Pittsburgh holds off Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech players leave the field after their loss to Pittsburgh.  (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia Tech players leave the field after their loss to Pittsburgh. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

For the second time in six days, Georgia Tech showed that it could keep pace with one of the ACC’s second-tier teams. On a cool December night at Bobby Dodd Stadium, the Yellow Jackets made plays against Pittsburgh, but also their share of mistakes, leading to a 34-20 defeat Thursday.

“There were some things that were completely outside of our control that affected us,” coach Geoff Collins said, apparently making an oblique reference to his displeasure with the game’s officiating. “We’ve just got to keep playing and they did. They just kept battling and battling, whatever the circumstances happened to them. And I’m really very proud of that group of men.”

In the final home game of the season, linebacker Quez Jackson had an opportunistic interception in the second quarter. Quarterback Jeff Sims showed his mettle on a fourth-and-goal touchdown run from the Pitt 1-yard line in the first quarter, and then led a gutsy touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. The Jackets (3-7, 3-6 ACC) stopped Pitt on fourth-and-goal from the Tech 1 – one of many instances where they kept the Panthers from converting red-zone possessions into touchdowns – and then turned around and drove 98 yards for a first-quarter touchdown. Punter Pressley Harvin continued his candidacy for the Ray Guy Award. Linebacker David Curry continued the strong finish to his career, amassing 14 tackles.

“They were doing some really good things early,” Collins said of the Panthers. “Once Jeff got in a rhythm, I thought some things opened up and he made some tremendous throws down the stretch.”

ExploreMark Bradley: Tech loses a game. Tech’s coach loses his composure

But, as was the case in a loss Saturday to N.C. State, another ACC team near the top of the class of teams below Notre Dame and Clemson, and often throughout the season, miscues were costly and too frequent. After Jackson’s interception – another big play in a fine season – he fumbled when he apparently tried to lateral, giving the ball back to the Panthers and leading to a field goal. The defense gave up five runs of 20 yards or more, including a 38-yard touchdown burst by running back Vincent Davis with two minutes left in the fourth quarter that sealed the outcome.

“There’s some things that we misfit,” Collins said. “There was one, the first play of the game (a 74-yard run), we had a kid slip right at the point of attack, and those kinds of things obviously are unfortunate.”

Davis rushed for 74 yards to the Tech 9 on the first play from scrimmage of the game and finished with 247 rushing yards, the second-highest total by a Tech opponent, surpassing the likes of Herschel Walker and Bo Jackson.

“I don’t think he was necessarily doing anything that made it hard to stop him,” Jackson said of Davis “We’ve just got to make plays when it’s time to make plays.”

Sims threw two interceptions, raising the freshman’s season total to 13, although one appeared to be the result of his intended target slipping. Penalties were again costly – eight for 86 yards – although the Jackets appeared to be victims of a number of questionable flags that drew the ire of coach Geoff Collins and the limited-capacity crowd.

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia Tech's head coach Geoff Collins appeals to referees. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Georgia Tech's head coach Geoff Collins appeals to referees. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia Tech's head coach Geoff Collins appeals to referees. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Tech was called for five personal fouls, including one that was offset by a personal foul against Pitt. Four of those flags were thrown in the second half as the game grew increasingly contentious and Collins was visibly aggrieved with the officiating, at one point tossing his headset in frustration.

“I’m not going to let my opinions be known on one of these kind of (videoconference) calls,” Collins said. “But just know that I do have strong opinions, but I’m mostly intelligent enough to keep those to myself.”

Against one of the top defenses in the ACC, if not the country, the sacrifice of possessions and extra chances for the Panthers were enough for the blue-clad visitors. Pitt (6-5, 5-5) held Tech to 98 rushing yards in a matchup of a Tech offense that had cranked out 638 yards on the ground in the past two games against a defense that ranked first in the ACC in rushing defense at 93.1 yards per game.

“There’s some times I think we forget to look and give other people credit,” Collins said. “That’s one of the top four defenses in college football.”

That matchup, along with Pitt’s pass rush and numerous adverse field-position spots, went far to prevent the Jackets from making more of a threat. Tech pushed until the end. When Sims found tight end Dylan Deveney for an 18-yard touchdown with 6:01 remaining – that was after Sims had extended the drive with a fourth-and-8 completion to running back Jamious Griffin – the Jackets closed to within 26-20.

“They just kept battling and battling, no matter who was in the game, no matter what kind of shortages we might have had in personnel groupings,” Collins said. “They kept fighting, and they kept battling all the way till the end.”

ExplorePhotos from Georgia Tech's loss to Pitt

From there, with three timeouts in the bag, Collins opted to have kicker Austin Kent send his kickoff into the end zone. From their 25-yard line, the Panthers ran nine consecutive times, reaching the end zone with Davis’ 38-yard dash and putting the game out of reach. Pitt, which came into the game ranked second to last in the ACC at 100.2 rushing yards per game, piled up 317 yards on the ground, more than double their previous season high. Tech had held its past two opponents, Duke and N.C. State, below 100 yards on the ground.

On Tech’s final possession, Sims was injured and removed from the game. Jordan Yates replaced him for the final five plays of the drive.

It was a game effort for the Jackets, who were playing five days after losing to N.C. State while Pitt was coming off an open date. Further, Tech’s final-exam period ended only Tuesday, while Pitt’s ended last week.