The memories from Georgia Tech’s loss to Miami last year are still quite fresh for the Yellow Jackets.
“You go home after a loss like that and you remember it the whole year,” linebacker Brant Mitchell said. “We’re definitely ready to get back out there. Got to beat these guys. This is going to get us bowl eligible and so we’ve got a lot of motivation going into this game.”
For those whose memories aren’t quite as keen as Mitchell’s, Tech led 24-13 with as few as four minutes to play in the third quarter but lost 25-24. The killer was Miami’s conversion of a fourth-and-10 with under a minute to play with a 28-yard pass in which Jackets defensive backs Lamont Simmons and A.J. Gray both had a shot at the ball, which bounced off the facemask of receiver Darrell Langham before he caught it as he fell to the ground. Miami kicked the game-winning field goal from 24 yards out with four seconds left.
“We’ve been waiting on this one,” quarterback Tobias Oliver said. “We’ve had it marked on our calendars. We’re definitely looking forward to it.”
What compounded the defeat for the Jackets was its emotional toll. With a road win over the then-No. 11 Hurricanes, the Jackets would have improved their record to 4-1 and possibly jumped into the top 25 for the first time since the start of the 2015 season.
Instead, Tech took its second loss in its first five games in which it led by two scores in the second half only to lose in gut-punch fashion. (The season-opening loss to the Volunteers was in double overtime, in case you might have forgotten.)
“From there, I think it was kind of a turning point of our season last year,” quarterback TaQuon Marshall said.
Tech was 2-4 after that, including two more losses in which it gave up double-digit leads.
Beyond last season’s rain-soaked defeat at Hard Rock Stadium, the Jackets have more than a few scores to settle with Miami in coach Paul Johnson’s tenure. At his weekly news conference Tuesday, Johnson went into considerable detail of the team’s 42-36 overtime loss to the Hurricanes in 2012, a game they trailed 12-0, then led 36-22 before losing.
“I can remember it like it was yesterday,” Johnson said, “because we were up seven, we had the ball at midfield. It was fourth-and-1 with about a minute and 30 seconds to go or a minute-forty. There wasn’t much time. (Johnson’s memory is pretty good. It was a fourth-and-1 at the Miami 48 with 2:06 left in regulation.) I got talked out of (going for it), which was probably right. (After punting), four play later (actually eight plays), they score, we’re in overtime. Then we get into overtime, we get down on the goal line and we’ve got fourth and six inches (accurate), and we check a play and run a different play and lose the game. Games like that are the ones that are hard to let go because I keep thinking I should have went for it on fourth-and-1 because if I make the first down, the game’s over.”
Tech fans can relive the agony, starting at the 28:16 mark.
In 2013, the Jackets led 17-7 early before falling 45-30. In 2015, they led 7-0 but lost on a day when Justin Thomas was knocked out of the game, lightning halted the game and the Jackets fumbled nine times. In 2016, Tech was down 14-7 when two fumbles in a span of three plays from scrimmage were returned for touchdowns.
“It’s been a tough game for us,” Johnson said. “We’ve had a hard time beating them.”
In his 10 seasons, Johnson is 2-8 against the Hurricanes, his poorest record against any of the eight teams that the Jackets play annually. A win Saturday night – to gain bowl eligibility, to stay alive in the ACC Coastal Division race (pending the outcome of the Pitt-Virginia Tech game earlier in the day; the Jackets need Virginia Tech to win) and to hand out some payback, with Jackets tormentor Mark Richt on the other sideline, no less – would be a most welcome outcome for the Jackets, especially so for a coach who delights in settling scores.