That’s become a pattern for Key’s Jackets. They’ve won back-to-back games once. They follow bad losses with good wins, like beating Miami after losing to Bowling Green. Then Tech follows those good wins with bad losses, like getting outscored 21-0 in the fourth quarter at home by Boston College.
Tech lost another game where it supposedly was the better team. Key’s Jackets are 0-4 vs. FCS opponents when favored. All those losses were at home. Tech is 6-4 as underdogs with Key as coach. Five of those victories were on the road.
That pattern suggests that the Jackets get up for games when the odds are against them, but fall flat when expectations are higher.
“That’s not something we look at by any means at all,” Key said. “It’s more of the way we play versus the (different) opponents. There’s a standard of consistency that we have to get to.”
The Jackets won’t start a win streak until that happens. They lost the season opener at Louisville after leading 28-13 at halftime and failing to score again until it was too late. Tech has alternated between wins and losses since then. It looked as if the Jackets would break the pattern when they led BC by a touchdown entering the fourth quarter.
The Eagles dominated from there. They rushed for 153 yards in the fourth quarter after gaining 155 through the first three. Tech’s final three drives ended with a punt, an interception and a lost fumble.
“That was the disappointing part, the fourth quarter,” Key said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do with building this team the way it needs to be built, the way I know it can be built.”
Key can start with his team’s offense. He hired Buster Faulkner from Georgia to call the plays. The result so far has been only 26.7 points per game against FBS opponents. The Eagles entered the weekend ranked 11th of the 14 ACC teams in points allowed per game (31.7 per game). Tech punted on four of its 12 full possessions and turned the ball over on three others.
The Eagles scored on one of those giveaways. They blitzed King on a third-and-long play in the third quarter. He was under pressure while trying to throw to Dominick Blaylock. Cornerback Amari Jackson (Eagle’s Landing High) snatched the pass with a one-handed catch and ran 33 yards for the score.
King’s second interception set up the Eagles near midfield. Kye Robichaux ran for 57 yards on the first play and scored a touchdown on the next to put BC up 38-23 with less than eight minutes left. King’s third interception stopped Tech’s final drive at BC’s 24-yard line.
Boston College’s offense is only a little better than its defense. The Eagles entered the weekend scoring 27.7 points per game, ninth best in the ACC. Essentially, stopping the Eagles means containing sophomore quarterback Thomas Castellanos (Ware County). What Castellanos lacks in size (5-foot-10, 196 pounds) and passing accuracy he makes up for with running ability and unusual savvy for a first-year starter.
Castellanos was too slippery for the Jackets. He ran for 128 yards on only 13 carries (9.8 average), with two touchdowns. Castellanos passed for 255 yards on 29 attempts, with four completions of 25 yards or more.
“We definitely respected him, respected his game,” Tech defensive back K.J. Wallace said. “We prepared for that all week. ... Honestly, I think the majority of the game we did a fairly good job containing him.”
The Jackets couldn’t do it when it mattered most.
Castellanos ran for a 12-yard touchdown that cut BC’s deficit to 17-10 a few minutes before halftime. That was after he converted a third-and-long with a 30-yard strike to Jeremiah Franklin and bounced outside for an 11-yard run on fourth-and-1. In the fourth quarter, Castellanos turned a fourth-and-1 run up the middle into a 43-yard touchdown that put Tech in a 31-23 hole with less than nine minutes left.
Key said Tech had only 10 players on the field for that play.
“That starts with me and the coaches on the field,” Key said. “It also starts with the players going on the field and doing their job.”
Key and his assistant coaches are the ones who are paid for their work. They didn’t do their job well enough to lead the Jackets to a victory. The problems were on offense (four turnovers), defense (7.8 yards allowed per play and special teams (a missed extra-point attempt after a bad snap).
This game was a big letdown for the Jackets after the victory at Miami. Yes, Hurricanes coach Mario Cristobal helped them with a coaching blunder. But, before that, the Jackets had slowed one of the ACC’s better offenses. After Cristobal failed to take a knee to run out the clock and Miami fumbled, King delivered a 44-yard TD pass to Christian Leary.
Tech followed that upset victory with an ugly defeat to a team it was favored to beat. That’s nothing new for Key’s Jackets. They’ll be underdogs against No. 10 North Carolina here next weekend. Maybe that’s for the best.