The defense was picked apart and battered. The offense had no magic. The special teams, save one historic kickoff return, was largely a hindrance.
Saturday, Georgia Tech lost to BYU 41-17 at Bobby Dodd Stadium in a game that contained little mystery.
“We pretty much got our tails whipped,” coach Paul Johnson said. “It was disappointing. I think we got whipped in all three phases of the game.”
With a chance to even their record and build on a convincing win over Boston College a week ago, the Yellow Jackets (3-5) continued their flailing season. Tech gave up 40 or more points for the fourth time in the past five games, had a punt blocked and failed to produce an offensive touchdown for the first time since the 2008 Chick-fil-A Bowl loss to LSU. In hopes of reviving the offense, Johnson sent in backup quarterback Vad Lee late in the third quarter. To rousing cheers, he drove the Jackets for a field goal on his first drive, but produced 16 yards of offense in his final two possessions.
Just to qualify for its 16th consecutive bowl, Tech will have to win three of its final four games. The Jackets finish with Maryland, North Carolina, Duke and Georgia. For a team that lost by 24 points at home, none of those register as expected wins.
Saturday, the defining difference between BYU and Tech was their performance on third down. The Cougars picked up first downs on 9 of 16 third downs, while the Jackets struck out on 10 third-down conversion attempts.
Defensively, Tech reverted to the form that led to the firing of defensive coordinator Al Groh. After holding Boston College to a 1-of-9 effort on third downs last Saturday, the Jackets permitted quarterback Riley Nelson to extend drives left and right with completions.
Interim defensive coordinator Charles Kelly mixed up coverages and blitzes that occasionally produced results. He sent seven defenders at Nelson on a 3rd-and-8 on the game’s opening possession, but Nelson answered it with a 15-yard completion.
One of Tech’s highlights, a 22-yard interception return for a first-quarter touchdown by safety Isaiah Johnson, came on a third down in which Tech rushed three and dropped eight into coverage. But the Jackets couldn’t disrupt Nelson with any frequency and also missed a slew of tackles, a problem that plagued the defense under Groh but had abated in the Boston College game.
Tech also had trouble with BYU running back Jamaal Williams, a 17-year-old freshman who dinged the Jackets for 107 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
The BYU defense, ranked No. 8 in the country against the run, needed no help, but the Jackets abetted the Cougars with penalties, missed blocks and faulty reads on the option. Not counting a kneeldown at the end of the first half, Tech had nine possessions and couldn’t hold the ball for more than six plays on seven of them. The Jackets ran just 47 plays, a little more than half the 91 they ran against Boston College and the fewest of any game in Johnson’s tenure. BYU’s 38:59 time of possession was also an opponent high in the Johnson era.
“It’s obvious that we’ve got to do a lot better,” Lee said. “We’ve got to clean up a lot of things.”
The big plays that this offense needs to expand its margin for error never materialized. Tech had been averaging six plays per game of 20 yards or more. Saturday, the Cougars held them to one, a 22-yard run by A-back Robbie Godhigh.
“They make you earn it, and we weren’t good enough to earn it,” Johnson said. “We’d self-inflict wounds.”
Asked if this was the worst offensive game of his five-year tenure, Johnson replied, “I’m sure it is.”
Only Isaiah Johnson’s interception return and Jamal Golden’s 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown – the Jackets’ first such score since 1998 – kept Tech in the game, which was 24-14 in BYU’s favor at halftime. The game tilted in the third quarter when quarterback Tevin Washington, pressured by BYU end Ezekiel Ansah, threw an interception deep in Tech territory that was returned to the Tech 2-yard line. A one-yard touchdown run by Williams pushed BYU to a 31-14 lead with 3:43 left in the third quarter and released any remaining suspense.
The Jackets will return to work Monday, trying to find answers that have eluded them for the larger part of eight games.
“I don’t know,” said Johnson, asked to explain how his team could be playing beneath expectations. I don’t have an explanation for you.”
By Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog