The Yellow Jackets, coming off their heartening 16-13 victory over Florida State, ran into a far better representative of that football-proud state, and lost to the 14th-ranked Knights, 49-21.
But, people, were you not entertained?
Combined, the offenses ran 173 plays and gained 1,131 yards. The majority of the yards – 660 – naturally belonged to the victor.
Central Florida quarterback Dillon Gabriel put up 417 passing yards and four passing touchdowns. And made it look easy.
Glaringly, Tech lost the turnover battle, 5-2. That was not sustainable against such a score-happy opponent.
“We talk about letting go of the rope or holding the rope,” Tech coach Geoff Collins said. “There were times in the second quarter when they went on a run, aided by turnovers, that we let go of the rope.”
More accurately it might be said the rope got tangled in the grill of a speeding Lexus heading southbound on the Downtown Connector, and was ripped from Tech’s grip.
They’ll take no solace in it, but Tech’s defenders will not be the only ones to get turned inside-out this season by UCF, a team that finished fifth in the nation in scoring last year and seems determined to improve upon that position.
So desperate was Tech to keep the ball out of the Central Florida’s hands that it attempted an onside kick at the start of the second half. That didn’t work, but you kinda understood the attempt.
In contrast to the frenzy of points, the scene pregame was reserved, campus being only a partially engaged hive given the ongoing pandemic. Standing sentinel at the entrance plaza to the stadium named after him, even the statue of Bobby Dodd wore a mask.
Fans dispersed around the stands according to rank. Rich folk and big donors who were given ticketing preference scattered about the east and west stands, students in the end zone, a few visitors from Orlando in one corner. Together they made a quite respectable racket, reminding the world that cardboard cutouts have no soul.
Georgia Tech fans react during the loss. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
From the jump, the people were thrilled by their introduction to freshman Jahmyr Gibbs. He took the opening kickoff back 75 yards, setting up the Jackets on the UCF 21-yard line. And that was just the start. He’d finish with 66 rushing yards, 60 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Meanwhile the continuing education of Tech’s most noted freshman, quarterback Jeff Sims, accelerated here in Game 2. While he gained 15 yards on a quarterback draw on the first play, he also was lit up by a tackler at the end. It seems that defenders are not going to stand around in rapt appreciation of what he can do, as was further emphasized when he was induced to fumble later in the quarter while at the Knights doorstep again.
Sims finished off that first drive, though, and before the first minute of the game was done, Tech led 7-0.
UCF’s response was bold and emphatic. A 75-yard scoring drive, underscored by the decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 from its own 34, made the score 7-7 only three minutes into the game.
Sims rightfully has them excited in these parts as a multi-purpose leader, a player capable of being giving the brand that Collins keeps talking about actual sizzle. The question this day was would he be able to peddle fast enough to keep up with the other offense on this field. No, neither he nor the second most dynamic player on the field for Tech – Gibbs – could quite keep up.
How he tried. Sims was close to perfect in the first quarter, completing all five of his passes for 83 yards, rushing for another 26 plus a touchdown.
But then, by rule, came the second quarter. It was there, in a 21-point flurry, that UCF distanced itself from the Jackets.
“They are the fastest offense in the nation,” linebacker David Curry said. No argument, at least until other conferences get around to playing.
One telling sequence in the first half:
With Tech down 21-7, Avery Showell breathed new life into the Jackets with a fumble recovery at the Tech 27, 4:35 to play in the half. But five plays later, Sims had his pass tipped and intercepted at the line. The Central Florida offense needs more possessions like cable TV needs another channel. It scored on four plays and pushed the lead to 28-7.
And one telling sequence from the second:
Having held the Knights scoreless for more than 20 minutes – a span that included the entire third quarter, no minor accomplishment – Tech pulled to within a touchdown when Gibbs broke loose on a 33-yard TD sprint two minutes into the fourth quarter.
So stunned was UCF that it required six plays and 90 whole seconds to go 75 yards for a responding touchdown.
And it just got messy from there.
All told, a wild show. At least the Tech faithful walked away with the kind of hope only a couple flashy freshmen on offense can stoke. When the irrepressible Collins declares after such a loss, “The future is bright around here; and the present is bright around here,” they might even see that as more than a sales pitch. Tech gave no one in attendance Saturday a reason not to come back.