Georgia Tech’s second-half struggles reappear in loss to Bowling Green

Georgia Tech quarterback Haynes King (10) gestures to his receiver during the second half of an NCAA football game Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. (Daniel Varnado/ For the AJC)

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Georgia Tech quarterback Haynes King (10) gestures to his receiver during the second half of an NCAA football game Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. (Daniel Varnado/ For the AJC)

Georgia Tech was convinced it earned a first down when it snuck it up in the middle on fourth-and-1 in the third quarter.

Yet, when officials brought out chains to measure the distance, it was Bowling Green’s players who were dancing and jumping as they gained possession.

The turnover on downs – when the Falcons already were up 24-14 – was a snapshot of several second-half woes for the Yellow Jackets.

“We have to figure something out,” quarterback Haynes King said. “You’ve got to start fast, finish fast. You’ve got to play fast throughout the whole game.”

Five games into the season, Tech has proved itself as a first-half team. The Jackets have scored 93 points in the first half. In the second half? Seventy.

Tech finished Saturday’s contest scoring two touchdowns in the first half and in the second, but struggled to remain consistent on offense and defense in the final 30 minutes.

The Jackets impressed early in the first quarter. The first play from scrimmage in the game seemingly was a tone-setter, as King found wide receiver Eric Singleton Jr. for a 53-yard touchdown. Tech’s defense followed with a strong effort, handing it back to the offense for another touchdown to make the score 14-0 with less than two minutes left in the first.

Coach Brent Key called the back-to-back scoring series “outliers,” saying they just happened to come first.

The second quarter was a struggle, as the Falcons stormed back and took a 17-14 lead into the half. Success seemingly was in reach for the Jackets, however, until a tumultuous second half in which Bowling Green scored 21 points to take control.

However, Key said Tech’s shortcomings weren’t the result of its play in any specific quarter or because of any particular scheme. It’s a “playing football” problem, he said, and comes from the entire program – starting with him.

So, what has led to Tech’s second-half issues? Linebacker Paul Moala said the team should come out of the half with a more neutral mentality.

“There are times when we’ve been up and been a little too high,” Moala said. “Trying to maintain a level-headed (mindset) and trying to remember that, at the half, the score is 0-0 (is important).”

Some of Saturday’s problems stemmed from quarterback play. King had difficulty passing and determining his targets through the third quarter. Nothing ever will be perfect, he said, but he intends to limit mistakes and incompletions going forward.

The offense gained more ground in the second half, recording 262 total yards to 155 in the first half. King went 15-for-24 passing in the second half – a respectable tally, but that was undermined by throwing two interceptions. The game also was out of reach for most of the fourth quarter.

The first interception resulted in a 45-yard touchdown return for the Falcons. The next interception took place as Tech neared the end zone – a disastrous turn of events for the Jackets.

The Falcons controlled the ball far more often than Tech in the second half (20:21 to the Jackets’ 9:39). The defense struggled with coverage, missed tackles and allowed Bowling Green players to sprint through the middle of the field for first downs.

Safety LaMiles Brooks said Tech’s defensive woes came from penalties and failing to do their jobs. The defense was penalized six times Saturday – not ideal, but better than Bowling Green’s 10.

A solution to all these problems? Reevaluating everything, Key said, which happens after all games – but some require more than change than others.

For Moala, it means moving past Saturday and aiming to be better against Miami next weekend.

“We can’t control the past … so (we’re) just trying to make sure that we’re forgetting anything that happened wrong,” Moala said.