5 takeaways from Georgia Tech’s loss to Boston College

Weighed down with mistakes of all stripe, Georgia Tech submitted another disappointing performance Saturday, this time in a 48-27 loss at Boston College. The loss dropped the Yellow Jackets to 2-4 as the Jackets were outgained 409-362 and lost the turnover margin 3-0.

Five takeaways from the game:

1. Bumpy day for kicking game

Punter Pressley Harvin had yet another standout game, and the Jackets recovered an onside kick with the game out of reach. But Tech’s special teams misfired on other chances to contribute.

A fake punt (a throw into the end zone by Harvin on Tech’s opening drive) and an onside kick try when the Jackets were down 24-7 in the second quarter were unsuccessful. Boston College handled both, as coach Geoff Collins’ reputation for special-teams gadgetry precedes him.

“Even the onside kick that they surprised us with earlier, I can’t tell you how many times they showed those exact play in the special-teams meetings, so credit to (Eagles special teams coordinator Matt Thurin) for preparing the guys,” Boston College coach Jeff Hafley said.

The most impactful play, though, was Jahmyr Gibbs’ electrifying 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that was brought back by a holding penalty, a flag that was doubly costly when running back Jordan Mason’s fumble two plays later was returned for a touchdown and a 24-0 lead.

2. Slow start dooms Jackets again

Tech was done in by another slow start, falling behind 24-0 in the first 18 minutes, failed by turnovers, penalties and shoddy defense. The lapses were small and large. Boston College picked up a second-and-7 on its opening drive when the Jackets failed to keep track of tight end Hunter Long, a central element of Tech’s game plan, who was wide open for a 17-yard reception. Quarterback Jeff Sims’ fumbled snap on the second drive might have simply been a loss but a missed block by left tackle Zach Quinney allowed defensive end Marcus Valdez to recover it.

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On the ensuing drive, Tech could have picked up a first down and not punted had Sims followed a block from left guard Jack DeFoor more effectively on a third-and-4 scramble. On a third-and-4, linebacker David Curry had a clear shot on a blitz at quarterback Phil Jurkovec, but couldn’t bring him down, and Jurkovec completed a 30-yard pass to extend the drive, which generated a field goal and a 17-0 lead.

“We just can’t hurt ourselves early like we did, dig ourselves in a hole,” Collins said.

Against Clemson, the Jackets trailed 24-7 in the same amount of time and 52-7 at the half. Syracuse finished the first quarter ahead 17-0. Against Central Florida, Tech got a 7-0 jump after Gibbs’ game-opening 75-yard kickoff return, but the Knights then scored the next 28 points.

It’s been the same in the two wins, also. Florida State went up 10-0 in the first quarter before Tech rallied to win 16-13. In the Jackets’ 46-27 win over Louisville, Tech trailed 21-7 near the end of the first half and could have easily been behind 28-7 if a potential touchdown catch hadn’t been dropped.

Tech has been outscored 72-21 in the first quarter of games this season and 168-62 in the first halves. The second halves have been even, 79-75 in favor of the Jackets' opponents.

3. Turnovers are crushers again

Sims’ challenges with ball security continued with the fumbled shotgun snap on the Jackets' second possession that Boston College recovered on the Tech 22-yard line that the Eagles quickly converted into a touchdown for a 14-0 lead. His third-quarter interception into tight coverage was his 10th of the year and was likewise deep in Tech’s own end, teeing up a touchdown for Boston College and a 48-21 lead.

Sims otherwise made a series of well-placed passes, including pinpoint touchdown throws to receivers Ahmarean Brown and Pejé Harris. He was 12 for 18 for 171 yards with two touchdowns and the one interception. Collins said that he took out Sims for James Graham after the interception because he had been taking a pounding, not because of performance.

Sims’ turnovers have put the Jackets’ defense in some tough spots. Last week, for instance, his two lost fumbles against Clemson were recovered by the Tigers inside the Tech 20-yard line and his interception was returned to Tech’s 7. In Collins' tenure, the Jackets are competitive when they limit themselves to two turnovers or fewer (5-7) and without hope with three or more (0-6, all by 17 points or more).

“Like I was telling him (Saturday) or any other day, just keep your head up,” wide receiver Ahmarean Brown said. “Quarterbacks have a lot of pressure. I don’t know how it feels to be a quarterback, but I just know it’s a lot of pressure.”

Georgia Tech quarterback Jeff Sims passes under pressure from Boston College defensive end Marcus Valdez (97) during the first half Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Boston. (Michael Dwyer/AP)
Georgia Tech quarterback Jeff Sims passes under pressure from Boston College defensive end Marcus Valdez (97) during the first half Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Boston. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

Credit: Michael Dwyer

Credit: Michael Dwyer

4. Run defense besieged

Tech’s inability to stop Boston College’s run game was magnified by the Eagles' meager rushing production in previous weeks. Against the Jackets, Boston College gained more rushing yards (264) than it had in the previous four games.

The running back tandem of David Bailey and Travis Levy banged Tech for a combined 137 yards. Wide receiver Zay Flowers, a player Collins identified as one of two players that Tech had to know where he was on every play, scored on a 22-yard jet sweep. The Jackets also gave Jurkovec too much open space to scramble out of the pocket as he ran for 94 yards on seven carries

Hafley said of the improvement that “I thought it was coming” because of what he had seen in practice. Curry said that the Jackets had to prepare two different game plans due to uncertainty over which Eagles players would be available to play.

The problems seemed greater than that, as 6.0 yards-per-carry average was the highest allowed by Tech since Collins’ debut game against Clemson last year. Boston College controlled the line of scrimmage and tackling was often spotty as the defense likely wore down from eight Tech possessions that lasted four plays or fewer (including one two-play touchdown drive).

“We have to load up certain parts of our defense to get some favorable matchups for us,” Collins said, referring to the defense’s focus on the tight end Long, who leads FBS tight ends in receptions and caught three balls for 39 yards. “But invariably when that happens, that leaves some other things vulnerable, too.”

5. Hard to see progress

Last week, Collins made the point that progress in life is rarely, if ever, linear. For those hoping in the Jackets who witnessed the losses to Boston College and Clemson, that might be the most hopeful line of thinking that Tech fans can muster. Twitter ran amok Saturday evening with less confident trains of thought.

There were bright spots. Save his fumble and confounding interception, Sims was largely efficient at quarterback. Gibbs’ nullified kickoff return appeared that it would have gone the distance even without the aid of the hold. Linebacker Quez Jackson continued to find ways to get the ball, leading the team in tackles (nine) for the fourth time this season. Right guard Ryan Johnson played another solid game. For whatever it’s worth, the Jackets played the Eagles even in the second half, continuing Tech’s pattern of getting pummeled in the first half and regaining their balance in the second.

But, on the whole, it would be difficult to be encouraged by the past two games, and the Syracuse game, for that matter. Turnovers continue to be a problem. The run game, which was flourishing, is suddenly struggling. Missed tackles, blown assignments and penalties propped up Boston College (and Clemson) unnecessarily.

“We’ve got to continue to educate and we cannot make decisions to hurt the team either during the play or after the play,” Collins said.

With No. 4 Notre Dame — coming off a 45-3 rout of Pittsburgh — next on the schedule, it would be a useful time to be the really good team that Collins has asserted that the Jackets can be this season.

“No time to sit here and sulk,” Collins said. “We’ve got to get it corrected, get it fixed.”

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