Jackets recount Tech’s hard times at Miami

Georgia Tech quarterback Matthew Jordan came in for the injured Justin Thomas in the Yellow Jackets’ rain-soaked 38-21 loss to Miami in 2015. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Credit: Lynne Sladky

Credit: Lynne Sladky

Georgia Tech quarterback Matthew Jordan came in for the injured Justin Thomas in the Yellow Jackets’ rain-soaked 38-21 loss to Miami in 2015. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Sedric Griffin was there when Georgia Tech beat Miami on the road. It was a 17-14 win in 2007, the Hurricanes’ final season in the Orange Bowl.

“I guess it had sentimental value, but that place was a dump,” Griffin said this week.

The Hurricanes moved into what was then called Dolphin Stadium and is now known as Hard Rock Stadium for the 2008 season. In Tech’s four trips there with coach Paul Johnson – not counting the glorious Orange Bowl championship on New Year’s Eve 2014 – the Yellow Jackets have known only defeat. Each loss has been soured by a distinct flavor, and the past two in particular have left the Jackets with the feeling that the outcome could have been different.

“They’ve beat us – bottom line,” Johnson said. “We just haven’t won down there.”

Jackets from the past and present reviewed Tech’s past four games in Miami Gardens, Fla., and their many quirks.

2009: No. 22 Miami 33, No. 14 Georgia Tech 17

The Hurricanes ended their own four-game losing streak to the Jackets with a superior offensive performance. Quarterback Jacory Harris was 20-for-25 passing for 270 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, a theme in Miami wins to come.

Johnson has often remarked that his team, playing its third game in 13 days (a Saturday/Thursday/Thursday stretch against Jacksonville State, Clemson and Miami), looked like it was playing in sand. Griffin’s most enduring memory is that the field at what was then known as Land Shark Stadium was still set up for the Marlins, and the infield dirt was brutal.

“I literally still have scars on my legs from that game,” said Griffin, working for QuikTrip, married with two girls and living in Loganville. “It literally was like playing on concrete.”

Another memory – in the scouting report, coaches warned about a new tight end who had come over from the basketball team and could be an X-factor.

Said Griffin, “Come to find out, I’m matched up with Jimmy Graham,” who was playing his second game of college football on that humid night and went on to become a four-time Pro Bowler.

The game did serve a purpose. Griffin called it a humbling loss that helped propel the Jackets to an eight-game win streak and the ACC championship, a title won on the field but later vacated by the league.

Former Georgia Tech linebacker Sedric Griffin said that playing on the infield dirt of what was then known as Land Shark Stadium was “like playing on asphat.” (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

Credit: Doug Benc

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Credit: Doug Benc

2011: Miami 24, No. 20 Georgia Tech 7

The Jackets entered the game at 6-1 with an offense that had been prolific, featuring A-back Orwin Smith, wide receiver Stephen Hill and quarterback Tevin Washington. That stopped in a hurry at what would be known through January 2016 as Sun Life Stadium. Washington threw an interception on Tech’s first play from scrimmage, and the Jackets were limited to 95 rushing yards, still tied for the third lowest total in the Johnson era.

“Just offensively, we could not get out of own way, and we didn’t get much push up front,” said David Sims, Tech’s starting B-back and now the running backs coach at Furman.

As Sims recalled it, the Hurricanes tried to take away the B-back dive on triple-option plays and “slow played” Washington, meaning a linebacker shuffled along with him to try to delay a pitch to the A-back and give another linebacker time to tackle Washington. After back-to-back 100-yard rushing games, Washington ran 20 times for 36 yards. Miami linebackers Denzel Perryman and Sean Spence, later to be second- and third-round picks, respectively, combined for 14.5 tackles – four for loss – and a forced fumble.

“At that time, they still had some really good athletes,” Sims said. “They played us probably as close to as well as you could play us.”

The day did have at least one bright spot. Defensive end Euclid Cummings had four tackles, then a career high. Of his road trips to South Florida, that game stuck out “because that was the first game in my career where I actually did something,” said Cummings, now in his fourth season in the CFL, with the Edmonton Eskimos.”

Jemea Thomas was stopped short of a first down on a fake punt early in Georgia Tech's loss to 24-7 loss to Miami in 2011 at Sun Life Stadium. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Credit: Scott Cunningham

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Credit: Scott Cunningham

2013: No. 14 Miami 45, Georgia Tech 30

Tech was up 17-7 in the second quarter and driving for a potential three-possession lead when quarterback Vad Lee lost a fumble. Miami took control of the game, scoring the next 17 points. The Hurricanes set an ACC record for a conference game by averaging 10.4 yards per play. Quarterback Stephen Morris averaged 14.7 yards per pass attempt and running back Duke Johnson ran for 184 yards.

“He would go behind his athletic O-line and try to hit the hole,” Cummings said. “He was definitely someone tough. It’s a new year. Hopefully our guys will stop them.”

After Sims scored to cut the lead to 24-23 with 10:38 left in the game, kicker Harrison Butker missed the extra point. One of just two extra points he missed in his entire career, it would prove a momentum shifter. Miami scored the next 21 points, the last seven on an interception returned for a touchdown.

Then a freshman, Butker said he was thrown off by playing in an NFL stadium for the first time. The snap from Trevor Stroebel, making his first career start, was low, and Butker kicked the laces. Butker accepts responsibility, but said he likes to give Stroebel a hard time about it.

“He just gets mad,” said Butker, now a rookie with the Kansas City Chiefs. “’That wasn’t my fault. You’ve got to make that. That wasn’t bad.’ I just love messing with him about it.”

Bonus memory, courtesy of Sims: At the team hotel, defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu fell asleep on the patio with his eyes open.

“He was legit sleeping with his eyes open, and it was, like, the weirdest thing,” Sims said.

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - OCTOBER 5: Brandon Watts #11 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets is unable to defend Dallas Crawford #25 of the Miami Hurricanes as he runs 17 yards for a fourth quarter touchdown on October 5, 2013 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. The Hurricanes defeated the Yellow Jackets 45-30. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

Credit: Joel Auerbach

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Credit: Joel Auerbach

2015: Miami 38, Georgia Tech 21

This one had a little bit of everything. Quarterback Justin Thomas left the game after getting knocked to the ground on what Johnson later called a “cheap shot.” Torrential rain in the second half. A 30-minute lightning delay. The Jackets fumbling a school-record nine times. A 57-yard field goal for Miami. With his team playing out the season after the midseason firing of coach Al Golden, quarterback Brad Kaaya threw for 300 yards on 16-for-25 passing.

With Matthew Jordan subbing for Thomas, Tech actually ran the ball well – 314 yards, averaging 5.5 yards per carry, but were done in by four turnovers, including a fumble returned for a touchdown.

But the rain was the lasting memory in the second-to-last game of Tech’s forgettable 2015 season.

“I just know that every step I took was just puddles of water,” wide receiver Ricky Jeune said. “It was terrible, to be honest with you.”

“That game was terrible,” safety Corey Griffin said. “I’ve never walked where my cleats were soaked. But that’s in the past, and we’re just going to try to get after these guys.”

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - NOVEMBER 21: Jamal Carter #6 of the Miami Hurricanes breaks up the pass intended for Ricky Jeune #2 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on November 21, 2015 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.(Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

Credit: Joel Auerbach

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Credit: Joel Auerbach

That’s only been the half of it for Tech with Miami. The Jackets lost in 2012 at Bobby Dodd Stadium after falling behind 19-0, going up 36-19 and then losing in overtime. Miami scored on a safety when Orwin Smith kneeled in the end zone on a kickoff after briefly crossing the goal-line plane. Last year, quarterback Justin Thomas fumbled twice in a span of three plays and both were returned for touchdowns in a 35-21 loss.

“That’s the crazy thing,” Griffin said. “These games have been so even. If you look at the scores, you’re like, Oh, man, Miami really dominated Georgia Tech. If you look at it, that hasn’t been the case.”

On Saturday, Tech fans – and former players – will be hoping for the streak to end.

Said Griffin, “I’m definitely expecting a big win from our guys this week.”