It wasn’t a high-powered offense that stopped Georgia Tech on Saturday. Rather, defensive breakdowns, penalties and ineffective play on third down were at the heart of the Yellow Jackets’ 26-17 loss to Virginia Tech at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

Georgia Tech, desperate for a win to return to .500 and invigorate its teetering bowl hopes, lost to a Hokies team that had lost three games in a row and the previous Saturday heard its fans chanting for the firing of coach Justin Fuente.

“I take all the blame,” coach Geoff Collins said. “I told the guys in (the locker room), ‘Stay together, we’ll get it fixed.’”

ExploreA closer look at Georgia Tech's loss

A week after giving up 636 yards of offense to Virginia in a 48-40 loss in Charlottesville, Va., the Yellow Jackets permitted a second consecutive opponent to gain its season high in total offense, this time the Hokies with 491 yards. The Virginia Tech offense was able to run 78 plays to Georgia Tech’s 56 in part by converting nine of 18 third downs while the Jackets made three of 12.

“I think the biggest story of the game was third downs – getting off the field on third downs and even fourth downs, and converting on third downs, which we have to do, and we did not do,” said Collins, whose mark at Tech fell to 9-21.

Georgia Tech (3-5, 2-4 ACC) now is in dire shape for a bowl game with four games remaining, needing to win three of four against Miami, Boston College, No. 11 Notre Dame and No. 1 Georgia to achieve bowl eligibility. Virginia Tech (4-4, 2-2) spoiled Georgia Tech’s homecoming, whose participants included the 1990 national championship team.

While Georgia Tech’s defense was far more stout in the second half, allowing only six points on five possessions before the final clock-killing series, the damage was done in the first half, when the Hokies took a 20-7 halftime lead. Breakdowns in the Jackets secondary allowed a 69-yard touchdown pass and another 61-yard pass play – both from quarterback Braxton Burmeister to wide receiver Tre Turner – that yielded a field goal.

Both were on third downs and were further extended by missed tackles in the secondary.

“We started slow on defense early and had some busts early on that gave up some explosive plays,” Collins said. “Can’t let that happen.”

Georgia Tech rallied, closing the margin to 23-17 with five seconds left in the third quarter on a 23-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jeff Sims to wide receiver Adonicas Sanders.

Virginia Tech 26, Georgia Tech 17

The Jackets defense held on the next Hokies possession, giving the ball to Georgia Tech on its 19-yard line with 13:39 left in the fourth quarter. A 61-yard dash by running back Jahmyr Gibbs on the first play of the drive set up Georgia Tech with first-and-10 on the Hokies 20-yard line. But the Jackets were stopped on a fourth-and-2 from the Hokies 12 when running back Jordan Mason was stopped on a run up the middle.

Virginia Tech answered with an 85-yard field-goal drive for the final 26-17 margin. In the loss, a standout game by Gibbs went to waste, as he surpassed 100 rushing yards for the second game in a row (113 yards) and also caught four passes for 48 yards.

Gibbs had a touchdown reception, a 52-yard catch-and-run score in the third quarter, called back because of a holding penalty on wide receiver Kyric McGowan. Georgia Tech settled for a field goal on that drive that cut Virginia Tech’s lead to 20-10. In the second quarter, Sims hit Sanders for a 53-yard pass play that was wiped out on a pass-interference call, also on McGowan. Georgia Tech punted at the end of that drive. The Jackets were penalized seven times for 77 yards, a season high for yardage.

“We had a lot of big plays that got called back and that really cost us the game,” Sims said.