On its first play of the game, Georgia Tech couldn’t get the snap off in time. The delay-of-game penalty proved a harbinger of events to come.
Physically outmanned by Virginia Tech, the Yellow Jackets were likewise outplayed and outcoached Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium. There was nothing deceptive about the outcome, a 45-0 loss for Georgia Tech, a result that deflated the good feeling generated by improved play despite continued losses.
“We’ve got to do a better job collectively making sure that we’ve got guys throughout the entire organization learning how to play at a high level, regardless of attrition or any of those things,” coach Geoff Collins said. “They’ve got to be ready when it’s their turn to step up and play and play at a high level and to play tough, physical football.”
In front of an announced 43,263 on a pleasant late afternoon, the Jackets suffered the most decisive loss of Collins’ first season and saw two remarkable shutout streaks come to an end.
After losing 38-0 to Florida State in 1997, Tech (2-8 overall, 1-6 ACC) had played 283 consecutive games without being shut out, the seventh longest such streak in FBS. Even more notably, Tech had played 382 consecutive games at Bobby Dodd Stadium without being shut out, a streak that dated back to 1957.
Also, Georgia Tech had not lost by that wide a margin since losing 49-3 to Florida State in 1996 in coach George O’Leary’s second season.
“We felt like we were trending in the right direction,” tight end Tyler Davis said. “I can speak offensively, after last game, putting up some points, playing pretty well on offense, we felt good coming into this game. Just didn’t execute.”
Virginia Tech (7-3, 4-2) hammered the Jackets throughout, manipulating the Jackets defense for big plays that enabled the Hokies to score touchdowns on their second, third and fourth possessions to take a 21-0 lead three minutes into the second quarter. Each drive measured at least 69 yards.
Virginia Tech accumulated 461 yards of offense on a mere 61 plays for a staggering 7.6 yards-per-play average, close to the 8.0 put up by Clemson in Georgia Tech’s season-opening loss.
“Defensively, it’s embarrassing,” linebacker David Curry said. “I’m very embarrassed personally. We’ve played really, really good defense throughout the year in my opinion and we’ve just been getting better and better and I think we got out-physicaled, we got outmanned, and it’s on the players.”
Collins and Curry said that Tech players made mistakes in not keeping their eyes on their keys, instead following the ball, players in motion or fakes.
“We’ll continue to get better and get cumulative reps at what we’re doing, especially with all of the eye candy and the motions and the shifts,” Collins said. “But it still comes down to executing at a high level, doing your assignment, doing your job.”
Georgia Tech’s defense was paper thin. Walk-on Djimon Brooks started on the defensive line, as did redshirt freshman Curtis Ryans in the fifth game of his career, as sophomore defensive end Kelton Dawson joined a growing list of defensive linemen to miss action. Defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker rolled at least eight linemen who are freshmen or walk-ons. There were 13 players who had appeared at least once on Collins’ “Above the Line” chart who were unavailable Saturday.
“I thought it was the first game that the level of attrition caught up to us,” Collins said. “I was proud of the way the guys fought. There were a bunch of guys who were playing roles that they had not had to play and they came out there and battled. But when you get yourself in a hole that much that early, you can’t overcome it.”
The defense’s ineffective play was more than a matter of getting overpowered by older, more developed opponents, although it certainly didn’t help, and the lack of experience of the younger Jackets likely contributed to the lapses. The Hokies got the Jackets out of position with screens and misdirection plays, enabling them to hit five plays of 20 yards or more.
On their fifth touchdown of the game, five minutes into the third quarter, tight end James Mitchell had no Jackets player within perhaps five yards of him when he caught a seven-yard play-action pass from quarterback Hendon Hooker.
Collins said that a defensive end was supposed to drop back and be in that space in the end zone, but rushed the passer instead.
“We’ve got to make sure we’re doing a better job of communicating that regardless of who might be in certain spots,” Collins said.
The Hokies defense was relentless, stacking the line of scrimmage to create pressure on quarterback James Graham and scramble the Jackets’ run game. The Hokies did not permit a first down on the Jackets’ four possessions.
If the game’s outcome was in doubt at 21-0 midway through the second quarter, it was not soon after. On the Jackets’ sixth possession, after inducing a Hokies punt that was downed on the Georgia Tech 3-yard line, quarterback James Graham rushed a throw out of the end zone against unchecked pass-rush pressure.
The pass was intercepted by cornerback Caleb Farley and returned 17 yards for a touchdown and a 28-0 advantage for the Hokies with 5:52 remaining in the half. It was part of a rough game for the redshirt freshman Graham, who had played the best game of his young career against Virginia last week, but was 7-for-14 for 43 yards with two interceptions.
It was likely sweet revenge for the Hokies, who appear to be hitting their stride, with five wins in their past six games. Georgia Tech had come into the game with three consecutive wins in the series, including a 49-28 bludgeoning at Lane Stadium last season.
“I don’t know that we went in trying to do anything different than what we try to do all the time, but we certainly were efficient there early on,” Hokies coach Justine Fuentes said.
On offense, Georgia Tech was similarly outperformed. A week after putting up 28 points and 372 yards against a stout Virginia defense, the Jackets finished the game with 134 yards, the second fewest gained by the Jackets since the start of the 2000 season, according to sports-reference.com.
The performance was sprinkled with dropped passes, missed blocks and a botched shotgun snap that killed their first drive that gained a first down. The Jackets were only able to gain eight first downs as punter Pressley Harvin was called on to punt a season-high nine times.
“It’s just lapses in focus and not paying attention to details,” offensive tackle Jared Southers said. “That’s what it boils down to.”
Asked if the delay-of-game penalty was indicative of a lack of focus, Collins responded, “I would assume so. But those things are inexcusable and that’s on me. I’ll take that and we will get those things corrected.”
With the game well out of hands, Collins sent in freshman quarterback Jordan Yates into the game in the third quarter for his first significant action. Yates looked poised and comfortable and was 4-for-11 passing for 38 yards.
Tech will have to regroup quickly to play a Thursday night home game against N.C. State.
“We’re going to be here early in the morning, we’re going to go over the film, then after you watch the film and you get the corrections, you move on,” Curry said. “It’s a rule. It’s done and you move on.”
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