Geoff Collins’ first season at Georgia Tech began with his team trailing 28-0 after one half. That was at Clemson, so no biggie. Six weeks later, the Yellow Jackets trailed 38-14 at halftime in Durham, but Duke has lately owned that series, so nothing new there. But there was one ACC Coastal opponent Tech had itself come to own, albeit under different management, and that one arrived Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday.
Halftime score: Virginia Tech 31, Georgia Tech 0.
There will come a day -- I swear -- when we can write about Georgia Tech without mentioning Paul Johnson, but the first GT team post-PJ is 2-8 and among the worst Power 5 aggregations in the land. That’s kind of important. Under Johnson, the Jackets had beaten Virginia Tech three years running and four times in five. For more than a decade, Tech-Tech always was a competitive game. This time, no.
Final score: Virginia Tech 45, Georgia Tech 0.
Said Collins: “This was the first game that the level of attrition caught up to us ... A bunch of guys were playing roles they had not had to play.”
The game close for five minutes, whereupon the visitors realized they could do as they pleased against the Jackets’ defense, which has been the better part of a horrid season. Run it, throw it, didn’t matter. Georgia Tech couldn’t stop anything, and these Hokies aren’t to be confused with the Michael Vick or even the Tyrod Taylor teams. Virginia Tech entered 6-3 and unranked. It exited having given coach Justin Fuentes his first victory in four tries over GT.
And to think: Pregame buzz, such as it was, held that Georgia Tech had been playing better. It hadn’t lost by more than 10 points since Oct. 12, four games ago, and it somehow won at Miami, a result that might have gotten Manny Diaz fired if he hadn’t just been hired. The Jackets hung around last week against Virginia, which leads the Coastal Division, and if you can hang around in Charlottesville, there seemed no real reason they couldn’t make Virginia Tech sweat in the A-T-L.
Said tight end Tyler Davis: “We felt like we were trending in the right direction.”
But no. Virginia Tech had three touchdowns before Georgia Tech managed a first down. That feat finally came 10:42 before halftime, at which point the Jackets trailed 21-0. The Hokies had scored on their second, third and fourth possessions, rolling 71, 77 and 69 yards. Collins labels his defense as “4-2-5 effort-based” – hey, it says so on the flip card! – but to watch those three drives was to ask two things. Had the Jackets decided to defend with seven men? And if this was effort, how might a languor-based defense look?
All that was missing from this calamity was a Georgia Tech turnover. That arrived forthwith. Quarterback James Graham, seeking to throw on first down from his 2, rolled into the end zone and flung a pass toward a host of Hokies. Caleb Farley intercepted and scored. Now it was 28-0, still with plenty of time until the half. Virginia Tech then forced a Graham fumble that defensive end Tyjuan Garbutt should have gobbled up at the 3, but he muffed the gift TD.
By now the Hokies were getting bored. They might have scored another touchdown before the half, but a third-and-goal throwback to quarterback Hendon Hooker – a Blacksburg Special, if you will – was actually defended by the Jackets. A field goal made it 31-zip.
The half finally ended, and thank heaven for that, with Virginia Tech outgaining its opponent 299-48, and that was with the Hokies taking a knee and losing three yards on the final snap. Georgia Tech had worked 30 minutes and gotten as many men ejected (Christian Campbell for targeting on a punt return) as it had made first downs (still just the one). Holy mackerel.
The third quarter began with Collins trying an onside kick. It didn’t work. Graham threw another interception. Virginia Tech scored a couple of more touchdowns. Letting the clock run for the rest of the game – heck, the rest of the Jackets’ season – didn’t seem a bad idea, though that’s a tad harsh. Georgia Tech might have a chance to beat North Carolina State here Thursday, which would surely leave the Jackets 3-9. (Don’t see them beating Georgia, do you?)
Of the Jackets’ practices leading up to this wrecking, Collins said: “We’re still working on fundamentals, technique, getting better in every aspect of the program.”
What’s he going to say? “We’re overmatched in every game, and it’s a wonder we’ve won twice”? Johnson’s final Tech team was 7-6, and we all knew the transition from his spread-based option to whatever offense it is Collins is trying to run would be severe. We also knew that Johnson had left the ol’ talent cupboard all but bare. We say for the millionth time: His offense always made the Jackets dangerous, but his leftovers in a different system weren’t apt to break .500.
Example: Tobias Oliver gained 876 yards as a backup quarterback under Johnson, 215 coming in a rousing victory in Blacksburg when TaQuon Marshall was injured. Oliver began this season as Tech’s starting quarterback. He’s now a receiver who also returns kickoffs. Different coaches, different schemes, different world.
Still, I’m not sure anybody expected 2-8. Entering Saturday’s game, Georgia Tech ranked 119th in scoring and rushing yards allowed; 120th in passing yards; 121st in total yards, and 82nd in points yielded. It was above 75th in only one category – passing yards against. It was No. 95 in ESPN’s Football Power Index. Only four Power 5 teams were worse: Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Kansas and Rutgers. Two have fired their head coach.
Collins is in no danger of getting canned. Heck, he just got here. His first full recruiting class should be Tech’s best since 2007 under Chan Gailey. There will be better days for this coach and this program. Then again, it’s hard to imagine worse.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.