Georgia Tech had given up the most points in the history of its rivalry with Georgia, but still the team’s seniors were reluctant to leave the field. On a bright Saturday afternoon, players such as running back Nathan Cottrell, tight end Tyler Cooksey and defensive tackle Brentavious Glanton lingered upon Grant Field near the northeast tunnel of Bobby Dodd Stadium, exchanging hugs and extending their final moments as Yellow Jackets players.

On the last day of November, on an afternoon that felt more like mid-October, Tech lost for the last time in coach Geoff Collins’ first season, taking a 52-7 pounding from No. 4 Georgia in a clear mismatch. The Jackets finished the season at 3-9, tied for the fewest wins that this proud program has managed in any of the past 25 seasons. Tech lost to archrival Georgia for the third year in a row, each loss by 24 points or more, the first time in the 114-game history of the series that one side has dominated the other in such a way.

But Tech’s small group of seniors still didn’t want it to end.

“I tell people this all the time,” tight end Tyler Davis said after the game, fighting back tears. “I wish I could play college football forever. There is nothing quite like it, the alumni, the students, the bands, the fight songs. I just get emotional thinking about it.”

Cunningham: Terrible day ends bad season

Before a sellout crowd of 55,000, most of it dressed in red, the Jackets had their moments. Tech’s depleted defense forced two turnovers, fumbles caused by linebackers Quez Jackson and David Curry. The punt unit created a third, when Georgia’s Dominick Blaylock dropped a second-quarter punt by Pressley Harvin and Cooksey recovered the ball at the UGA 17. That set up Tech’s lone score, a 6-yard touchdown pass from James Graham to Davis, his first touchdown of his grad-transfer season.

And after the touchdown, Tech surprised the Bulldogs with a successful onside kick, created by Jaylon King’s well-timed hit on Georgia’s Prather Hudson as he attempted to field Brenton King’s bouncing kick and then his recovery of the loose ball.

“Once the ball was kicked and I saw No. 24 (Hudson) trying to catch it, I knew I had to get the ball away from them,” King said. “Recovering the onside kick was just icing on the cake.”

But, as the game wore on, a decisive Bulldogs victory seemed inevitable. The Jackets defense was worn down by the offense’s repeated three-and-outs – six in a row to start the game and 12 altogether in 16 possessions – and Georgia’s powerful offensive front and assortment of playmakers. Georgia finished with 500 yards of offense, the second most given up by the Jackets this season. Harvin set a modern-era school record with 13 punts.

“The level of attrition does catch up to you,” Collins said.

The third quarter – in which Georgia racked up 220 yards and scored three touchdowns – was substantial in the game’s outcome, raising Georgia’s lead from 17-7 to 38-7. Collins said that in offseason tug-of-war drills, letting go of the rope is a cardinal sin, “and I thought at times in the third quarter, we let it slip and couldn’t find a way to get it back. We’ll make sure we continue to build on that when we get back in the offseason.”

Needing perhaps a flawless effort to have a chance, Tech could not comply. The Jackets were not able to hit the big offensive play that offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude had deemed necessary against Georgia’s suffocating defense, ranked fifth in FBS in total defense and second in scoring defense. Often facing heavy pass-rush pressure and tight coverage,Graham was 5-for-20 passing, completing one pass for 23 yards and the other four for 17 combined.

“I thought he played a little tight early,” Collins said. “But just cut it loose and go play. They’re really good. That’s fine. But just distribute the ball, make the calls, make the checks and let’s get this thing moving.”

In the second quarter, after a turnover created by Jackson’s forced fumble of UGA running back D’Andre Swift, Tech reached the Georgia 10 and faced a fourth-and-2. Down 17-7, Collins made the decision to kick a field goal rather than go for it. The move backfired when Brenton King missed from 27 yards. Tech didn’t get into UGA territory again until its final drive. Collins said he didn’t consider going for it.

“It was a one-score game (with a successful field goal), and we had this thing rolling,” Collins said. “I thought we definitely would come away with points in that situation. I think the morale and everything to make it a one-score game, I thought would be good. Obviously, we didn’t get it.”

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart and Georgia Tech head coach Geoff Collins shake hands during an NCAA college football game at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday, November 30, 2019. Georgia won 52-7 over the Georgia Tech. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Having to elude Georgia defenders in the backfield, running back Jordan Mason gained 37 yards on 16 carries.

Georgia’s two biggest gains of the day, a 47-yard completion from quarterback Jake Fromm to tight end Eli Wolf and a 41-yard touchdown pass from Fromm to wide receiver George Pickens, both in the Bulldogs’ 21-point third quarter that turned the game into a rout, were enabled by an ineffective blitz and missed tackle on the first and a blown coverage on the second when the Jackets bit on a play fake.

After the game, Collins spoke of the need to recruit and develop players better. He cited a statistic that the team he inherited from former coach Paul Johnson was, physically, the second smallest in power-conference football (albeit one that went to a bowl game last season). (Collins said he wasn’t complaining or making excuses. “It’s just facts,” he said.)

“Obviously, I’m very upset about the loss,” Collins said. “I’m extremely devastated of having to say good-bye to those seniors, but I’m extremely optimistic for the team that, come Jan. 5, when we have our first team meeting that is going to be in that room, with the right attitude, the right mindset and has had all these cumulative experiences together on how to play big-time ball and how to push us over the edge.”

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