Everyone knew defense would be ahead of offense during Georgia Tech’s rebuild. Coach Geoff Collins is a defensive guy. Moving on from the triple-option was, as Collins frequently reminds us, a major endeavor. Give the Yellow Jackets time.

After 21 games with Collins, that gap remains wide. Tech’s defense gave a spirited effort at N.C. State on Saturday despite missing several key players. It’s still too much to ask for Tech’s offense to be effective in back-to-back weeks.

The Jackets lost 23-13 while scoring only two field goals after halftime. This came a week after piling up 523 yards and 49 points in a victory against Duke. N.C. State’s defense isn’t much better than Duke’s. Tech’s offense was just back to form with its usual foibles and frustrations.

“I thought the guys came out there and competed,” Collins said. “That’s a good team. We went toe-to-toe with them the entire game.”

Credit Tech’s depleted defense. The list of 10 unavailable Jackets players included two starters in the defensive backfield and one on the defensive line. The Jackets still held N.C. State to a field goal after halftime. They kept getting stops and waiting for Tech touchdowns that never came.

The Jackets could have won with an average day by their offense. They didn’t commit a turnover for only the second time this season and converted 10 of 19 third downs. But they were 0-for-3 on fourth downs and netted only two field goals on three trips inside N.C. State’s 15-yard line. Tech’s 12 penalties included six infractions by the offense, with four false starts.

Tech’s offensive ambitions remain weighed down by its paltry passing game. Blocking was a big problem against N.C. State. Eventually nearly all of coordinator Dave Patenaude’s pass calls were designed for quarterback Jeff Sims to angle wide and buy time. Finally, the Jackets gave up on passing altogether.

ExploreTech defense was shorthanded but not short on heart

Collins was looking for more energy and celebrations from his players early. It must be tough to muster much enthusiasm when scoring points is such a chore. It had to be a bummer for the Jackets when, during their comeback attempt, a first-and-goal at the 1-yard line nets a field goal.

Tech trailed 20-7 at halftime because its defense was playing great under the circumstances. The Jackets got the ball to begin the second half. They ran 10 consecutive times to move from their 25-yard line to a first down one yard from the end zone.

A false-start penalty moved Tech back five yards. Jordan Mason ran for five yards to set up second down at the 1-yard line. Another false start pushed Tech back again before Sims was dropped for a 1-yard loss on a rollout. Now it was third-and-goal from the 6-yard line.

Sims’ short toss to running back Jamious Griffin was tipped before falling to the ground. It was ruled a backward pass that ended up out of bounds. That would have been a fitting end to a farcical sequence. But the play was changed to an incomplete forward pass.

Tech was 0-for-2 on fourth downs in the first half. Collins opted to try a 26-yard field goal this time. Freshman Gavin Stewart made it to get Tech within 20-10. That was a positive development, given Tech’s season-long kicking issues. But the field goal was a letdown considering it came after first-and-goal at the 1-yard line.

“Those are the kinds of things that cannot happen when in this kind of game against a good football team,” Collins said.

The score was still 20-10 to begin the final quarter because Tech’s defense stopped N.C. State again. The Wolfpack couldn’t convert a fourth down at Tech’s 10-yard line. The Jackets took over and drove to another first-and-goal. They even managed to convert a third-and-9 via pass along the way.

But a pass and two runs netted only five yards for the Jackets. They kicked another field goal. The Jackets held N.C. State to a field goal on its next drive. Tech’s last gasp ended with a failed pass on fourth down at midfield. The defense couldn’t get one more stop to give the Jackets another chance.

Tech could have used running back Jahmyr Gibbs, who was out with a hamstring injury suffered last weekend (Tech didn’t say why the other players were sidelined). Gibbs is the team leader in scrimmage yards and touchdowns, but Tech is deep at his position. The Jackets were thin in the secondary and on the defensive line (only three ends were available) yet were stout early.

The Wolfpack ran four plays and punted on their first possession. They went three-and-out next time they had the ball. N.C. State kicked a field goal to end its third possession. Third-string Tech defensive back Wesley Walker saved a TD by knocking a pass away from Porter Rooks in the end zone.

“It’s an ‘ATL’ depth chart,” Tech senior linebacker David Curry said. “Everybody on the plane is expected to play.”

If Tech’s offensive players were inspired by the defense, it didn’t show. The Jackets ended their first three possessions with punts. One drive went for two yards and another gained zero.

“As an offense, we started off slow, and that falls on me because I wasn’t juiced up in the beginning,” Sims said.

His self-assessment was too harsh. Leaky pass blocking was the real issue. Patenaude still kept directing Sims to throw.

Tech’s third drive started with fumbles on consecutive plays. The Jackets were lucky to recover both. On a third-and-12, Sims sidestepped a blitz and ran for 14 yards. The Jackets tried passing again, but went backward with a sack and a holding penalty before punting.

Patenaude stuck with runs on the next drive. It paid off. Consecutive power runs by Jordan Mason for 13, nine and eight yards put Tech on N.C. State’s side of the field for the first time. Sims finished the drive with a 34-yard touchdown run. The Jackets hadn’t done much on offense, yet they were only behind by a field goal.

It was going to be tough for Tech’s defense to keep slowing N.C. State. The Wolfpack pushed the pace. Quarterback Bailey Hockman, a McEachern High grad, stood in the pocket unbothered by Tech’s shallow pool of pass rushers and threw over their green defensive backs. N.C. State’s next two drives ended with TDs.

The Jackets trailed 17-7. Their defense was wearing down. They needed the offense to do something. The Jackets threatened to score on back-to-back drives when, despite two penalties, they moved from their 25-yard line to N.C. State’s 35.

Dontae Smith ran for 25 yards, and Sims passed for 15 to Sanders to set up a third-and-3 at the 25-yard line. Smith’s third-down run lost a yard. Tech called a timeout then went for it because, Collins said, he didn’t want to use a new holder in that situation.

Mason lost another yard on fourth down. Now runs weren’t working for Tech, either.

The Wolfpack took over on downs made it to Tech’s 3-yard line, where the defense stiffened again. N.C. State kicked another field-goal attempt for a 20-7 lead. The Jackets had nearly four minutes to try to answer, but turned it over on downs again. That drive stalled at N.C. State’s 17-yard line.

The Jackets went into the locker room and tried to come up with a plan to score more points. They could produce only two field goals. That was a shame because their undermanned defense played well enough to win. After the flash against Duke, Tech’s offense still is lagging well behind.