Breakdown: Georgia Tech 26, No. 24 Pitt 21

A week ago, Georgia Tech lost decisively 27-10 to Central Florida in a game that proved to be the final game of coach Geoff Collins’ 38-game tenure. On Saturday night, in a most improbable outcome, the Yellow Jackets and interim coach Brent Key stunned No. 24 Pittsburgh 26-21 to break a nine-game losing streak to FBS opponents.

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Here’s how it broke down:

Key play

With Tech trailing 7-6 on Pitt’s first drive of the second half, Jackets linebacker Charlie Thomas picked up a fumble forced by safety Jaylon King and sped 43 yards to the Pitt 17-yard line. The play set up Tech to take a 9-7 lead on Gavin Stewart’s 40-yard field goal, giving the Jackets a lead they held for the remainder of the game.

Thomas had just gotten into the game, having missed the first half serving a suspension for targeting. He finished with seven tackles, one interception, one pass breakup, one quarterback hurry and the fumble recovery.

Key stat

Starting the game ranked last in FBS in red-zone efficiency with four scores in 11 red-zone possessions this season, Tech was 6-for-7 against the Panthers on Saturday night. That included Stewart’s 4-for-4 effort on placekicks (Stewart was elevated in the lineup ahead of Jude Kelley) and two touchdowns, one a 21-yard pass play from quarterback Jeff Sims to wide receiver E.J. Jenkins and the other an 18-yard touchdown run by Sims that put Tech ahead 26-14 with 1:25 left in the game.

Game ball

Five days after being named interim head coach, Brent Key led the Jackets to a win as a 22-point underdog. Key, in fact, brought the game ball with him to the podium for the postgame news conference. It was awarded to him in the locker room by interim athletic director Frank Neville.

What we learned

Maybe the Jackets aren’t quite as bad as thought. After getting outscored 110-20 in their three losses to FBS opponents this season and committing a litany of mistakes while at times looking slow and not as tough as the opponent, it was difficult to conceive that this team could be competitive with a Top 25 opponent. But, at least for one night, Tech was the team that players and coaches asserted in the preseason it could be.

They said it

“It’s a game of body blows. Body blows add up.” – interim coach Brent Key on the team’s physical style on defense

“He knew that coach Collins being fired was a devastating time for us just with everything going on. And he came in and just kept our confidence up. Just in practice, we were a lot more detailed, just going in there and getting work done and he’s just been a genuine dude, keeping our confidence up, keeping our spirits high.” – quarterback Jeff Sims

What’s next

Tech: The Jackets (2-3, 1-1 ACC) return home to play Duke at 4 p.m. Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium in a Coastal Division matchup. The Blue Devils (4-1, 1-0) defeated Virginia 38-17 on Saturday in Durham, N.C.

Pitt: The Panthers (3-2, 0-1) will be at home against Virginia Tech (2-3, 1-1) in another Coastal matchup. The Hokies lost 41-10 to North Carolina on Saturday in Chapel Hill, N.C.