3 turnovers but ‘inexcusable’ touchdown run for Tech defense

It was not a flawless performance, but the Georgia Tech defense did its part in the Yellow Jackets’ 17-14 win over Boston College Saturday at Aviva Stadium.

The Eagles averaged 1.4 points per possession, a solid number for the Jackets. They claimed three turnovers, one of them to end the game, a high priority after falling short last season. Tech was accountable when it needed to be, holding Boston College to a three-and-out late in the fourth quarter when a first down would have burned time off the clock and flipped the field, if not actually led to defeat.

On an afternoon when the Tech offense was being suppressed, the Jackets defense delivered.

“We just tried to play our best game,” linebacker Brant Mitchell said. “We can control what we can control, and that’s how we went at it.”

Making just the third start of his career, safety Corey Griffin made the first big play of the game, latching on to a deflected pass to kill Boston College’s first drive. With advantageous field position, Tech capitalized with a 59-yard touchdown drive to take a 7-0 lead. Griffin made up for a pass-interference penalty earlier in the drive on a 3rd-and-3.

“The tight end, he came and sat down and I just watched the ball come off his hands, just came right to me,” Griffin said of his second career interception.

Defensive end Antonio Simmons created the second turnover of the game. On a 3rd-and-6 on the Tech 18 in the final 90 seconds of the first half, when a field goal would have cut Tech’s lead to 7-3, Simmons came free on the edge and knocked the ball loose from quarterback Patrick Towles. Defensive tackle Kyle Cerge-Henderson recovered.

The Jackets didn’t allow Boston College to score until the first possession of the second half when the Eagles offensive line manhandled Tech’s interior and exploited Tech’s outside pressure, sending running back Jon Hilliman up the middle for a 73-yard touchdown run. Coach Paul Johnson called the play “inexcusable.”

“We got guys hung up on blocks,” said Mitchell, who was among the guilty. “That’s something we’re going to have to work on. We’ve got to get off blocks.”

The Jackets relinquished control of the game two possessions later, when Boston College quarterback Patrick Towles directed a nine-play, 63-yard drive in which the Eagles scored on a 3rd-and-goal from the 6-yard line with Towles’ scramble off a dropback. Tech’s linemen failed to stay in their rush lanes, allowing Towles an open path into the end zone.

The pass rush in general was not productive, as Towles often had time to set up and throw downfield. He completed 11 of 17 passes and was sacked once, by Simmons. The Jackets defense also had a number of missed tackles, perhaps some the result of the poor footing caused by the wet conditions.

“They protected for the most part pretty well up front,” Boston College coach Steve Addazio said of his offensive linemen.

Further, Tech’s balance sheet was aided by two missed field goals, one blocked. And it remains to be seen how effective Boston College’s offense actually is. A year ago, the Eagles were 124th in the country in yards per play at 4.4. They averaged 6.52 Saturday, well above Tech’s defensive rate of 5.82 last season, which was 91st.

“They moved the ball probably better than they’ve moved it,” Johnson said of the Eagles. “Once they got down on our end of the field, we were able to get some turnovers and get some stops.”