With two ACC Coastal Division losses, Georgia Tech is left to take a test it had no interest in taking when the season began three weeks ago Monday. Do the Yellow Jackets have the requisite coaching and leadership to compete over the final eight games of the season with almost no chance of winning the ACC title?
Objectives remain – beating rival Clemson for the sixth time in seven tries, ending losing streaks to Georgia (three games and 10 out of the past 11) and in bowl games (seven) and winning 10 games for only the fourth time since 1956. Tech can show its defensive hemorrhage was an aberration.
The first item, though, will be picking up the pieces from their emotionally costly loss Saturday, a 42-36 overtime defeat to Miami at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Monday, Tech begins preparing for Middle Tennessee State, a game that the ACC announced Sunday will kick off at noon at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
“I feel like we have some good leaders on the team, and they’re going to keep everybody up,” A-back Tony Zenon said. “We just have to have a good week of practice and stay focused on the rest of the games.”
There will be plenty to address as the Jackets prepare for the Blue Raiders and correct errors from Saturday’s loss. The game included a series of lamentable plays for the Jackets, who valiantly returned from a 19-0 first-quarter deficit by scoring 36 consecutive points, but then gave up the game’s final 23 points.
“We made way too many errors in all three facets of the game,” coach Paul Johnson said Saturday.
The Tech offense produced, with 419 yards and 36 points. Saturday was just the sixth time since the start of the 2009 season that the Hurricanes had given up 36 or more points. However, needing to close the door at game’s end, the Jackets couldn’t. After Miami closed the margin to 36-22 with 4:25 to play in the third quarter, Tech produced four first downs over its next three possessions, one by penalty. It gave the Hurricanes more time to come back and returned the Jackets defense to the field more quickly than preferred.
Once back on the field, Miami exploited missed tackles, strong pass protection and advantageous play-calling to force overtime. Hurricanes quarterback Stephen Morris threw 52 times without being sacked once. In the fourth quarter and overtime, Tech allowed 216 yards on 23 plays, a 9.4 yards-per-play average. It called to mind come-from-ahead losses to Virginia Tech in the season opener and Utah in the Sun Bowl.
Prior to the Sun Bowl, Johnson was 31-2 in which Tech led or was tied after three quarters. Tech is 2-3 in those situations since then.
On a day full of mistakes and errors, one of Tech’s last was among the most costly. On their final offensive play of their 42-36 overtime loss to Miami Saturday, the Jackets apparently played into the Hurricanes’ hands.
On Tech’s overtime possession, Miami defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio anticipated a quarterback keeper on the 4th-and-1 play from the 2-yard line and handcuffed the Jackets accordingly. D’Onofrio had linebacker Eddie Johnson re-position himself after quarterback Tevin Washington audibled to a new play at the line of scrimmage, Hurricanes coach Al Golden said Sunday on his teleconference.
In short, Johnson lined up inside of offensive tackle Ray Beno, enticing Washington into changing the play at the line of scrimmage. When he did, Johnson re-aligned himself outside Beno, putting the Hurricanes in favorable alignment to defend Tech’s new play, a toss to A-back Orwin Smith.
“They made a check and we made a check after they made a check,” Golden said. “I guess we got [them] last on that one.”
Recognizing a toss play would likely get blown up against Miami’s new alignment, but following the team protocol permitting one “check” at the line of scrimmage, Washington chose to keep the ball and try for the first down himself. He was stopped short of the first down by Johnson, who was unblocked on the play. Miami won two plays later on a 25-yard run by running back Mike James.
“He didn’t stick with [the toss], but he’s the leader,” Smith said. “I trust his instincts.”
Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog