Mistakes on offensive line
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson railed at his offensive line for “stupidity” in changing blocking assignments incorrectly at the line of scrimmage. Offensive linemen often have the freedom to change blocking assignments based on what they see at the line, and in this case Johnson said the changes proved counterproductive.
Johnson said that when Tech lined up in its “heavy” formation – when one of the offensive tackles flops to the other side of the line, placing three offensive linemen on one side of the center – one of the linemen made a call that caused a miscommunication for the wide receiver who lines up in the offensive tackle spot vacated by the switched offensive tackle.
What Johnson said happened was that the wide receiver blocked the defensive end, leaving the linebacker lined up right behind the end free to charge through the gap between the wide receiver and guard. In this case, it was Duke linebacker Chris Rumph, who made multiple tackles coming free from the backside of the play.
“We practiced exactly what they did all week,” Johnson said, pounding the table in an emphasis, clearly frustrated. “And then we’ve got a guy up there who thinks he knows more about it, so he’s going to make a line call and the receivers don’t know and you tell them, they’re going to turn out (to block the end). So when they were turning and they were leaving a gap for the guy to run through, and he runs through from behind with nobody blocking them.”
Center Kenny Cooper acknowledged that a problem was Duke’s “easy” stunts, terminology for a particular maneuver involving a defensive end and a linebacker lined up behind him. In it, the end goes outside the offensive tackle (in this case, the wide receiver lined up at tackle) and the linebacker penetrates the “B” gap, the gap between the tackle and guard.
Johnson was asked how the faulty calls happen.
“I don’t know how it happens,” he said. “Poor coaching on my part I guess is how it happens.”
Scuffle in first half results in ejection
A first half that featured a number of post-whistle faceoffs between Tech and Duke players resulted in the disqualification of Tech linebacker Victor Alexander in the final minute of the second quarter.
The senior was thrown out of the game for a flagrant foul at the end of a kickoff return by Duke. In a scrum at the end of the play, Alexander flung Duke players Brandon Feamster and Jacob Morgenstern to the ground, then appeared to jab Feamster while he was on the ground on his back.
Alexander was led away from the pile by linebacker Christian Campbell, only to have Feamster charge at Alexander, who had previously shoved another Duke player at the end of a Tech punt return after he stood over returner Brad Stewart. Alexander appeared to swing an elbow or hand at Feamster as the two continued to tangle and several penalty flags flew in the air.
“We just want to have our brother’s back at all times,” said cornerback Tre Swilling, who was on the outside of the scrum. “You never really want a fight to go on or a scuffle or anything to on on the field. We just wanted to keep it between the lines and play it clean.”
Officials also penalized Morgenstern, apparently in a case of mistaken identity with Feamster, for unsportsmanlike conduct, but did not throw him out of the game.
“I don’t know,” Johnson said. “I thought it was a football game. I talked to the officials at halftime. You’ve got to call the thing tight. If you let all the jawing go and you let the pushing go and those things, that’s kind of what happens. I don’t think it was an issue in the second half.”
Duke coach David Cutcliffe agreed that the situation cooled in the second half, but expressed his disappointment with his team’s behavior.
“I can’t see on my sideline when something’s away,” he said. “I saw what led to the start of the worst one. I don’t ever want to see players come off the sideline. I addressed it at halftime. Talking has never won a football game. It’s not who we are or what we do.”
Defense recovers after rocky start
The Tech defense was scorched on the opening drive by Duke, but found its footing after that. The Blue Devils took the opening kickoff and drove 52 yards in four plays, gaining three consecutive first downs before reaching the end zone on the fourth play for a quick 7-0 lead.
After that, however, Duke was stopped on its next seven possessions, including twice by turnover. Going into the game, Duke had had just three turnovers in its first five games. Defensive end Anree Saint-Amour said that the poor play on the first drive was a matter of not being adjusted to Duke’s up-tempo offense.
“I feel like that second possession, we got comfortable, realized what we needed to do, realized we can dominate ’em on defense and that’s what we did,” he said.
On those seven scoreless series, Duke ran 39 plays and gained 121 yards, 3.1 yards per play. (Duke gained 183 yards on the other 21 plays, 8.7 yards per play.) The Jackets sacked quarterback Daniel Jones four times and appeared to have him rattled.
Tech’s control over Duke ended after the Blue Devils regained possession on their 43-yard line in the third quarter following B-back Jerry Howard’s fumble.
This time, Duke drove 57 yards in only four plays, converting a third-and-12 with a 48-yard pass from Jones to wide receiver T.J. Rahming.
“We played well after the first series,” Johnson said. “We’d done some good things defensively, and then when the turnovers started, it was like we went crazy there, too.”
Duke scored touchdowns on its next two possessions, as well, after gaining the ball on Tech fumbles. The Blue Devils drove 34 yards in five plays and six yards in one play for those scores. It wasn’t a great example of responding to what is known as sudden change.
“It’s kind of bleeding, but as a defense, you always try to go back and just be ready to stop ’em,” Saint-Amour said. “No matter where they fumble or where they get the ball as a defense, it’s our job to stop ’em from getting into the end zone.”
Tech’s three takeaways gave the team 16 for the season, six more than the Jackets had all last season and three shy of their 2016 total.
A decisive passage of the game took place in the third quarter. Tech took the ball on its 9-yard line with 5;44 remaining in the third quarter after a Duke punt. The scored was tied 7-7.
The Jackets overcame a false start on right guard Connor Hansen to reach their 49, with quarterback TaQuon Marshall completing a 21-yard pass on third-and-8 to wide receiver Brad Stewart to keep the drive going.
“I thought that was going to turn the game around for us,” Cooper said.
On a second-and-4, Howard ran hard up the middle but lost control of the ball as he was getting tackled to the ground. The play was first ruled down by contact, but a video review awarded the ball to Duke. It was Howard’s second fumble of the season.
“I’m not sure what happened, but I know that’s unacceptable, and we’re going to fix it as a team,” Howard said. “Not just mine, everybody else’s, too.”
On the ensuing possession, Tech managed to get Duke in third-and-12, and defensive coordinator Nate Woody called for Lamont Simmons to charge Jones on a cornerback blitz.
“I was close, but he made a great throw before I could get there,” Simmons said.
Lined up in the slot, Rahming put a double move on safety Kaleb Oliver, causing Oliver to fall to the ground as Rahming was wide open for a 48-yard touchdown reception.
The score was now 14-7, and things quickly got worse from there for Tech.
Freshman quarterback James Graham got into the game for one play in the fourth quarter, the first snap of his career. Graham was pressed into play after starter TaQuon Marshall left the game mid-drive with an injury and was replaced by backup Tobias Oliver.
However, Oliver lost his helmet on a play, which by rule requires him to leave the game for one play. With Marshall already out, coach Paul Johnson sent in Graham, who ran a keeper for four yards before coming out.
Tech’s plan is to redshirt Graham, which he can do as long as he plays four or fewer games, as permitted by a new NCAA rule.
The participation chart also indicates that freshman defensive lineman Luke Johns played for the first time in his career. Fellow freshman defensive lineman T.K. Chimedza also got in the game for the first time since the season opener.
It was a day of firsts for cornerbacks Tre Swilling and Lamont Simmons and wide receiver Malachi Carter. Swilling got his first career sack and forced fumble, stripping Jones on a cornerback blitz in the first quarter.
Simmons got his first career interception in the second quarter when Saint-Amour pressured Jones into a bad throw that Simmons tipped and then caught as he fell to the ground. That led to Carter’s first touchdown on the ensuing possession, a 32-yarder from Marshall as he fought off cornerback Josh Blackwell in the north end zone.
Swilling: “I’ve been talking about making a play like that since I was born. Seeing all the videos from my dad (Tech great Pat Swilling), pass rushing I guess is in my blood a little bit. So I was itching to get my first one, strip fumble, and just being able to go out there and make a play for the team, and at that point it was critical.”
Simmons: “First pick, about time. It was a great feeling getting to celebrate with the defense and, of course, getting that turnover and then leading to a touchdown by the offense, it was great.”
Carter: “The touchdown I made, it was really a dream come true. I’ve always wanted to play on a stage as big as this and at this level in the ACC, arguably one of the best in the NCAAs, so it was really an amazing experience.”
Tech’s offensive efforts were thwarted in the first half by twice getting stopped on short-yardage plays on fourth down. Needing two yards, Howard ran straight into three Duke defenders and was stopped for a one-yard gain, giving the Blue Devils the ball at their 40-yard line.
On Tech’s next possession, the Jackets reached the Duke 19, and faced fourth-and-1. Marshall ran a sneak, apparently choosing the wrong gap, and was short of the marker early in the second quarter.
The Jackets were 6-for-11 on fourth down prior to Saturday.
“Normally, we’re pretty good at that,” Johnson said. “I look back and it was very poor execution and I probably could have helped them with a better call.”
Right tackle Bailey Ivemeyer and wide receiver Stephen Dolphus started in place of Andrew Marshall and Jalen Camp, respectively. Marshall was out with an upper-body injury, Camp with a lower-body injury. It was Ivemeyer’s second career start and Dolphus’ first.
Dolphus left the game with an upper-body injury and did not return. He was replaced by Malachi Carter. Will Bryan also took snaps at right tackle. Ivemeyer struggled, getting beaten on a blitz for a sack on Tech’s first offensive play of the game and later committing a false-start penalty.
Inside linebacker David Curry also left the game with an upper-body injury. One of the defense’s most productive players, Curry was replaced by freshman Quez Jackson and also Bruce Jordan-Swilling.
Quarterback TaQuon Marshall was also taken out of the game in the fourth quarter and did not return. Johnson said he believed that Marshall was O.K.
Duke on top
Tech has lost four of five to Duke. It’s the Jackets’ least successful stretch against the Blue Devils since losing four in a row 1980-83. Coincidentally, the coach who presided over that streak before starting a three-game winning streak against the Blue Devils, Bill Curry, was the team’s honorary captain.
Tech wore navy pants with white jerseys and gold helmets. It’s believed to be the first time in team history that the Jackets have worn that color pants. The Jackets’ recent performance when breaking out specialty uniforms continues to suffer. Against Clemson earlier this season, Tech lost in navy jerseys meant as a tribute to the 1990 national championship team.
The Jackets lost to Virginia Tech when they debuted throwback jerseys in 2013 in a game commemorating the 100th anniversary of Grant Field.
Tech also lost (also to Virginia Tech) in the season opener in 2012 when the “honeycomb” helmet and jersey were debuted.
Attendance for the Duke game has typically been low – 2008 was the last time it was above 45,000 – and Saturday was especially so. On an ideal afternoon, attendance was 41,709, the lowest for a homecoming game since 1994. That season, the last of Bill Lewis’ dismal three-year tenure, homecoming was in the second-to-last game of the season, after Lewis had already been fired.
With two home dates remaining (Virginia and Miami), Tech’s average attendance is 43,191. Since Bobby Dodd Stadium expanded capacity to 55,000 for the 2003 season, the lowest average for a season was in 2012, 43,955.
The team’s nine-game streak for losing coin tosses came to an end as Duke called and lost the toss. The Jackets elected to defer, taking the ball to start the second half.
More coverage from the game:
Steve Hummer: If Tech can’t beat Duke (in football), what’s left?
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