“That was an embarrassing display of football,” Key said. “An epic of a failure as you can possibly have. All three phases, all aspects of the program.”
Forget covering the three-touchdown spread. The Jackets (2-3) couldn’t even manage three touchdowns – despite getting two of them in their first two minutes and five seconds of possession – until the end of the third quarter. They trailed 38-14 in the second half before decorating their grave. Tech was stifled, at times overwhelmed by a Falcons team that lost its previous two games by a combined total of 69-13.
How disgraceful for a program that seemingly was trending in the right direction.
“This week, we definitely have to take a hard look in the mirror,” quarterback Haynes King said. “We have to figure out something. We don’t know exactly what it’s going to be, but we definitely have to figure something out.”
Preparation is a good place to start. A troubling admission from senior linebacker Paul Moala: “For sure (we overlooked this team). That’s an emphasis we made at the beginning of the week, I just don’t think we took it as seriously as we should’ve. Moving forward, we’re going to work with a chip on our shoulder and make sure we’re never feeling like this again on the defensive end.”
Receiver Dominick Blaylock, who’s familiar with top-tier preparation from his Georgia days, on what needs to be different: “For us, just having a better mindset coming into a game. Not having the lackadaisical type of body language. Not overlooking our opponent. That’s probably one of the main things.”
Woah nelly, the red flags. The words “lackadaisical” and “overlooking” are concerning. So is the suggestion that some players didn’t take the week as seriously as they should’ve (safety LaMiles Brooks downplayed that, but anyone watching the game would assume validity to the contrary comments). Key will tell you it falls on him and the coaches, and he’s right. But the players need to hold themselves accountable, too. You can’t get too high after a nice win in Winston-Salem. This is some of what goes into building a “culture” that all these coaches constantly preach about.
The unexpected setback could change how this season is viewed by year’s end. If the team improves as the campaign progresses, this wound will remain and could cost it a bowl. If the Jackets continue playing as they did Saturday, no bowl will even want them watching from the stands.
Saturday provided an unfortunate reminder that this team is far from relevance. And to be fair, we already knew that. This wasn’t a quick fix, even in college football’s modern era.
Two years ago, Tech lost at home to Northern Illinois. At that point, we figured where coach Geoff Collins’ tenure was headed. Just over 12 months later – this time last year, in fact – the program was in shambles and turned to Key as its interim coach.
Key went 4-4, defeating a couple of ranked teams, and was named the full-time coach in November. Tech started this season splitting its first four games, showing plenty of reason for optimism over that stretch, especially the offense. Bowling Green was supposed to be a win that put them above .500 and kept them on track to play in their first bowl in five years.
Yet it feels like we’re right back in September 2021. Except this misstep might be worse considering the circumstances – and that, again, Tech just should’ve been past this. The fans concurred, as their recurring boos indicated. It could lead to some changes on the depth chart and with playing time, too: “We’ll be evaluating,” Key said.
Tech didn’t fare well in any facet. An autopsy:
Offense: The Jackets gained 417 total yards, with 109 of that coming with the game decided in the fourth quarter. Tech was 2-for-8 on third downs. It was 1-for-3 on fourth downs, which included a failed quarterback sneak at Bowling Green’s 14 on Tech’s first drive of the second half.
“It was that far,” Key said, holding his hands to indicate how close the first-down marker was. “If we can’t sneak a football that far, we don’t deserve to win a football game.”
The Jackets were down 24-14 at that point and after failing to get one yard on fourth down, watched the Falcons go score another touchdown. King then threw a pick-six on the ensuing possession, one of three Tech turnovers. After keeping King clean against Wake Forest, the Tech offensive line surrendered three sacks Saturday. The run game produced only 69 yards on 21 attempts.
Defense: Tech’s defensive failures began with third downs. Bowling Green converted 10 of 17 third downs, including nine of 13 across the first three quarters. Last we checked, Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes aren’t running that offense.
The Falcons also gashed Tech on the ground, producing 175 yards on 45 attempts. “You can’t stop the run, you’re going to have problems,” Key said. It helped neutralize Tech’s pass rush. The Jackets mustered only two sacks after having eight last week. Some of the effort in the fourth quarter against the run was questionable. The tackling was poor for the get-go.
Time of possession: In the first half, Bowling Green had the ball for 20:21 while Tech held it for only 9:39. I’m not sure Atlanta’s Falcons could’ve managed that, much less Bowling Green’s. By game’s end, these Falcons had held the ball for 42:45. Air Force entered the day No. 1 in time of possession, keeping the ball for an average of 38:07.
Tech won’t overlook its opponent this week because it’s traveling to undefeated Miami. Perhaps Saturday is a wake-up call it didn’t know it needed. Before this, Key was building momentum. He’d generally done a nice job and seemed to have the Jackets trending up. Now we’ll see if they respond or spiral.
“(We need to) understand going into each week that it’s all about us, regardless of who the opponent is,” Moala said. “It’s about us. We need to focus on what type of defense we are. The type of offense we are. The type of special teams we are. We have to maintain that focus throughout the week and stick to our identity and play ball like we’re used to.”