Sept. 29, 2012
By Jon Cooper
There’s a word for games like the one on Saturday afternoon between Georgia Tech and Middle Tennessee.
It’s a four-letter word.
The word is ‘trap.’
If ever there was a trap game for Georgia Tech, it was Middle Tennessee State. That could have been seen even before the season began, as there the Blue Raiders sat, right between the Yellow Jackets’ third Coastal Division game in four weeks, against Miami, and the always emotional renewal with Clemson, this time in Death Valley.
As the schedule played out, the weeds in which the Blue Raiders laid in wait grew higher. The disappointing loss to Miami the week before made the perfect final step in this final meeting of a three-game series between the schools — the first two won easily by Tech.
But even those who could have foreseen the trap could not have foreseen what would transpire on Saturday afternoon, as the Yellow Jackets fell into the trap and got bushwhacked, 49-28.
Georgia Tech Head Coach Paul Johnson went out of his way to credit Middle Tennessee, but then spared no facet of his team’s game.
“I told [MTSU] Coach [Rick] Stockstill after the game, they got after us, whipped our butts and I want to give them credit because they played hard,” said Johnson. “But after saying that, it was embarrassing. I don’t think there’s any other way to describe it. We didn’t play with a whole lot of energy, we turned the ball over. We can’t do that. And we probably had as bad a game tackling as I’ve ever seen. Maybe worse than last week. Bottom line is we didn’t do anything very good.”
The Yellow Jackets surrendered 510 yards to the Blue Raiders and were even outgained on the ground, 264-238. The previous two years, Tech outgained MTSU 711-290. Middle’s Bennie Cunningham ran through huge holes and bounced off Tech tacklers on the way to 218 yards, averaging 8.0 yards per carry. The Blue Raiders leading rushers combined over the two previous games of the series totaled 136 (Cunningham had 80 of them last season).
Playing without starting linebackers Jeremiah Attaochu, who missed the entire game, and Brandon Watts, who sat for a half, the Jackets had no answers for the Blue Raiders bubble screens and their hammering of the right side.
Linebacker Quayshawn Nealy made no excuses.
“It affected us, but then again, the next guy should be able to step up and take his place,” said Nealy, who had four tackles, three solo. “I’m not going to say we would have won with Jeremiah, but the next guys should have stepped in and made plays just like Jeremiah would.”
Not even having defensive coordinator working as the eye in the sky could help. Although, as planned, the plays did get called quicker, the stops weren’t made.
“We thought that would help out.” said Nealy. “It helped us. It just came down to doing your job.”
Nealy denied that the Jackets got caught looking ahead.
“We definitely didn’t overlook them,” he said. “We just came out flat today. It’s going to be tough to put this one behind us but we have to put it behind us just like the Miami loss.”
The way the game started, the Jackets looked like they would continue their domination of the Sun Belt Conference, against which Tech had been 6-0, and non-BCS power conference schools, having won 12 straight, 17 straight at home, as linebacker Jabari Hunt-Days picked off a Logan Kilgore pass at the Tech 47 on the game’s fourth play.
“It was a specific coverage that Coach had us run,” said Hunt-Days of his first career interception. “I had (No.) 3 receiver and it was the back so I just followed it through and made the play.”
Five plays later, Tech was up 7-0, as quarterback Tevin Washington powered in from the one.
But Washington said even then, he didn’t feel any kind of energy.
“After that, there wasn’t much life on the sidelines or out there on the field,” he said. “We just came out too flat. When you give another team energy and give them momentum, it’s hard to stop them once they get going.”
Tech chased the Blue Raiders the rest of the day, as MTSU caught Tech on its next possession then took a 14-7 lead on the first play of the second quarter, a 60-yard dash, untouched, up the middle by Cunningham. The Jackets twice caught up, going into the half tied at 21, but then fell behind early in the second half and never got even again.
The Blue Raiders didn’t punt in the first half and punted only once each in the third and fourth quarters, going 7-for-11 on third down.
The loss took away from what should have been a shining moment for Washington, as he tied a school-single-game record by rushing for four touchdowns in a game, becoming only the fifth player in school history to accomplish the feat. He joined George Maloof, who did it in 1951 against Georgia, Robert Lavette, who victimized Virginia in 1982, Tony Hollings, who hit pay dirt four times against Connecticut in 2002, and P.J. Daniels, who struck gold four times against the Golden Hurricane in 2003.
Washington didn’t even get to comment on the mark after the game, as, unlike Maloof, Lavette, Hollings and Daniels, he was too busy explaining what went wrong in a Jackets loss and what he and the team have to do go get things righted.
“[I feel] disappointment for the most part but you can’t hang your head on one loss more than any other when you have seven more games left in the season,” he said. “You have to approach the next day. Get ready for Clemson. You can’t fix anything in the past. You have to move on to what’s coming up ahead.”
That’s the trip to Death Valley, where Georgia Tech has actually held its own, going 6-10 all-time and 4-3 in its last seven appearances.
They have their work cut out to make it 5-3 over the last eight.
“If we don’t get ready to play a little better and a little harder against Clemson it’ll be embarrassing,” said Johnson. “We have a big challenge in front of us.”
By the way, after Tech, the Tigers have a bye week then Virginia Tech.
I’m just saying….