Five things learned from Georgia Tech’s loss to Louisville

Georgia Tech’s opener Friday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium ended in bitter disappointment when the Yellow Jackets blew a 28-13 halftime lead and lost 39-34.

The Jackets (0-1, 0-1 ACC) gave up 26 consecutive points before a last-gasp touchdown provided the final margin. There were plenty of bright spots for Tech, specifically a 28-point second quarter, but coach Brent Key felt like his team let one get away in the end.

Here are five things we learned from the ACC opener for the Jackets:

Still forming an identity

Key has spoken often about his team’s identity, how it should look and how recognizable it should be. The former Tech offensive lineman said he saw that identity at times Friday, but not having that true identity for four quarters doomed his squad in the end.

“Our identity was in spurts. We had flashes of an identity,” Key said. “We had flashes of the team we want to be. And that is part of the process. When you put things on tape and you show who you can be, you need to be that. You can’t part-time do it and that would be a big part of the lessons learned from the game. "

Tech showed discipline by committing just two penalties. It showed some mental toughness by coming back from an early turnover and 6-0 hole. It showed commitment to the cause by fighting until the end and giving itself a chance for a wild comeback had it recovered an onside kick.

But it fell short in the execution, allowing 227 rushing yards, turning the ball over twice (and once on downs) and missing two field-goal attempts.

The silver lining in the defeat is that Friday was the first game of the season. There are 11 games to go to rectify the shortcomings.

“The biggest improvements, they’re supposed to occur between the first and second games because now you have a good feel for how your team competes against another opponent, not just themselves,” Key said. “So we’ll take those things and move forward with them and continue to improve into the next football game.”

Offensive line still a work in progress

Tech returned four starters on the offensive line and a fifth who played major minutes with the 2022 front. But there was still some curiosity as to how that unit would fare in a new offense with a new position coach.

The results were mixed Friday. The Jackets ran for a solid 175 yards and only gave up one sack. That one sack, however, caused a fumble by quarterback Haynes King and directly led to a Louisville touchdown on the game’s next snap.

In the first series of the night, King was hit from behind as he threw, the result of a missed block on the left side. King’s pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and picked off.

Senior Jordan Williams, the starting right guard, left the game with an injury (Key did not have an update Friday on Williams’ health) and starting left tackle Corey Robinson was replaced by freshman Ethan Mackenny. Princeton transfer Connor Scaglione took over in Williams’ absence.

The Jackets rushed for only 60 yards in the second half.

King can run

Haynes King came to Tech a much-heralded transfer quarterback recruit. The former Texas A&M starter had a reputation for being an above-average thrower both in College Station, Texas, and in high school.

On Friday the sophomore showed he could scoot a little bit, too.

King ran for a team-high and career-high 53 yards on 10 carries. Some of those rushes were scrambles, but others were designed plays and option keepers. King rushed for 83 yards all of last season.

King also threw for 313 yards and three scores in his Tech debut. His ability to use his legs is a dynamic twist to Tech’s new offense.

Receivers answer the call

No one outside of Tech’s locker room knew who exactly would step up and make plays at wide receiver. An influx of transfers and freshmen at the position made it anyone’s guess who might become a go-to target in 2023.

Friday’s opener gave some insight that the Jackets definitely have some options. Malik Rutherford, certainly expected to be the team’s No. 1 target, led the way with five catches for 85 yards.

Jamal Haynes, a converted wide receiver turned running back, made four grabs for 56 yards. Chase Lane, a Texas A&M transfer, caught three passes for 69 yards and a 48-yard touchdown. Christian Leary (an Alabama transfer) and freshman Eric Singleton each had two catches. Singleton hauled in a 5-yard score.

Those results bode well for Tech’s offense as it continues to grow and evolve through the season.

Defensive line has to be better

Louisville quarter Jack Plummer finished Friday’s contest 18-of-31 passing for 247 yards and three scores. He did most of that with a clean jersey.

Tech’s defensive front didn’t record a sack and was credited with only two quarterback hurries.

The Jackets didn’t fare much better defending the run either. Louisville ran for 227 yards, 145 of those yards coming in the second half (74 on one play), and averaged 6.7 yards per carry.

Tech also didn’t record a tackle for loss, the first time the Jackets failed to do that since Oct. 17, 2015.

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