With four consecutive three-and-out drives to open the game, the Hokies took a 21-0 lead.
“You can’t play behind the chains, you can’t shoot yourselves in the foot and give yourself a chance to win,” tight end Tyler Davis said.
The Jackets managed only 134 yards on 56 plays, 2.4 yards per play, Tech’s lowest average since a 2016 loss to Clemson. Of the 134 yards, 55 were gained in the fourth quarter, when they also picked up five of their eight first downs.
2. Defensive line thin
Georgia Tech’s lack of bodies on the defensive line wasn’t the only reason that Virginia Tech averaged more yards per play (7.6) than it had against an ACC opponent since 2012, according to sports-reference.com. But the number of missing Jackets was impactful.
Sidelined with injuries on Saturday were defensive ends Kelton Dawson (seven starts), Antwan Owens (seven starts), Chico Bennett (seven games) and defensive tackles Chris Martin (six starts) and Jahaziel Lee, who suffered a season-ending injury in the third game of the season but had been counted on to contribute to the rotation at defensive tackle. Owens, Bennett and Lee are out for the season.
» PHOTOS: Jackets suffer crushing loss at home
The defensive linemen who played Saturday were freshmen (redshirt or otherwise) or walk-ons with the exception of senior defensive tackle Brentavious Glanton and junior defensive end Jaquan Henderson, which helps explain why the Jackets were often overpowered on run plays and mostly prevented from pressuring the quarterback.
“I thought it was the first game that the level of attrition caught up to us,” coach Geoff Collins said.
That said, a week ago, Georgia Tech had almost the same group as Saturday (Dawson played), and Virginia gained a pedestrian 5.7 yards-per-play.
3. Defense falls for misdirection
The vulnerability of the defensive line doesn’t explain everything. Just as a strong defensive performance requires the entire unit, a defensive collapse can’t be the fault of only one position group.
On three first-half screen plays, Hokies ballcarriers didn’t encounter their first contact until they were 14, 31 and 24 yards downfield. It was a product not only of defensive linemen not sensing screen passes quickly enough, but also linebackers and defensive backs getting baited by play fakes and misdirection to lose sight of their keys.
Such plays helped Virginia Tech kick its offense into high gear after going three-and-out on its opening drive, which included a failed screen pass.
Touchdown drives on the second and third possessions relied on big plays — a 49-yard run off a reverse and a 14-yard run by backup quarterback Quincy Patterson on a third-and-8 — that used misdirection to cause the Jackets to lose their assignments.
“I was very, very disappointed, myself included, with our eyes (Saturday),” linebacker David Curry said. “We didn’t get out-efforted, none of that. It was just eyes, and that’s on us.”
4. Playing time for Yates
Freshman quarterback Jordan Yates received his first significant playing time, entering the game in the third series of the second half with Georgia Tech trailing 38-0. Two weeks ago, offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude had expressed his hope that he would be able to find time for him in games.
Yates played two full series and most of a third. He showed command of the offense, accuracy, elusiveness and speed. He was 4-for-11 for 38 yards but had two passes that were catchable but dropped.
He converted a third-and-12 with a 17-yard completion to wide receiver Malachi Carter with pressure in his face and picked up a fourth-and-4 with a scramble.
“I think when he got the opportunity to go in, his eyes lit up,” Davis said. “He had a big smile on his face. We were all excited on offense to see him. Obviously, a very talented player. I think you guys saw that out there. He can make a a lot of people miss, he can make all the throws.”
5. Short turnaround upcoming
After a demoralizing and physically taxing loss, the Jackets will play Thursday night at home against N.C. State, which lost 34-20 to Louisville at home on Saturday to fall to 4-6.
Georgia Tech will have to quickly recuperate physically and prepare for its first ESPN game of the season.
“The days are kind of just fast forward,” Davis said. “(Sunday) is like a Monday or a Tuesday instead of a Sunday, so you just move forward, get ready to play N.C. State and just move on from this one quick.”
The onus will be on coaches and team leaders to help players reach a physical, mental and emotional peak by Thursday.
“As the leader of my (linebacker) room, personally, it’s on me to show them that we have a short week, so you’ve got to speed up your process,” Curry said.