As one would expect, the frustration levels of Georgia Tech players and coaches have reached a season-high after another close loss in Virginia on Saturday.
The loss to the Cavaliers is the third time this season the Yellow Jackets have held a sizable second-half lead before losing it in the final minutes. Clemson is the only game in which Tech didn’t lead in the final two minutes, yet the Jackets sit at 4-4 on the season, with another two wins needed in a difficult remaining three games to reach a bowl.
“It hurt,” quarterback TaQuon Marshall said about watching video of Saturday's game. “When you drive down the field, got two minutes left and you’re kind of depending on the defense to get a stop … and then you get another chance to go down and be legendary and win the game at the end. It’s frustrating knowing you had the game right there once again and you let it slip out of your hands.”
The trend of Tech’s losses outside of Clemson is that players and coach Paul Johnson have unanimously described them as mostly self-inflicted. Eight games into the season, the simple mistakes, missed assignments and lack of focus have been a major point of concern and disappointment from Johnson when he assesses his teams’ performance after games and practices. He was asked about how he has to change his approach when addressing those issues based on the overall state of the team.
“I think you have to kind of see where they are,” Johnson said during his Tuesday news conference. “But you also get to a point where they need to be accountable. Everybody is accountable. … I’m ultimately accountable, and it flows downhill. So with responsibilities, with assignments, with schemes, with whatever … we’re all accountable. And that’s what my job is, to make sure it all comes back to me. But everybody has to do their part, and you adjust accordingly. I’m frustrated, I’m sure they’re frustrated. So it’s an even match.”
The overall lack of focus cited by players doesn’t come without ridicule from Johnson, who has always been open about holding his players accountable. Johnson said frustration and struggles won’t hold him back from treating the mistakes the same way.
“I don’t know,” he said. “As a head coach, I don’t have as much direct contact with them as the assistants do. But I would be doing them a disservice if I didn’t voice my displeasure when things aren’t well. And I think they know me well enough to know that I don’t let too much stuff go like that. I’ll call it out if it’s bad. And if you can’t take that, you probably won’t make it. But that’s life, isn’t it? If you don’t learn to deal with a little adversity, you won’t make it very far.”
KirVonte Benson had problems finding space to run up the middle against Virginia — a rarity for the sophomore B-back that has been one of the few consistent sources of production for the Yellow Jackets. But whether it was Virginia’s defense or mistakes from Tech on Saturday, he couldn’t make an impact on the dive play that the offense needs to run efficiently. Benson has pointed most of the errors back toward the team and not the quality of opponent all season.
“Not really. I believe it’s just us,” Benson said about the source for the mistakes. “I believe that we can play with anybody, but we technically destroy ourselves like coach says. We’ve got to limit the mental mistakes. … We’ve got to focus on what we’ve got to do. We’re still in the running, hopefully this week we can turn it around. It’s frustrating. It’s not easy losing by three or four. We’ve had games in the wraps, and we have to be able to finish. We’re still a learning team.”
As for where the Jackets need to work to improve on a disappointing campaign thus far, Marshall started right at practice. As a leader, Marshall is praised by teammates for his ability to shake off mistakes and have players rally around him. After Tuesday’s practice he had optimistic things to say about a change in tone and work ethic coming off a bitter loss.
“Practice harder, it translates over to the game,” Marshall said. “Focus more, that’s really all you can do. I saw a lot more focus from a lot of people today. There really wasn’t too much talking. I didn’t really have to say too much. We went out and practiced and it was by far to me the best Tuesday practice we’ve had all season. I think everybody is ready to go for Saturday.”