Georgia Tech head coach Geoff Collins goes through the emotions of a loss to cross-state rival Georgia and progress of the Jackets in his first season. (Video courtesy of Georgia Tech Athletics)

What went right, wrong for Georgia Tech in season finale

In the final game of coach Geoff Collins’ first season at Georgia Tech, the Yellow Jackets lost 52-7 to No. 4 Georgia, matching the number of points allowed in their season-opening loss at defending national champion Clemson.

It was an anticipated lopsided defeat, one side aiming for the College Football Playoff and the other a team highly dependent on freshmen and beaten up by injuries.

» MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM: An awful loss to final opponent

Five takeaways from the Yellow Jackets’ final game of the season.

1. Overpowered by Georgia

Georgia’s physical superiority was clear. Its players won at the point of attack on the line of scrimmage and on the perimeter and were faster in both chasing Tech players down on defense or running away from them on offense.

Two consecutive plays in the first quarter on the Bulldogs’ first touchdown drive helped illustrate it. On the first, running back D’Andre Swift took a handoff and ran past four Tech defenders who couldn’t get off their blocks, one of them ending up on his back, as Swift zig-zagged downfield and didn’t encounter contact until he was 10 yards downfield for a 13-yard gain.

On the next play, a toss to running back Brian Herrien, five more Tech players on the play side were decisively controlled, one of them getting blocked to the ground, as Herrien didn’t get touched until he was eight yards past the line of scrimmage for a 12-yard gain.

It didn’t happen on each play, but UGA had 10 run plays of 10 yards or more while holding Tech to two. It was the unsurprising result of Georgia’s dominant offensive line squaring off against a Tech defensive line that started three freshmen and Tech’s offense trying to get push on a defense that, in its first 11 games, had given up run plays of 10 yards or more just 20 times.

Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins goes over what went wrong against Georgia in 52-7 loss in Atlanta. (Video courtesy of Georgia Tech Athletics)

2. Passing up fourth-and-2

Collins made an aggressive play call after Tech’s touchdown, a six-yard touchdown pass from quarterback James Graham to tight end Tyler Davis at the 10:58 mark of the second quarter, when he had kicker Brenton King try an onside kick. A big hit by Jaylon King popped the ball loose, and he then recovered to give the Jackets the ball and additional momentum.

“Right before we kicked it, coach Collins said, ‘Either find a way or make a way,’ ” Jaylon King said.

For as aggressive as the play call was — Collins likes to say that his team “attacks success” — he made a seemingly curious call later on in the quarter when he sent out the field-goal team with Tech facing a fourth-and-2 on the UGA 10-yard line with Tech trailing 17-7.

“I think the morale and everything to make it a one-score game I thought would be good,” said Collins, who saw the decision backfire when King missed from 27 yards.

Collins made a similar decision against Pitt. At the start of the second quarter, Tech was down 10-0 and had a fourth-and-2 on the Pitt 17. Collins chose to try a field goal, which King missed from 34 yards.

3. Rough day for offense

The progress that Tech’s offense has made this season — the Jackets hit their season high for yards (395) against N.C. State in the previous game — came to a tumultuous halt on Saturday, even considering Georgia’s defensive prowess.

» PHOTOS: Jackets fall again to Bulldogs home

Tech finished with 134 yards of offense, five more than it had gained in its 45-0 shutout loss to Virginia Tech two weeks ago. The yardage total tied for the fewest given up by Georgia to a power-conference opponent since 2002, according to The Jackets set a modern-era school record with 13 punts, more than a third of the number of Tech’s total from last season.

Quarterback James Graham was 5-for-20 for 40 yards. Along with quarterback Jordan Yates’ one incompletion, it was Tech’s season low for completion rate at 23.8 percent. Many of the incompletions were due to pass-rush pressure.

“That’s as good of a front seven as there is in college,” Collins said. “Really good pass rush.”

A look back at the top plays in the Bulldogs' 52-7 win over the Yellow Jackets in the 2019 regular-season finale at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta. (Video courtesy of ACC)

4. Young team 

While there wasn’t much encouraging about the game, Tech fans could take heart in the fact that most of the experience accrued in the game can be applied to seasons to come.

Of Tech’s 22 starters, only four were seniors and six were freshmen. Of the 20 players credited with a tackle, only two were seniors and eight were freshmen. Of the Jackets’ 139 yards gained, seniors accounted for 12 of them.

The percentages track with those for the season as a whole. For the season, for example, 100 percent of the passing yards, 99.9 percent of the rushing yards, 88 percent of the receiving yards and 92 percent of the tackles were compiled by non-seniors.

“We are really young on both sides of the ball,” redshirt freshman defensive back Jaylon King said. “Transitioning defense as well as offense, and just the amount of effort and passion this team has, even with all the adversity that we faced, I feel very confident from the fight that this team faced that we’ll go into next season with a better mindset and more outcomes that result in wins.”

5. Quotable

“A lot of those guys are some of my best friends. It’s frustrating to send them out on a game like that — not what we planned.” — linebacker David Curry on the team’s seniors.

“They want to do everything possible to give everything that they have every single day and I think that’s what I’ll take with me the most, is how proud I am of these guys. Never quit. No matter the record, no matter the score, the dudes on this team just fight every day.” — tight end Tyler Davis.

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