The arrow seemed to be pointing only up for Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets had won two ACC games as underdogs under interim coach Brent Key and now faced another beatable opponent in Virginia at home. New athletic director J Batt was in the house. Hope was building.
Victory proved elusive, however, as the Jackets squandered an effective defensive performance in a 16-9 defeat to the Cavaliers on Thursday night at Bobby Dodd Stadium. With quarterback Jeff Sims not at 100% because of a leg injury and then knocked out of the game in the second quarter, backup Zach Gibson could lead the offense to only one field goal in two-plus quarters of play.
Tech trailed 13-6 in the second quarter and faced a third-and-1 on the Virginia 8-yard line with under a minute to play. Where a run seemed a better bet to pick up the one yard for a first down, stop the clock and try again for the end zone with about 30 seconds left, offensive coordinator Chip Long called for Gibson to pass to wide receiver E.J. Jenkins, and the pass fell incomplete. Key elected to go for the field goal, made from 35 yards by Gavin Stewart to cut the lead to 13-9.
Even removing Tech’s sack yardage (50) and all lost-yardage run plays, Tech’s positive run plays gained a total of 109 yards, not enough to give itself a chance against Virginia. Aided by the hard-nosed running of Sims, the Jackets had bullied Pitt and Duke in its two previous games for 232 yards and 180 yards, respectively.
In his return to his hometown, Virginia linebacker Nick Jackson led the Cavaliers with eight tackles and logged two sacks, the latter on a critical third-and-2 from the Virginia 43-yard line late in the fourth quarter. The sack of Gibson set the Jackets back nine yards and led to a turnover on downs.
What we learned
The Brent Key interim coach experience is not going to be a rocket-ship ride straight to the stars. Struggling on offense even before the second-quarter leg injury to Sims that knocked him out of the game, the Jackets were unable to move the ball against a Virginia defense that had allowed 72 points and 850 yards in its previous two games.
Whether the responsibility falls on Key, Long or someone else, the Jackets were unable to find something that could work for Gibson or the offense, leading to Gibson getting sacked seven times and the offense recording six consecutive second-half drives without a first down.
Virginia 16, Georgia Tech 9
They said it
“There were times in the game we got a little one-dimensional, I thought, at times and offensively put ourselves in a poor position with how we were playing. That falls on my shoulders. I take responsibility for that. At the end of the day, we’ve got to play better football on the offensive side.” – Key
Tech: The Jackets (3-4, 2-2 ACC) will go to Tallahassee, Fla., to play Florida State on Oct. 29. The Seminoles (4-3, 2-3) are off this week.
Virginia: The Cavaliers (3-4, 1-3) will play at home against Miami (3-3, 1-1) on Oct. 29. The Hurricanes will be at home Saturday against Duke.
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Credit: Channel 2 Action News