Georgia Tech defensive end Antwan Owens (at the 21-yard line) runs with the ball on a fake punt. The design of the fake was apparently to follow linebacker Brant Mitchell (center of the field at the 22-yard line) to the perimeter. (Screen grab of the broadcast by Fox Sports South.)
Mitchell ran right to the edge of the formation as a lead blocker for Owens. On the right edge, Ajani Kerr blocked Pitt’s Jim Medure and even managed to turn him back to the inside of the play. It appeared that, had Owens followed Mitchell around Kerr’s block, he would have had enough open space in front of him to reach the 35-yard line for a first down and give the Jackets a momentum boost.
However, Owens, while a tight end in high school, is a 265-pound defensive end and not accustomed to running with the ball, particularly in a high-pressure situation. For whatever reason, he did not follow the design of the play around Kerr and behind Mitchell. Instead, perhaps seeing a gap in the line, Owens ran the ball up the middle, and right into Medure, who, having been sealed off by Kerr from reaching the perimeter, was now in position to get off Kerr’s block to make the tackle.
Owens runs upfield while Mitchell runs to the sideline. (Screen grab of Fox Sports South broadcast)
Owens runs behind Avery Showell's block, which leads him to Pitt's Jim Medure, who was being blocked to the middle of the field by Ajani Kerr. (Screen grab from Fox Sports South broadcast)
After the game, Johnson said that “I’m not sure it wouldn’t have been easy” for Owens to pick up the first down had he run to the outside, “but that was a bad call. That’s on me.”
Tech did not have to be in position to risk the fake in the first place. On the previous three downs, Tech’s failure to get blocks on three run plays – a toss to A-back Qua Searcy, a dive by B-back Jordan Mason and a handoff to A-back Clinton Lynch on a counter – kept the Jackets from picking up a first down in a more conventional method.
Johnson has called a number of fake punts for the Jackets, often successfully. Perhaps the most memorable was a successful run by punter Ryan Rodwell against Miami in 2014. A year ago, a snap to KeShun Freeman earned a first down in Tech’s upset of Virginia Tech. Another fake last season – a pass by punter Pressley Harvin designed to draw a pass interference against Duke – failed when it was not executed properly.
Saturday’s fake was a considerable risk, given the field position and the ballcarrier. Like many things that happened against the Panthers, it didn’t go Tech’s way.
What Georgia Tech players said after the loss
Jackets voice their confusion, frustration over loss
What Paul Johnson said after the loss to Pittsburgh
Photo gallery from the Pitt game