At halftime last week, an opportunity for history tugged at Jay Finch.
Georgia Tech had kicked Boston College around for two quarters, hoarding 407 yards of offense in taking a 28-3 halftime lead. If the Yellow Jackets could continue the pace, the Tech center realized, they could break the single-game total-offense record of 768 set in last year’s 66-24 rout of Kansas.
Instead, Tech managed just nine more points and 156 yards, leaving bushels of scoring opportunities on the field. For the fourth consecutive game, the Jackets were outscored in the fourth quarter. In a game where Tech had an extra week’s rest and carried the motivation of stopping a three-game losing streak, coach Paul Johnson and players said the team backed off and lost focus.
Tech still beat Boston College, “but it’s something that I’ve noticed,” Finch said. “But I’m not sure everyone notices, but that’s something that we do need to work on.”
BYU, Tech’s homecoming opponent Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium, figures to be more capable of punishing the Jackets for wandering off course than Boston College. With BYU boasting the No. 8 scoring defense in the country, Tech likely can’t fritter away scoring chances or gift the Cougars with points as they did with the self-destructive Eagles.
“I think guys get comfortable,” A-back Orwin Smith said. “And you can’t get comfortable. We’ve been up a lot of games and just lost it towards the end.”
It’s a fitting summary for the first six games of the season. In starting out 2-4, Tech held fourth-quarter leads in three of the losses, two of them into the final minute. Against Miami, the Jackets scorched the Hurricanes with 36 consecutive points to take a 36-19 third-quarter lead before giving it all back and losing in overtime. Tech’s no-show 49-28 loss to Middle Tennessee State followed seven days later.
“I want them to be competitive,” Johnson said after the Boston College game. “And at times, we are. And when we are, we’re pretty good. And at times we lose focus.”
Johnson cited missed reads by both quarterbacks, Tevin Washington and Vad Lee, and poorly executed plays that prevented shorter gains from turning into larger ones. Johnson was so undone by the lack of fire that he took backup players to task for not being attentive and supportive from the sideline.
“It should be a privilege to be able to dress and have your name on the back of the uniform and be on the sidelines at Georgia Tech,” he said. “It’s not something that you should just kind of show up. If you want to giggle it up and laugh and cut up and have fun and dance to the video board, then go get in the stands.”
As a whole, the Jackets are easily described as hardworking and high-character, but perhaps not viciously competitive. Smith was bothered by players smiling and laughing last Saturday when the game was at halftime. He questioned whether his team has the ruthlessness to put teams away.
“I feel like you develop that from before you get to college, that drive to just always, no matter if you’re up 100, you still want to put up another 100,” he said. “Some of the guys, I can tell, just don’t have that.”
The Jackets have another opportunity to direct 60 minutes of channeled energy and cold-blooded ferocity at their opponent. They already know what can happen when they don’t.
“Even when we’re up, people still believe they can beat us,” Smith said. “It shouldn’t be like that. We need to just finish guys off.”
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Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog