Georgia Tech had lost its previous two games with plenty of blame assigned to inefficiency in the red zone and negative turnover margin. On a rainy Friday night at Bobby Dodd Stadium, the Yellow Jackets earned a 46-27 victory over Louisville with a flawless effort in the red zone and two game-changing takeaways showing the way.
In Tech’s first Friday night home game since 1958, the Jackets (2-2, 2-1 ACC) chased down the Cardinals (1-3, 0-3) from a 21-7 first-half deficit with freshman running back Jahmyr Gibbs' dynamic playmaking and extra-effort forced fumbles and recoveries by Bruce Jordan-Swilling and Jordan Domineck catalyzing the comeback. The Jackets prevailed as 4.5-point underdogs and being given a 28% probability of defeating Louisville by ESPN’s metrics.
“The way we bounced back (from the two losses), I feel like we’re a great team when we don’t beat ourselves, and I think a lot of people would agree with me when I say that,” wide receiver Malachi Carter said. “But I see a lot of potential from us. The sky’s the limit as long as we don’t beat ourselves, and then we can have a great season.”
Before a reduced-capacity crowd of 11,000, the Jackets put together the most fruitful offensive game in coach Geoff Collins' 16-game tenure. Tech failed to reach 30 points in the first 15, but ended Friday night with 450 yards, an impressive 8.0 yards-per-play average, no turnovers and no sacks allowed. Tech reached the end zone seven times, three more than the Jackets' previous high with Collins and offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude at the helm. Tech has reached 400 yards of total offense in each of its first four games after not hitting that mark in any of its 12 contests last season.
“Our offensive line is protecting at a high level, our offensive line is letting us run the ball at a very high level,” Collins said.
It was enough to cover an oft-shaky effort by the Tech defense, which allowed the Cardinals to convert nine of 17 third downs and two of three fourth downs, many opening the door for Louisville touchdowns. As was the case against Florida State, the Jackets defense asserted itself in the second half, limiting the Cardinals to six points and 182 yards after giving up 21 points and 289 yards in the first.
“The third-down piece, there were a couple of missed assignments,” Collins said. “We had some things wired (that were undermined by) losing contain, not running a stunt here or there. We’ll get those things cleaned up, but the way (players) addressed and took coaching at halftime was huge. I thought (defensive coordinator) Andrew Thacker and our defensive staff made some really good halftime adjustments.”
Down 27-26, Tech took the lead for good with 8:40 to play in the fourth quarter on a third-and-goal play from the Louisville 19-yard line. Gibbs caught quarterback Jeff Sims' pass at about the 9-yard line, then took off for the goal line, where he hurdled a Louisville defender to gain the end zone.
“I saw one man in front of me, so I had to do what I had to do so I jumped over him,” Gibbs said.
That was among a number of highlight plays for Gibbs, who ran 13 times for 61 yards and caught two passes for 60 yards. One was a tackle-breaking 41-yard reception near the end of the first half that sparked a touchdown drive capped by a gadget-play touchdown pass from wide receiver Ahmarean Brown to Jalen Camp that cut Louisville’s lead to 21-14 going into the half.
Gibbs' airborne touchdown completed a 51-yard drive, one that began when Domineck stripped Louisville running back Javian Hawkins at midfield, killing a promising drive that held the potential to put the Cardinals up 34-26 with scant time for the Jackets to rally.
It was the third takeaway for the Jackets, following nickel back Charlie Thomas' forced fumble (and linebacker Quez Jackson’s recovery) that ended Louisville’s first possession of the game and Jordan-Swilling’s forced fumble and recovery in the third quarter on a Louisville kickoff return. Tech had scored on a 3-yard touchdown run by running back Jamious Griffin to close to 21-20 with 7:52 left in the third quarter (kicker Gavin Stewart’s point-after try was blocked after the protection was defeated, continuing the Jackets' travails in that area).
Jordan-Swilling’s singular play gave the Jackets the ball at the Louisville 27, leading to Sims scoring on a 22-yard keeper up the middle for a 26-21 lead. After eight interceptions in his first two games, Sims was 11-for-21 for 249 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
“Jeff was able to see the field and made some great throws,” Collins said.
The Jackets also scored touchdowns on all five of its red-zone possessions. In their first three games, they had shot themselves in the foot repeatedly within sight of their opponents' end zone, scoring only seven times in 13 red-zone possessions. With two ACC wins in three games, the Jackets have already equaled their number of conference wins in 2019, when they were 2-6.
“This group, and I told them, has a chance to be really good in the present,” Collins said. “I don’t think we have to talk in future tense. The way they went to work the last two weeks, the process that they’ve applied that they learned for the last 18 months, they’ve embraced it, and it paid off for ‘em. I’m so proud of ’em."