Tech should expect better than this

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson couldn’t talk about an unfair fight in the trenches this time, like he did after the loss to Clemson. Johnson couldn’t say Tech’s opponent has facilities and fan support on another level, as he did after the defeat to Miami.

Pittsburgh has an OK football program, with expectations no greater than Tech’s. So when the Panthers came from behind to beat the Yellow Jackets on Saturday, all but ending Tech’s hopes of a 2014-style rally to win the ACC Coastal, there was no need to put it in perspective.

This 37-34 defeat looked bad from any angle.

“Mentally, it’s going to be hard to recover,” Tech wide receiver Brad Stewart said.

This makes two years in a row that Pitt nipped Tech with a late field goal by Chris Blewitt. It’s the third loss in a row for the Jackets, who are 1-3 in the ACC and still have games at Coastal foes North Carolina and Virginia Tech.

Pittsburgh is not Clemson or even Miami — first-time head coach Pat Narduzzi got a contract extension for going 8-4 in his first regular season. The Panthers’ facilities are nothing special and Heinz Stadium, some four miles from Pitt’s campus, is shared with the NFL’s Steelers. The Panthers need visits from Notre Dame or Penn State to get big crowds in this pro sports town.

Citing the big picture doesn’t make Tech’s loss look any better. Johnson, who seemed unusually meek afterward, didn’t even try. Instead he went the other way, venturing into what looks like public self-flagellation by his standards.

Johnson took the blame for the failed fourth-down play call that preceded Pitt’s game-winning field goal. It was the right decision, though (more on that later).

Johnson could have taken a familiar tack and heaped blame on the defense, and with good reason (Pitt punted once). But Johnson passed on the chance to do it, and actually praised the unit for playing better after halftime.

Johnson also could have bellyached about Tech’s bad luck — a tipped pass for a touchdown, Blewitt’s banked-in field goal for the win — but pretty much shrugged it off. What are you going to do?

Well, Johnson could have punted when Tech faced a fourth down and inches at its 34-yard line with less than two minutes to play. Don’t make it, and Pitt takes over with great field position.

The Jackets didn’t make it. Pitt stopped B-back Dedrick Mills a couple of inches short. That led to Blewitt’s game-winner from 31 yards.

“If I had to do over again at the end of the game, I would have probably still gone for it but I would have called a different play,” Johnson said.

What was wrong with the play he called?

“It didn’t work,” Johnson said. “It was just man-on-man and they knocked us back. I really felt like Dedrick would get a first down even if we didn’t get a whole lot (of push). He’s a strong runner. ‘Woulda, shoulda, coulda.’ Could have tossed the ball. They had a hard time playing the toss.”

Was it a bad call or bad execution? Either way, I say Johnson made the right decision.

Tech still has one of the best rushing attacks in the country (241 yards against Pitt). Pitt’s defense is not very good. The chances of Tech gaining a first down and driving down for the winning score were (probably) better than the odds of its defense stopping Pitt quarterback Nathan Peterman from doing the same.

Or at least the odds were close enough that even that I can’t fault Johnson’s thinking.

“The way the game was going, I felt like we could make half a yard and we didn’t’ do it so that’s on me,” Johnson said. “That’s my responsibility and I take the blame for that.”

There’s nothing Johnson could do about Scott Orndoff’s 74-yard TD catch. Tech safety Corey Griffin cut in front of Orndoff, seemingly in line for a pick, but got just one hand on it. The ball ricocheted to Orndoff, who hardly needed to break stride to catch it and run for the score.

After that came the fourth-down stuff, followed by Blewitt’s kick that hit the right upright before falling through.

“We weren’t able to catch a break today,” Griffin said.

The Jackets deserve credit for twice coming back from 11-point deficits but they still lost again. It was a fair fight this time.

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