.”
“They filled all the gaps and we didn’t get the push we needed, I suppose,” said Braun. “That’s something that really stings. A lot of things sting in this game.”
The defense forced a three-and-out but the Jackets turned the ball over on a Thomas fumble on the first play.
Carolina needed one play, a 37-yard pass from Davis to Williams off a reverse to take the lead, 31-28. After Tech lost the ball on downs on the next series, the Heels put things away as Williams, facing third and 11 at the Tech 33, ran for six yards, then, on fourth and five rolled right, found a hole and took it the final 27 yards, untouched.
“We had a play where everyone was supposed to rush and if you see the running back come your way you go with him,” said Freeman. “I went with the running back. Williams takes a chance every time he sees a gap and he saw a gap and he went ahead and took it and scored.”
The never-say-die Jackets, forced to debut two more A-Backs with Broderick Snoddy out, in true freshman A-Back Mikell Lands-Davis and former DB Lynn Griffin, drove for a field goal then appeared to cover the onsides kick but an “illegal touching” penalty gave Carolina the ball.
Tech wakes up Sunday morning last in the Coastal Division, which they were picked to win in preseason. But that’s the last thing on their minds.
They just want to awaken from what has been a nightmarish three weeks and start to ACC play.
They’ll try to turn things around against Clemson, in Death Valley, where they have lost three straight by an average of 18 points.
“We can’t these last couple of losses triple into six or seven losses,” said Golden.
“We have to make an adjustment of goals and that’s disappointing but it’s definitely not something that we can let put this team in the ground,” Braun added. “There’s a lot of season left and I know all of my brothers there, we don’t have any give-up in us. It’s just the most frustrating thing but you can’t become numb to it. You have to feel the pain a little bit. You have to be able to let it move you forward.”