Following its 28-10 loss to Miami last week, which crippled both the team’s hopes of another ACC Coastal Division title as well as any path to the College Football Playoff, No. 17 Virginia Tech entered its matchup with Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Saturday hoping to regroup.
The Hokies and Yellow Jackets each had their eyes on a division title, but Miami is likely to represent the Coastal in the league title game. Now, both teams are trying to finish the season strong and earn the best possible postseason destination.
Hokies coach Justin Fuente especially wanted to earn the victory against the Yellow Jackets after Paul Johnson’s squad upset Virginia Tech last season in Blacksburg behind backup quarterback Matthew Jordan, who only completed 2 passes. However, he rushed for 121 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Georgia Tech was looking to defeat Virginia Tech in consecutive meetings for the first time in series history, but the Hokies had won three straight and five of their last six road games against the Yellow Jackets.
How did things play out on Saturday?
The Yellow Jackets made history with their eighth straight win at Bobby Dodd Stadium, their longest streak since 1998-2000. And with a quarterback who was efficient in the rare times when he needed to throw.
Despite completing 2 passes — both scores — TaQuon Marshall led the Yellow Jackets to a 28-22 win. Since coming to Blacksburg, Fuente had not lost back-to-back games with the Hokies. He fell to 17-7 as Virginia Tech’s coach with the loss to the Jackets.
As is always the case when playing Georgia Tech, defending its big-play offense is a priority. The Hokies held the Yellow Jackets to a three-and-out with their swarming defense on the opening series of the game, and then redshirt freshman quarterback Josh Jackson led the offense down the field to set up a Joey Slye 41-yard field goal to give Virginia Tech a 3-0 lead.
But the Georgia Tech offense struck big on its second drive, as Nathan Cottrell broke off a 69-yard run to help set up a Marshall 3-yard scoring run on third-and-goal to finish off an 8-play, 80-yard drive to give the Yellow Jackets a 7-3 lead.
After its next offensive possession went nowhere, the Virginia Tech special teams stepped up and was aided by a dropped snap from punter Pressley Harvin III. He lost 13 yards on the play, and it set the Hokies offense up at the Georgia Tech 45-yard line. But Ted Roof’s defense continued to impress, stopping the Hokies on a fourth-and-2 attempt at the 8 when AJ Bush lost 3 yards on a rushing attempt.
Virginia Tech coordinator Bud Foster’s defense started to settle in nicely, but then special teams began to take center stage. Georgia Tech converted a fake punt on fourth-and-1 at its 46 when KeShun Freeman rushed for 3 yards, and it extended a drive that ended when Marshall scored from 1-yard out. It was an especially frustrating drive for the Virginia Tech defense, as the fake punt came against its punt safe unit.
But Travon McMillian returned the ensuing kickoff 70 yards to the Georgia Tech 29 to set up a meandering Sean Savoy 14-yard scoring rush to make it 14-9 after the 2-point conversion failed, and that’s where things stood at the half.
The third quarter could not have started out better for the Yellow Jackets.
After a sack by Victor Alexander for a loss of 12 yards, they forced the Hokies to punt. The offense then needed just three plays to extend their lead when Marshall completed his first pass of the day, a strike on third-and-18 to Brad Stewart on a post route for a 60-yard score — the junior’s first touchdown of the year — to give the Jackets a 21-9 advantage.
The Hokies didn’t have much of an answer for a Georgia Tech defense that played well, and that’s a disastrous recipe against a team whose offense has the ability to move down the field methodically and eat up clock behind the legs of Marshall, KirVonte Benson and Qua Searcy. That’s exactly what it did when it went 13 plays over 5 minutes, 57 seconds, but Brenton King missed a 43-yard field goal to keep the score 21-9.
After Jackson connected with Eric Kumah, who had a career day, on an ill-advised pass that was deflected multiple times on a third-and-14, the Hokies put the finishing touches on a 74-yard drive with a Jalen Holston 8-yard scoring run as the third quarter came to an end to cut the deficit to 21-16. Virginia Tech had been just 1 of 7 on third downs prior to that drive but converted all 3 on that scoring march.
The catch by Kumah was the spark Virginia Tech needed. Marshall was stopped on a run for no gain on a fourth-and-1 at the Virginia Tech 41, giving the Hokies offense solid field position. While it had to punt on its next possession, Virginia Tech’s defense stepped up when a Marshall pass was intercepted and returned for a score by Greg Stroman. The 2-point conversion failed, but Virginia Tech took a 22-21 lead.
But Foster’s defense would immediately get burned. Marshall connected with Ricky Jeune for an 80-yard scoring strike to give the Jackets a 28-22 lead.
A Jackson rush for 3 yards on fourth-and-1 and a fourth-and-8 Jackson-to-Kumah conversion for 19 yards extended Virginia Tech’s final drive, but the young signal caller could not connect with Cam Phillips on a long fourth-and-1 throw at the Georgia Tech 32 with 1:09 remaining to ice it for the Jackets. It was a curious play call considering the Hokies needed 1 yard to extend a potential game-winning drive. Jackson finished 14 of 26 for 153 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions.
Not letting the Miami loss spill into this week’s game was vital for Virginia Tech. Fuente’s crew fought through a deficit and an anemic offense, but Jackson and company just didn’t have enough productive drives and the defense gave up a few huge chunk plays that ended up being the difference.
Now, with a major bowl bid likely out of the equation, not letting the end of the season further slip away will be Fuente’s biggest task moving forward.
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