The knee not taken: 5 things learned from Georgia Tech’s dramatic win

Georgia Tech head coach Brent Key picks up running back Jamal Haynes as they celebrate their 23-20 win over Miami in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Georgia Tech head coach Brent Key picks up running back Jamal Haynes as they celebrate their 23-20 win over Miami in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Georgia Tech left Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday with a victory in hand, winning after one of the more shocking endings few have ever seen.

Haynes King’s touchdown pass to Christian Leary with one second to play lifted the Yellow Jackets to a 23-20 win over No. 17 Miami. The Jackets (3-3, 2-1 ACC) had the ball at their own 26 with 26 seconds left and no timeouts, yet needed just three plays to put together a winning drive that won’t long be forgotten.

Tech, at the halfway point of the regular season and halfway to bowl eligibility, is now off until Oct. 21 when it hosts Boston College. It will go into that game looking for its first winning streak of the season.

Here are five other things learned after Tech’s come-from-behind victory:

The knee not taken

Tech coach Brent Key and the Jackets seemed just as taken aback as everyone else after witnessing what led to their ultimate chance at triumph.

Leading 20-17, Miami had the ball at the Tech 32 and was bleeding the clock out. A helpless Tech had no timeouts left to stop time and had no hope remaining.

But Miami coach Mario Cristobal, on third down, chose to run one more offensive play on third-and-10 rather than take a knee. Donald Chaney took a handoff and pushed toward the right side of the line.

Tech linebacker Paul Moala stripped Chaney of the ball right before Chaney fell to the ground. Tech defensive lineman Kyle Kennard fell on it. The Jackets had a prayer with 26 seconds to go and possession on its own 26.

“We should’ve taken a knee,” was all Cristobal could say after the game.

Still, Tech needed to go a long way just to even have a shot at staying alive.

Key said the 33-yard line was the target, a place that would have given kicker Aidan Birr an opportunity to tie the game with a field goal. Birr still would have needed to make that kick and Tech still would have had to find a way to win the game in overtime.

After King threw an incomplete pass on first down, now leaving just 22 ticks on the clock, the sophomore completed on a long throw on the left side of the field to Malik Rutherford at the Miami 44. But Rutherford fell down inbounds leaving the clock running. King and the offense raced to the line to clock the ball with 14 seconds left.

“This is what makes us. Let’s go do it. C’mon,” King said on what he told the offense before they took the field for the final drive. “Looked everybody in the eyes, everybody seemed confident in me, believed in me and believed in each other. Everybody had the same mindset. If you believe you’re gonna do it, not think it, not half-way it, you gotta commit. Invest it.

“Everybody believed that we were gonna win that game. We had that last chance. We were gonna move that ball down the field. We’re gonna have a chance. Let’s go get it done.”

On second down at the 44, King felt pressure and rolled to his right. Leary, a Florida native, turned his route from vertical to diagonal toward the right corner of the end zone. He was behind the defense, he was open and King found him for the game-winning score from 44 yards out.

Leary hadn’t caught a pass all night.

“I was either gonna throw it away or find something downfield. Just happened to see (Leary) out of the corner of my eye – when he did his scramble rule, that we practice every week, he hit it like that, got on top of it and I just popped it up to him,” King said. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ I threw it, put my hand up and he caught it and I was like, ‘Yes!’ "

New DC, new results

On Sunday, Key made the decision to move defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker to safeties coach and hand control of the defense over to linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer. On Saturday, Key and the Jackets were non-committal in agreeance that the defense’s performance against Miami was due to Sherrer now being the team’s defensive coordinator.

“Credit to the defensive staff rallying around (Sherrer),” Key said. “We talk about one voice, it was going to be one way. We want to put the guys in position to do well and have success. Credit to the guys rallying around him, credit to the players. They’re the ones out there playing.

“It’s one of those things where you know what you have and you don’t necessarily always see it on the field. I thought those guys played hard tonight, they really did. So I was proud of them.”

Tech held Miami, a team that had averaged 43.8 points in four wins, to three points in the first half. It picked off Miami quarterback Tyler Van Dyke. It recovered two fumbles. It made a stop on fourth down.

And even though the Hurricanes (4-1, 0-1 ACC) racked up 454 yards and averaged 5.5 yards a play, the Jackets refused to break.

“We knew that what we put on the field last week was not us,” Tech defensive back K.J. Wallace said. “We wanted to come out here and just show what we can do and set the tone early today. We know that when we can play together as a team, we’re pretty hard to beat. So we just wanted to press upon everything, every play and really just come out and do our best every play.”

Wallace and the Tech defense allowed 31 points to Bowling Green a week before (the Falcons scored a touchdown off a King pick-6) and were downright dominated in a 38-27 loss at home. That effort wasn’t the main reason for Thacker’s demotion, but it certainly was a factor.

The long-term results of Key’s decision to shift roles on his defensive staff remains to be seen, but the immediate affect produced a positive result.

“We went in knowing this is a good team, ranked in the top (20),” Tech defensive back Myles Sims said. “We had to just stick to what we knew, stick to our training and going out there and execute, not playing outside of our frame or outside of who we are. We sticking to the code and sticking to the game plan and that really kept us in line, play-by-play, perseverance.”

King can still win it

King had his worse game in a Tech uniform, statistically speaking. Yet he’ll be remembered for being one of the heroes Saturday minutes after nearly being the goat.

King’s interception halfway through the fourth quarter set up Miami at the 14 going in. The Hurricanes would kick a field goal two minutes later to go up 20-17. That score came exactly six minutes before King led the Jackets on the winning drive.

King completed only 12 of his 25 throws for 151 yards (and 74 of those yards came in the final 26 seconds) and was intercepted twice. He did, however, rush for 46 yards on 10 carries and scored from six yards out for the Jackets’ first touchdown of the game late in the third quarter.

Not defining (yet)

Key said last week the loss to Bowling Green would define the Yellow Jackets, one way or the other.

“That loss was gonna do either one of two things, it was either gonna separate the team or was gonna bring us together,” Sims said. “We went the route that brought us all together. And playing together, playing for each other, playing for our brothers and knowing that we all got each other’s back.”

Tech has now split its first six games of the season, alternating wins each week. It had a chance to build some real momentum after a 30-16 win at Wake Forest on Sept. 23. It also had an excuse to fold up the tent after the defeat to Bowling Green.

How it responds from this latest result may ultimately define who these Jackets are, but Key said he’s not ready to make that declaration quite yet.

“To me defining is an end point. When you talk about defining a team, that’s an end point. That’s something that closes something out, a last-game type of thing. I don’t see that by any means,” the first-year coach said. “As far as creating an identity of playing hard and playing the type of ball that we expect to play and believing in each other, that was the stepping stone that we took.

“Every game is a stepping stone in the building of a program. That’s where we’re at. We’re taking steps and sometimes, unfortunately, you trip and fall down and you don’t play close to the way you’re supposed to. I did say the game last week would define us, it was our choice of how it would define us and how it would impact us the rest of the season.”

Ground game troubles remain

Tech was held to less than 100 yards rushing for the second straight game.

King was the team’s leading rusher with 46 yards while starting tailback Jamal Haynes managed just 33 yards on seven attempts and Trey Cooley managed just 24 yards on nine runs. Tech even tried to spark the rushing attack by putting Zach Pyron in at QB early in the fourth quarter faced with a second-and-short on the Miami 7.

Pyron was tackled for a 4-yard loss.

In the last two games, the Jackets have averaged a modest 3.5 yards per carry.

Notes

  • Tech has now won three straight road games against conference opponents ranked in The Associated Press Top 25 at the time of the game.
  • Haynes King’s 16 touchdown passes this season is tied for the sixth-most in a single Tech season.
  • Jaylon King’s 66-yard interception return was Tech’s longest since Juanyeh Thomas had a 95-yard return against Louisville on Oct. 5, 2018.
  • Tech is now 14-14 all-time vs. Miami.
  • Miami receiver Xavier Restrepo set a career high with 12 receptions.
  • Van Dyke’s three interceptions thrown were his most since throwing three Oct. 16, 2021, at North Carolina.
  • Attendance on Saturday was announced as 58,045.

About the Author