Sept. 5, 2016
Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
Georgia Tech’s season-opening win over Boston College may not have qualified as an aesthetic gem for fans because of conditions in Dublin, Ireland, nor for the brutish methodology used, but looking back it was easier on coaches’ eyes.
The Yellow Jackets’ 17-14 victory was a masterpiece in the, “A win is a win,” category; a huge nod toward the notion that good football teams must find ways to prevail when their ‘A” games and even their ‘B’ games are not clicking.
Last season, Tech often bled in these ways, yet on Saturday they won intangible metrics by checking three boxes where the Eagles were blanked. The Jackets:
> Outscored B.C. 17-7 on red zone possessions, cashing in on each of their three trips to the red zone, while the Eagles scored on only one of three;
> Made their only field goal try as Harrison Butker was good from 40 yards in the third quarter shortly after B.C.’s Colton Lichtenberg missed a 35-yarder, and after Tech’s Rod Rook-Chungong blocked a 43-yarder in the second;
> Won the turnover table 1-3. Tech lost the ball once, but B.C. failed to capitalize (Lichtenberg’s miss). The Jackets, conversely, took a 7-0 lead on Matthew Jordan’s 3-yard run after Corey Griffin’s interception ended B.C.’s first possession.
Never mind for a moment that the Jackets were outgained 320 yards to 238, and out-rushed 176-119 in the season opener.
With two days to look back at what happened, it matters more that Tech ended B.C.’s first possession of the game and the last of each half with takeaways.
There’s something to be said for timing.
“We got some turnovers in key spots,” said head coach Paul Johnson. “They moved the ball probably better than they’d moved it. Once they got down to our end of the field [however] we were able to get some turnovers and get some stops.”
Tech’s timing was fantastic. The Jackets ended the Eagles’ first possession of the game with an interception and B.C.’s final possession of each half with a fumble recovery. The interception to set up Tech’s first score.
These kinds of things rarely happened last season.
The Jackets scored touchdowns after their first six takeaways in 2015 for 41 points, including five TDs in the first two games and another after a D.J. White interception at Notre Dame.
Following 11 more takeaways in the final nine-plus games, however, the Jackets scored just 37 points – or 3.4 per theft, or 3.9 per game.
Saturday’s points off takeaway numbers were 2.33 per theft and 7.0 per game, and they looked a lot better against what Tech surrendered at 0.0 and 0.0.
The difference in the game was, essentially, the difference in the per-game numbers allowed and surrendered off turnovers.
Tech’s timing was pretty good all day.
Griffin was called for pass interference early in the game’s initial possession, but made up for it when B.C. quarterback Patrick Towles’ pass to a tight end was deflected and he was there to pick it off.
“Previously, I had the pass interference [and] I felt like I could have intercepted that one as well,” he said. “The tight end came and sat down [in a zone hole], and I just watched the ball come off his hands. It came right to me.”
Griffin’s 11-yard return set the Jackets up for an 11-play, 59-yard drive for the early lead.
Rook-Chungong got a hand on Lichtenberg’s field goal try in the second quarter, and the Jackets led 7-0 at halftime.
Defensive end Antonio Simmons’ second-quarter sack and strip of Towles caused a fumble that defensive tackle Kyle Cerge-Henderson recovered to end a B.C. drive, and the Jackets’ final takeaway came in the game’s waning seconds after a completed pass and lateral that was mishandled.
Boston college running back Jon Hillman got loose for a 73-yard score on the first play of the second half.
“Small mistakes, small misfits,” Griffin said. “He made a great play. He made a great read. We got guys hung up on blocks, and that’s something we’re going to have to work on.”