Undone by poor field position, an uncharacteristic volume of turnovers and an apparent shoulder injury to quarterback Zach Pyron, Georgia Tech lost to Miami 35-14 on Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Down 14-7 going into the fourth quarter, the Yellow Jackets surrendered the next 21 points of the game, the last seven of those furnished by Miami safety Kamren Kinchens, who intercepted quarterback Zach Gibson at the Miami 1-yard line and raced 99 yards for the touchdown with 2:36 left in the game.
The cheer raised by the throng of Hurricanes fans in the southeast corner of the stadium, which largely was emptied by that point, turned out to be the final punctuation on a chilly November night.
Tech again was limited in its offensive play, managing only one score while the game was still competitive, off a 99-yard touchdown drive led by Pyron in the second quarter that closed the margin to 14-7. Pyron and Gibson were intercepted four times, matching the Jackets’ total through its first nine games. The Jackets, who were No. 2 in FBS in turnover margin at plus-15, were minus-4 on Saturday in Tech’s final home game of the season.
The Tech defense was unable to force a turnover for the first time this season. Freshman quarterback Jacurri Brown from Lowndes High, making his first career start, completed 14 of 19 passes for 136 yards and three touchdowns. Miami ballcarriers appeared determined to hold onto the ball against a defense that entered the game tied for second in FBS with 12 fumble recoveries.
“That’s one thing I noticed in the beginning of the game,” linebacker Charlie Thomas said. “We’ve just got to keep trying to press the issue, though, even though that was the case.”
The loss pushes Tech’s hopes of making a bowl game to the brink – now at 4-6 (and 3-4 in the ACC), the Jackets will need to pull off consecutive road wins against No. 15 North Carolina and No. 1 Georgia to earn bowl eligibility for the first time since 2018. The defeat also would appear to have done little to aid the candidacy of interim coach Brent Key for the full-time job.
“Anytime you lose a game, it’s disappointing,” Key said. “The true disappointment comes if you don’t come back the next week ready to work, and that starts (Sunday).”
The superlative play of Miami punter Lou Hedley helped give the Hurricanes a decisive edge in field position. Tech started three of its 11 drives inside its 10-yard line, a heavy burden for an offense that has had difficulty achieving the consistency necessary for long drives.
“Lou Hedley’s a monster,” Miami coach Mario Cristobal said.
There was reason to think that the Jackets could upend Miami (5-5, 3-3) in the teams’ first meeting at Tech since 2018. The Hurricanes had lost their previous game 45-3 to No. 23 Florida State, had not scored a touchdown in nine quarters, were dealing with injuries on the offensive line and were giving Brown his first career start. Oddsmakers deemed Tech a two-point favorite.
But, from the start, Tech was in trouble. Sticking mainly to the run game, Miami took a 7-0 lead on its opening possession and took a 14-0 lead in the second quarter as Brown led a 14-play, 93-yard touchdown drive in which the Hurricanes’ offensive line controlled its Tech counterparts. The Hurricanes ran the ball on four consecutive plays to reach the Tech 4-yard line, at which they scored on a play-action fake, a 4-yard touchdown pass by Brown. Miami ultimately finished with 217 rushing yards, a team season high against FBS competition.
“They made some good runs and just credit to them,” linebacker Ayinde Eley said. “They got us (Saturday) in the rush game.”
Miami 35, Georgia Tech 14
Miami’s success with the run repeatedly placed the Hurricanes in favorable positions on third down, leading them to be able to convert seven of 12 third downs.
Tech answered late in the first half, as Pyron led the Jackets from their 1-yard line all the way into the end zone, just the sixth 99-yard drive in team history and first since the Pitt game in 2018. Pyron picked up two third downs with runs, and running back Dontae Smith converted a third-and-6 with a 6-yard run off a toss. Pyron found receiver Nate McCollum in the back of the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown reception.
“I knew I had a corner (in coverage),” said McCollum, who led the Jackets with eight catches for 101 yards and a touchdown, his second consecutive 100-yard receiving game. “I could tell they were playing Cover-0. They brought a corner over, and I just had to win that coverage.”
The score remained 14-7 through the third quarter, with the game turning late in the period. Pyron, who was making his second start in a row in place of Jeff Sims (sprained foot), moved the offense from the Tech 9 to the Miami 35, with McCollum contributing a 42-yard catch-and-run play. On first-and-10 from the 35, Pyron tried to hit tight end Dylan Leonard off a reverse followed by a flea flicker, but was intercepted. It turned out to be the last play of the game for Pyron, who suffered an apparent injury to his left shoulder.
“He wasn’t able to come back in the game,” Key said. “We’ll give an update after he has a chance to go in and get fully looked at.”
After the interception, the Tech defense responded, stuffing Brown on a third-and-3, and a Miami punt returned the ball to Tech on its 5-yard line. Out came Gibson, who had struggled to move the offense in parts of two games since Sims’ injury. On the fourth play of the series, Gibson tried to connect down the west sideline with McCollum, but Kinchens raced in from the middle of the field for an interception that gave Miami the ball at its 49.
That proved to be the Jackets’ last gasp, as Brown directed a touchdown drive that he finished with an 8-yard touchdown pass to receiver Colbie Young with 7:52 left in the game. Miami now led 21-7, which seemed (and proved) an insurmountable deficit for the Jackets.
Miami added two more scores, one a 99-yard interception return for a touchdown by Kinchens – his third interception of the game – before Gibson led the offense on a 71-yard touchdown drive in the game’s final minutes.
After the game, Key was asked about Sims.
“He was deemed an emergency basis in the game, and the time that Pyron got hurt, he was not available to go in,” Key said.
Asked further if Sims had been cleared to play, Key responded, “I’ll just leave it at that.”
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