Georgia Tech players leave after they lost to the Clemson at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday, September 22, 2018. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Slumping Georgia Tech trying to solve problems

It was not a surprise that Georgia Tech lost to No. 3 Clemson on Saturday, a 49-21 defeat that rated the team’s most lopsided home ACC loss since 2003. But the Yellow Jackets’ third consecutive loss, and particularly the manner in which it was obtained, raised more questions about Tech’s ability to rally over the final eight games.

The Jackets continued to have difficulty holding onto the ball, as evidenced by eight fumbles. There were mental errors on both sides of the ball. And Tech likely is lacking in confidence after emerging from the preseason with hopes to win the ACC Coastal and play for the conference championship.

Quarterback TaQuon Marshall said that, in the team’s upcoming game against Bowling Green next Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium, any kind of win will do.

“But right now, we’re kind of in a slump,” he said. “We’ve got to come back next week just ready to work.”

Can Tech pull itself out of this skid? The team’s recent history provides more data points about three-game losing streaks than fans might prefer. Tech has lost at least three consecutive games in four of the past six seasons – 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016. But it does suggest that all is not lost.

The Jackets managed to go to a bowl game in every season but 2015, when the losing streak extended to five games and the team finished 3-9.

The schedule does offer a little bit of a break. Bowling Green is 1-3 and, by the measure of the Sagarin ratings, is the sixth weakest team in FBS. The following Friday, the Jackets will go to Louisville, which is 2-2 and lost 27-3 at Virginia on Saturday. While the Jackets have now lost seven consecutive games away from Bobby Dodd, they would seem entirely capable of beating the Cardinals, although the road losing streak seems to be occupying space in players’ psyches.

“Once we win on the road, I feel like things’ll be a little different,” Marshall said.

Two wins would return Tech to .500 at 3-3 and give the Jackets some momentum into an Oct. 13 matchup with Duke, which is 4-0 and Sunday moved into the AP top 25 for the first time since 2015.

That said, Tech has to fix its problems. Even Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables was willing to acknowledge Tech’s difficulties snapping and holding onto the ball. After the Tigers’ win, Venables said that Clemson had a hand in the Jackets’ issues, like lining up two-time first-team All-American Christian Wilkins directly over center, a maneuver that adds stress on the center.

But, Venables said, “I’m sure if you look back at the tape, they shot themselves in the foot a few times, too.”

Johnson said after the game that he’ll take a more active role in coaching the quarterbacks to improve fundamentals.

“We’re not doing a very good job of coaching (fundamentals),” Johnson said. “Just call it what it is. We’re not.”

Defensively, Tech had trouble getting lined up before the snap. Defensive end Desmond Branch spoke of communication issues in getting and executing calls. Tech had to burn a timeout in the first half after lining up for one play with 10 men.

Branch said that players had to look within themselves, “just saying no and not accepting fumbles, not accepting failure. That’s really what it is.”

Tech players spoke similar words of resolve after the losses to South Florida and Pitt. Time will tell if coaching, executing and the schedule will enable the Jackets to make good on them.

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