For the second consecutive game, Georgia Tech scored touchdowns on its first two possessions, taking a 13-0 lead against Virginia on Saturday. Against the Cavaliers, the Yellow Jackets went the further step of scoring a field goal on their third possession for a 16-7 lead.
It was a positive development for coach Geoff Collins’ team, which in his two-plus seasons had made a pattern of both not scoring on the first drive and also allowing the opponent to take the initial lead.
“We were rolling on offense early and then hit a little bit of a lull,” Collins said after the game. “We’ll keep working past that. We’ve got a lot of really talented players on offense that are continuing to grow and develop.”
The mistakes began on the third drive. The Jackets kicked a field goal after wide receiver Kyric McGowan dropped a third-and-5 pass in the red zone that could have gone for a touchdown. Sims was intercepted on the next drive on a pass into the end zone from the Virginia 28-yard line.
“I took the safety to the other side of the field with my eyes, and when I came back, I kind of hesitated a little bit and threw it late, so that’s on me,” Sims said. “That can’t happen.”
A holding penalty by McGowan dragged down the drive after the interception. After starting so well, Sims began having difficulty making accurate throws. Running back Jahmyr Gibbs did break a well-executed 71-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, but that was the only scoring drive in a stretch of six possessions while the Cavaliers were taking control of the game, scoring on seven of eight possessions after punting on the first.
“I think there definitely is a sense of urgency (when the opponent continues to score), but within that urgency, you’ve got to say poised,” McGowan said.
Sims completed eight of his first 10 passes, but then completed seven of his next 18. McGowan spoke of the offense shooting itself in the foot, referencing his own penalty and dropped pass.
“I think there were some really small ones but ultimately those small ones, if we would have executed, it would have been some big plays,” McGowan said.
The Jackets finally came out of their spiral, generating two touchdowns and a field goal in their final three possessions. Sims completed 12 of 16 passes after the Jackets had fallen behind 48-27. But it was too late, and the offense had the benefit of playing against a Virginia defense that likely had lost some of its focus. The up-and-down-and-up cycle recalled the Duke game, when the Jackets took a 14-0 lead after two possessions, then scored 10 points over the next 11 drives (one to end the first half) before catching fire on the game-winning drive in the final two minutes of the game.
Starting well is progress. Before the Duke game, Tech’s opponents had scored first in 19 of 27 games in Collins’ tenure, and the Jackets were 3-16 in those games. The defense has contributed, not allowing the opposition to score on any of its opening drives this season.
But, to the degree that the offense going cold after strong starts has become a pattern, one that again speaks to the larger challenges the team has faced with consistency, it’s another issue that needs addressing as the Jackets prepare for Virginia Tech on Saturday.
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Ken Sugiura is a sports columnist at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Formerly the Georgia Tech beat reporter, Sugiura started at the AJC in 1998 and has covered a variety of beats, mostly within sports.