MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – What started as another rendition of the “Paul Johnson leaves another grease mark on Mark Richt’s driveway” storyline turned into something else Saturday.
A Georgia Tech wide receiver drops a third-down pass at one end of the field. A Miami receiver catches a fourth-and-10 pass at the other end that flies just over the outstretched fingers of one defender, bounces off the wrist of another, then off the opposing wide receiver’s face mask and drops into his hands like a feather.
Hello, Julian Edelman.
“This one is going to be hard to let go of,” TaQuon Marshall, the Tech quarterback, said.
In a logical world, the Yellow Jackets would be 5-0. Logic often doesn't intersect with sports.
They blew a 28-14 fourth-quarter lead against Tennessee and lost 42-41 in double-overtime, despite 655 yards of offense. They let a lead against Miami away, losing to the Hurricanes 25-24 on a field goal with four seconds left at Hard Rock Stadium.
Sometimes, things aren't supposed to make sense.
“Just really hurting and really disappointed for our guys,” Johnson said. “In the end they made one more play than we did. We had our opportunities on offense, defense, whatever, to ice the game, and we couldn’t get it done.”
Had they won this game, the Jackets would have been 3-0 in the ACC and a game up on Miami in the Coastal Division. It would have put them in control in a season where few expected that was a possibility because of personnel turnover on offense. Instead, they left south Florida 3-2 overall and 2-1 in conference play, with games still remaining against Clemson and Virginia Tech. A potential special season slips away.
Johnson and Richt had their share of weird ones when Richt coached at Georgia (even with Richt now owning an overall record of 8-2 against Johnson). Their personal rivalry seems to have continued. Last year, Richt’s first since taking the Miami job, Tech had two fumbles returned for touchdowns in the second quarter, and Miami won in Atlanta 35-21. In this one, Miami was 4-0 and ranked 11th nationally, but Johnson nearly replicated his two upset wins in Athens during Richt’s tenure.
It didn’t happen, in part because Johnson’s offense failed him in the second half. With B-back KirVonte Benson having left the game with a lower leg injury, Tech’s offense was limited to only a field goal and 54 yards rushing in the second half. The Jackets still led 24-22 with 2:36 left, but on third-and-8 from the Miami 41, wide receiver Brad Stewart could not hold onto a would-be first-down pass that might’ve allowed Tech to run out the clock or led to a field goal.
Still, Tech seemingly had the game won. But with time running out and Miami facing a fourth-and-10 from the Tech 43, quarterback Malik Rosier threw a desperation pass toward receiver Darrell Langham.
Langham appeared well-covered by defensive backs Lamont Simmons and A.J. Gray. But the ball flew just over Gray’s outstretched hand, then off Simmons’ wrist, then Langham’s face mask, then fell into his hands at the Tech 15. That set up the game-winning 24-yard field goal with four seconds left.
"Somehow the ball popped up in the air and landed in his gut," Richt said. "Minor miracle. I don’t want to get too crazy, those things do happen in football. They usually don’t happen when you need it the most."
As players left the field and walked into the tunnel, several had their heads down, a couple yelled angrily and one slammed his helmet against the wall.
For what it’s worth: One decision by Johnson backfired. He had a potential 44-yard field-goal attempt late in the first half when Tech led 14-6. But he opted to go for it on fourth-and-6 from the Miami 27.
“The guy who coaches the kicker (Shawn Davis) said he couldn’t make it from that far,” Johnson said.
That may have been the wrong call.
Then again, neither team played all that well. Richt is trying to build something at his alma mater. The Hurricanes last finished with double-digit wins in 2003, when they played in the Big East. They last won a national title in 2001. They not only have never won the ACC since joining the conference in 2004, they’ve never won the Coastal Division, which means they’re behind even North Carolina and Duke.
So this was kind of a big game for him and the program. There were times when neither showed well. Scenes from The U:
• Miami was penalized on a kickoff return for having two players with the same jersey number.
• Richt, an offensive coordinator by trade and Miami’s play-caller since returning to Coral Gables, saw his team limited to two field goals and three three-and-outs in its first five possessions.
• In a strange decision, Richt ordered an onside kick to open the second half, despite the fact it was a one-point game (Tech leading 14-13) and the Hurricanes had momentum with a late first-half touchdown. Making that decision look even worse: kicker Michael Badgley’s kick traveled only seven yards and it was picked up by Simmons and returned 42 yards for a touchdown and a 21-13 lead.
But it was Richt’s team that rallied and made plays in the end, scoring the last 12 points of the game (two field goals and a touchdown).
Miami is now 5-0. Tech can only dream of what might have been.
FRESH PODCAST: On NCAA's decision and look ahead to football weekend
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