#TGW: Waiting for a Train

Oct. 18, 2015

By Jon Cooper | The Good Word

Karma can be a fickle thing.

It’s seemingly all-in or all gone. For Georgia Tech Football, 2015 is beginning to look more and more like the latter following a 2014 that was very much the former.

Saturday’s 31-28 loss to Pittsburgh at Bobby Dodd Stadium followed a similar pattern, where the Jackets fought the good fight but in the end fell short.

“This kind of seems like that’s the way the year’s going,” said Head Coach Paul Johnson after the game which gave him his first five-game losing streak with the Jackets and dropped the Jackets to 2-5, 0-4 in ACC play. “As I’ve said before, there’s a very thin margin of error for this team and it reared it’s head. It’s really frustrating. The kids are playing hard. It’s not effort. Right now we’ve got to make one more play. We’re not good enough to make one more play.”

Saturday afternoon added a new chapter to the frustrating year-long trend for the Jackets, as the winning points came on a career-high 56-yard field goal by junior kicker Chris Blewitt with 1:11 to play.

“The way that game ended was just kind of like a perfect way that the season’s gone,” said Johnson. “The guy makes it from 56 yards and we’ve got a guy running free up the middle, and the ball just kind of goes right through his arms. Any luck maybe he blocks it and you run it back and win the game or there at the end, we make a couple of catches, at least we get to kick a field goal or try one.”

Defensive lineman Adam Gotsis and Patrick Gamble both broke through the middle but neither could get a piece of the kick.

Adding to the irony and the agony of the game is that Georgia Tech kicker Harrison Butker had a 50-yard field goal attempt blocked at the end of the first half, with the score tied pointing toward those same uprights.

The contrasting kicks typified the day against the Panthers (5-1, 3-0), who the Jackets manhandled 56-28 last season at Heinz Field.

Sophomore defensive end KeShun Freeman shared his coach’s frustration over the most recent near-miss in a season full of them.

“Things just happen sometimes and sometimes it just doesn’t go our way but we fought hard,” said Freeman, who had four tackles (all solo). “We’re trying to work on not being the ‘Almost’ type of team. We want to be a team that can say, ‘We did it.’ We’re working on that.”

Unlike last season, when Tech got a break seemingly whenever needed, 2015 has seen the ball bounce the other way.

Take last season at Pittsburgh, when tailback James Conner’s 74-yard run resulted in a fumble at the one-yard line after he was chased down and stripped from behind by D.J. White. It was one of five first-quarter fumbles by the Panthers leading to 28 first-quarter Tech points. This time around, Panther Tyler Boyd muffed a punt at his own 37, with the score tied at 28 and 8:13 remaining in the fourth quarter yet somehow had the ball land safely under him, keeping possession for Pitt.

Saturday it was the Jackets that were getting caught from behind.

“We got two of our fastest guys in the open and they caught them both,” lamented Johnson. “[Quarterback Justin Thomas] got open in the first half, Marcus [Marshall] in the third quarter. They caught them both.”

More bad karma: Pittsburgh punter Ryan Winslow ranked 10th in the ACC in punting (Pittsburgh came in ranked 12th), with only six of 52 punts landing inside the 20, but he pinned two inside the Jackets 20, both taking odd bounces before being downed. One came In the third quarter, with the game tied at 21. On that possession, the Jackets faced a third and 10, at their own eight. It was about the only place in all of Bobby Dodd Stadium where the tiny Pitt contingent could actually be heard and have anything resembling an impact noise-wise.

Thomas snapped the ball late in the count and the handoff resulted in a five-yard gain. Ryan Rodwell followed with a 36-yard punt and Pitt drove to the tying score on an eight-play drive.

As disappointing as the final score was, the Jackets showed signs of progress. Coming off the loss at Clemson, which Johnson pointed to as the only game during their current skein in which they weren’t in or had a chance to win, the Jackets made some things happen. They outgained the Panthers 376-200 on the ground — Pitt’s defense came in yielding 84.6 rushing yards per game). It was the most yards Tech gained on the ground since their Week Two win against Tulane.

The Jackets got 58 of those yards on their first drive, when freshman B-Back Marcus Marshall took a pitch from Thomas and cruised down the right sideline.

They also hit six big plays Saturday after managing only five over the previous two weeks.

“You could recognize our offense again,” Johnson said. “It looked like what we’re used to doing. We’ve played some good defenses — they came in No. 6 in the country. I don’t know what we averaged per play but it had to be pretty good because we didn’t have the ball much, 55 plays, 490 yards. So that’s a pretty good average. But you’ve got to score more points. 31 is more than 28. We didn’t get enough. We only got seven in the second half.”

Again, they needed one more big play.

“I thought we fought,” said Johnson. “We didn’t break any long pitches. The guys catching them have to run better. You can’t let the first guy that comes to you tackle you every time. It’s not going to be clean to the end zone. It’s not against the rules to cut back and make somebody miss or out-run them or do some of that. Most of our speed guys are standing over there with us, hurt.”

Tech also needed at least one more big play defensively, especially on the game-winning drive. It was only a 31-yard drive but chewed up 7:09 and required 14 plays and saw the Panthers a pair of fourth downs.

“Those are plays we need to make,” said senior linebacker Tyler Marcordes, who matched his career high with seven tackles, a career-best six of them solo. “We were in the right position, we just needed someone to make a play on fourth down, make a stop and get us off the field and get the offense the ball.”

The Jackets will go back to the drawing board and prepare for another top-10 test next Saturday as Florida State comes to town. The Seminoles began the day at No. 10 before crushing Louisville 41-21. They’re keeping their spirits up, something Freeman said isn’t as difficult as outsiders might think.

“It’s disappointing but as a team we have people that are like, ‘We just have to stand up,’” he said. “Our coaches don’t let us stay down either. They make us pick our heads up because there is always something in the future that is calling our name. There is always some type of goal to achieve. We can’t look at the things that we’ve lost. We have to look forward to the things that we can gain.”

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