Georgia Tech falls short to Virginia in battle of offenses

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Two weeks after Jeff Sims led an unlikely rally to defeat Duke in the final minute, Georgia Tech was unable to summon the same magic Saturday night against Virginia. Sims’ last-second throw into the end zone from the Virginia 31-yard line was batted down, securing the Cavaliers’ 48-40 win at Scott Stadium.

Tech trailed 48-27 with 3:50 left in the game before touchdown drives of 75 and 51 yards cut the lead to 48-40 with 22 seconds left. Tech then recovered an onside kick by Jude Kelley, its second in a row, for a chance to send the game to overtime before the drive faltered.

The Jackets lost their 13th game in 15 trips to Scott Stadium as Virginia shredded Tech for 636 yards, the most by a Jackets opponent this season as well as a season high for UVA, which entered the game ranked fifth in total offense in FBS. Cavaliers quarterback Brennan Armstrong, who entered the game ranked second in the country in passing yards per game (403.4), was the game’s dominant figure, passing for 396 yards and running for another 99.

When Tech rushed three, Armstrong had time to pick apart the Tech secondary, completing 29 of 43 passes. When the Jackets brought more pressure, he used his quick release and his scrambling ability to avoid trouble.

“The biggest thing was trying to show him different looks throughout the game,” coach Geoff Collins said “We did do that, but the kid’s really good. He was finding the holes, the soft spots in certain coverages.”

Tech (3-4, 2-3 ACC), which gained 570 yards of offense, delivered the first punch, electing to receive the ball first after winning the toss and then driving 75 yards in only five plays for a touchdown, finished by quarterback Jeff Sims firing into the end zone to wide receiver Kyric McGowan for a 36-yard scoring pass. After the Cavaliers went three-and-out, Tech drove again for a touchdown (a 3-yard touchdown run by running back Dontae Smith) to take a 13-0 lead with 6:28 left in the first quarter (kicker Brent Cimaglia’s point-after try was blocked).

But it only set the stage for Armstrong and the Virginia offense to demonstrate its might against a Tech defense that had had extra time to prepare for the Cavaliers (6-2, 4-2) as the Jackets had their open date last week. The Cavaliers scored on their next seven possessions, not counting one to end the first half, all but one measuring 67 yards or more.

“You can work so hard to try to stop a team, but sometimes they get the best of you,” safety Juanyeh Thomas said. “I’m proud of the guys in the locker room. We fought.”

The game swung in Virginia’s favor on Tech’s third possession, when the Jackets reached the Cavaliers 28-yard line, leading 16-14. Sims threw into coverage on a pass into the end zone and was intercepted.

On the third play of Virginia’s ensuing possession, a third-and-5 from the Tech 23-yard line, Armstrong hit Wicks with a quick pass against a Tech blitz. Defensive back Derrik Allen rushed in to make the tackle, but Wicks eluded him and jetted down the sideline for a 77-yard touchdown to give Virginia a 21-16 lead with 6:36 left in the first half.

Virginia 48, Georgia Tech 40

“We’ve got a lot of really talented players on offense that are continuing to grow and develop, but just the big thing, when there is sudden change, we’ve got to have the put the ball down mentality and get stops,” Collins said.

After its encouraging performances against Clemson and North Carolina, the Tech defense has faltered, giving up 52 points and 580 yards to Pitt and then allowing Duke to overcome a 14-0 deficit by surrendering 489 yards before the Jackets rallied to win 31-27 in the final minute.

The Jackets offense, without right tackle Jordan Williams and relying on backups at both guard spots, was matched up with a Virginia defense that was ranked last in the ACC in rushing defense. In the past two games before Saturday, the Jackets had gained a total of 216 rushing yards after averaging 196.3 in the first four. Of Tech’s 570 yards of offense, 270 came on the ground.

Tech’s 40-point output was its second highest of the season against an FBS opponent, as running back Jahmyr Gibbs ran for 132 yards, including a breathtaking 71-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that cut Virginia’s lead to 27-24. After that, the Cavaliers answered with a 75-yard touchdown drive, induced a punt and then drove 77 yards for another touchdown to expand the lead to 41-24 at the end of the third quarter.

Tech plays Virginia Tech next Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium in its homecoming game. After coming up short again in its attempt to win consecutive games for the first time in Collins’ administration, the Jackets will try to return to .500 and breathe life into their dimming bowl hopes.

Said Collins, “We’ve got to come back, find a way to win next Saturday at home.”