After giving up a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter a week ago, Georgia Tech players pledged to do a better job playing to the finish in its ACC opener against Pittsburgh.
On Saturday, the Yellow Jackets encountered a different problem – the start. Getting swallowed up on the line on offense and missing tackles on defense, Tech was throttled early en route to a 24-19 loss at Heinz Field.
By giving up the first 21 points of the game, Tech lowered itself into a hole that it was unable to escape.
“Just frustrated and disappointed,” coach Paul Johnson said. “We came out to start the game on offense, and we looked like we’d never played before. I don’t know what else to say. Frustrated. We’ve got to do a better job coaching and a better job playing.”
Down 21-0 at halftime, the Jackets outgained Pitt in yardage 231-120 in the second half and outscored the Panthers 19-3, but Pitt had all the advantage it needed. With the Jackets continuing to stop and start on offense, they ran out of possessions to challenge for the lead. Their final opportunity squirted away when Tech was unable to secure kicker Shawn Davis’ onside-kick try with 37 seconds remaining after A-back Clinton Lynch completed a 99-yard drive with a 3-yard run for a touchdown.
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Tech (1-2, 0-1 ACC) lost its sixth consecutive road game and its seventh game away from home overall.
On offense, Tech began the game without starting B-back KirVonte Benson (out for the rest of the season with a knee injury) and right guard Will Bryan (lower-body injury). Right tackle Andrew Marshall also left the game with a lower-body injury.
To whatever degree those were factors, the Jackets flailed on offense. In their first three possessions, they gained a total of nine yards as Pitt made its early getaway.
“The energy was there (at the start of the game),” left guard Parker Braun said. “Just, the offense wasn’t working. I don’t know what to tell you. It’s frustrating.”
Over the course of the game, quarterback TaQuon Marshall had a difficult time throwing accurately, throwing high to wide receiver Jalen Camp on a fourth-and-5 in the second quarter, missing wide receiver Brad Stewart on a post pattern later in the quarter and then misreading Camp on a third-down pass in the fourth quarter when he had stopped at the first-down marker and Marshall threw deep, resulting in an interception. At that point, Tech was down 24-12 with about 9:30 to play, its hopes still flickering.
“I think that kind of blew the game right there, just knowing that we would have scored – more than likely we would have scored – and then came down again and scored again, which would have put us up, but we weren’t on the same page,” Marshall said.
On defense, Tech linemen and linebackers got out of place – a problem last week against South Florida – and tackled poorly. For the Panthers’ first score, Pitt running back Qadree Ollison rocketed through a broad gap in the line and then shook off three tackle attempts en route to a 31-yard touchdown run and a 7-0 lead on Pitt’s second drive of the game.
Tech handcuffed itself on the next possession, trying a fake punt on a fourth-and-7 from its own 28-yard line. Defensive end Antwan Owens took a direct snap and was stopped short, giving the Panthers the ball at the Tech 26-yard line, enough of a head start to get into the end zone in three plays for a 14-0 lead. Johnson said he was advised by an assistant that the fake would work.
“But that was a bad call,” Johnson said. “That’s on me.”
Tech now will press forward into its matchup with No. 2 Clemson on Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium with no momentum and problems in need of fixes.
“Right now, for us, it has to be almost perfect,” Johnson said. “It just has to be almost perfect.”
On a sunny Saturday afternoon on the banks of the Allegheny River, it was not anywhere close.