Yellow Jackets at point of caring about result, not beauty

With suddenly modest expectations for Atlanta-area football teams — the expected byproduct of injuries, turnovers and defensive backs roaming the secondary like extras on the Walking Dead — this much seems certain: Grading wins is just asking for too much.

As Georgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee summarized nicely: “Going to watch the film Monday. It’ll be a big relief because we won the game.”

The Yellow Jackets committed four turnovers in the first half of Saturday’s game against Virginia and had a dizzying stretch of five turnovers in seven possessions. One week after playing penalty-free against Syracuse, they were flagged on the opening kickoff and finished with nine penalties for 97 yards (and that doesn’t include a roughing-the-passer call that Virginia declined in favor of a pass-interference penalty on the same play). Somehow, this run-dominated offense also was dwarfed in time of possession by nearly 10 minutes (34:44 to 25:16).

Tech coach Paul Johnson called it “a crazy game.” He might have used another adjective if his team hadn’t won. He said he told his players, “I don’t know that as a coach I’ve ever won a game where we were minus-five in the turnovers and had 10 penalties.”

If the opponent wasn’t Virginia, or some school from the Colonial Athletic Association, Tech would not have left Charlottesville with a 35-25 victory.

Take it and run. Virginia sure wasn’t going to.

How do you explain a football team that turns five turnovers into exactly zero points. Tech kept giving Virginia the ball, and the Cavaliers kept finding creative ways to blow the opportunity.

It was like watching the Salvation Army torch a clothes drive.

Virginia’s five unplanned possessions went like this:

1. Tech fumbles. Virginia drives, but misses a field-goal attempt.

2. Tech fumbles. Virginia drives, lines up for a field-goal try, but Tech gets called for offside, making it fourth-and-1 from the 10. Coach Mike London pulls his field-goal unit off the field, then quarterback David Watford throws a dreadful incompletion to his fullback.

3. Tech fumbles. Virginia goes three-and-out.

4. Tech throws an interception. Virginia punts again.

5. Tech throws another interception. Virginia drives to the Jackets’ 2 with 16 seconds left in the half. But London mismanages the clock — and his employment on campus also may be on the clock. The Cavs’ Kevin Parks gains only 1 yard, and London calls timeout with six seconds left. He again bypasses the field goal, calls an unimaginitive running play for Parks, and he gets stuffed for no gain.

Five turnovers. Zero points.

So Johnson gets a win, but loses a charitable tax deduction.

Johnson believed his players were making progress, particularly after last week’s near-flawless performance in a 56-0 win over Syracuse. This caused him to reassess matters.

“It was unforced turnovers,” he said. “Just dropping the ball. It’s hard to explain. … I mean, we pitched one over our head.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do. I thought we were getting better at some of that stuff.”

Actually, some stuff, they are.

It’s not like there weren’t positive moments. Tech finished with 507 yards in offense, including 394 rushing. Three backs — Zach Laskey (133 yards, two touchdowns), Robert Godhigh (111, one TD), David Sims (107, two TDs), all went over 100 yards. Quarterback Vad Lee had some shaky moments (fumble, interception) but he also had two big completions in the fourth quarter that helped seal the win: a 13-yarder to DeAndre Smelter on third-and-9 (Godhigh ran 65 yards for a touchdown on the next play); a 38-yarder to Godhigh with less than three minutes left to extend a drive and kill the clock.

There were flaws, but this isn’t the time for the Jackets to get picky.

If you’re Tech, Georgia or the Falcons, you take any win and run. All three are far past caring about style points. Each team has been beaten up in its own unique way. All are just looking for wins.

The Jackets understand that despite their recent three-game losing streak, they’re now 5-3 with at least two likely regular-season wins remaining (Pittsburgh, Alabama A&M) and two other games that they could view as winnable (Clemson, which has a recent history of fizzling against them) and Georgia (which is spiraling).

“Losing three in a row … we just had to make up our minds how we wanted our season to go,” defensive end Emmanuel Dieke said. “It was up to us to decide whether we wanted to salvage our season or lose. We had to take control. We have four games left, and we expect to win them all.”

And how they get there doesn’t matter.