Tech’s miserable season mirrors low points for program

There were a number of things expected from Georgia Tech this season. Bill Lewis reference points were not among them. Because it has been this long since Tech was this bad, finishing 1-10 in 1994, going winless in the ACC and firing its head coach.

Paul Johnson isn’t going to be fired. His overall success in his first seven seasons, including a second 11-win record last season that earned a contract extension, has earned him some security. But this shouldn’t happen.

Five consecutive losses. Shouldn’t happen.

Oh-and-4 starts in the ACC. Shouldn’t happened.

Bowl-less, punchless, hopeless seasons when you have a talented returning quarterback and enough good players to compete for a conference title. Shouldn’t happen.

The Yellow Jackets lost another game Saturday, this one 31-28 to Pittsburgh. Grading defeats? This one was close. It was decided by an unlikely 56-yard field goal with 1:11 left. Know what? It should never have come down to that.

Pitt is 5-1. But its previous wins came over Youngstown State, Akron, Virginia Tech and Virginia, so let’s not wax on about how good Pitt is. This is a team Tech should be good enough to beat, especially at home, especially given its desperate situation, just as it should have been good enough to beat Duke and North Carolina. Win those three games and the Jackets are sitting today at 5-2 with road losses at Notre Dame and Clemson. Instead, they’re 2-5 and circling the drain, with no realistic hopes of a bowl game or maybe even getting out of last place in the ACC Coastal.

Asked if he was stunned about the way this season has unraveled, Johnson said, “I don’t know about stunned. Just flustered. The way that game ended was just like the perfect way the season has gone. The guy makes it from 56 yards. We’ve got a guy (Adam Gotsis) free running up the middle and the ball just kind of goes right through his arms. With any luck he blocks it and maybe we win the game.”

Maybe we win the game?

So that’s what this season has come down to: The potential for lucky escapes.

The Jackets would need to go 4-1 in their last five games to become bowl eligible. They would need to sweep their last four ACC games to finish .500. Neither of those two things are going to happen, not with a remaining schedule of (in order): Florida State, at Virginia, Virginia Tech, at Miami and Georgia. They would have better luck with lottery scratch-off tickets.

This season almost certainly will end two impressive, even if largely ignored, streaks: Tech has played in bowls 18 consecutive years (last miss: 1996, when George O’Leary went 5-6) and finished .500 or better in the ACC 20 consecutive years (following the 0-8 in ’94).

A splat was not in the forecast this season.

There have been injuries. There have been struggles related to youth. But weekly scenes of the offensive line getting bulldozed and the defense reverting to form from the first half of last season (and every year in the Johnson era before) wasn’t anticipated.

The Jackets, who’ve lost four A-backs and B-backs who might’ve been in the regular rotation this season, might have found an answer to their relative running problems. Freshman Marcus Marshall found out just before the game he would start at B-back for senior Patrick Skov and responded by rushing for 159 yards (including two 58-yarders) and two touchdowns on only 10 carries.

The biggest question is: Why did he carry only 10 times? The Jackets could’ve used more touches by him. They had three touchdowns in their first four possessions, but only seven points the rest of the game.

Johnson referenced his teams “very thin margin for error,” and some close defeats, adding, “We just have to make one more play, and we’re not good enough to make one more play.” We cite as examples:

  • They couldn’t do it on defense. Pitt converted a fourth-and-1 and fourth-and-2 on the go-ahead field-goal drive. Wide receiver Tyler Boyd caught a five-yard pass between two Tech defenders on the fourth-and-2 from the Tech 39.
  • They couldn’t do it on offense. With the score tied at 28-28, Tech A-back Clinton Lynch ran a short route instead of going deep and compounded the mistake by committing an offensive interference, ultimately forcing the Jackets to punt from deep in their own zone. Trailing 31-28 with 22 seconds left, wide receiver Ricky Jeune dropped a sideline pass near the Pitt 40 that would’ve moved Tech close to field-goal range.

Next week’s loss: Florida State. If there are any bowl scouts in attendance, it will be for the other team.

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