Georgia Tech’s win over Pittsburgh a statistical improbability

Georgia Tech’s 35-17 defeat of Pittsburgh on Saturday was, in at least one way, extraordinary. The Yellow Jackets won despite committing four turnovers and allowing a punt return for a touchdown. That normally doesn’t happen.

From 2007 to 2016, there were 73 FBS teams that played games in which they had four or more turnovers and allowed at least one punt return for a score, according to

Their record in those games: 6-67, or a winning percentage of .082. It is obviously a credit to Tech’s defensive play against Pitt and perhaps a referendum on the quality of the Panthers’ offense that the Yellow Jackets were able to overcome the obstacles.

“I thought that our defense played really, really well (Saturday), especially in sudden-change situations,” coach Paul Johnson said.

The Jackets didn’t allow points off any of the four turnovers (Pitt missed a field-goal try after one of them) and, in fact, didn’t allow a first down on any of the four possessions.

Of the six teams to win with four turnovers and an opposition punt return for touchdown, none gave up fewer than 17 points and only won by more than one possession – Duke, which beat N.C. State 38-20 in 2013. The Blue Devils went on to play for the ACC championship.

“The defense played great,” quarterback TaQuon Marshall said. “If it weren’t for the defense, I don’t think we would have won the game, honestly.”

In Tech’s recent history, it was the rare victory in which the defense repeatedly bailed out the offense for mistakes, when it has often been the opposite, although it should be noted the offense still ran for 436 yards.

“It feels great,” defensive end Anree Saint-Amour said. “We’re a team, so when one fall, we all fall. We all swarm together. If they’re messing up, they depend on us to do great. If we’re messing up, we depend on them.”