What a bizarre and frustrating game. Entering Saturday, Georgia Tech boasted the #1 rushing offense in the country with an impressive 373 rushing yards per game. Tech’s defense came in ranked #67 in yards allowed per game and had delivered underwhelming performances against every legitimate opponent thus far. It seemed to be the perfect setup for a high-scoring offensive shootout, but that’s not what we got at all. In the first half, Tech’s defense did a surprisingly good job at keeping Duke’s offense in check while the Jackets’ offense completely floundered, scraping together just 77 rushing yards. Despite their struggles on the offensive side, Tech’s defense held strong and the game was a 7-7 tie at halftime.
Unfortunately, the wheels fell off in the second half. An unbelievable string of fumbles led to Duke scoring three touchdowns in the final two minutes of the 3rd Quarter, turning a 7-7 score into 28-7 in the blink of an eye. While Georgia Tech showed some fight in the 4th Quarter, it was too little, too late. The game ended 28-14 and the Jackets were left wondering how they threw away a game that seemed winnable for most of three quarters. Here’s what we learned from Tech’s frustrating loss to the Blue Devils:
Tech still can’t avoid self-inflicted mistakes
The Jackets just didn’t seem focused when they came out for the second half. Tech committed three penalties in the first nine minutes of the 3rd Quarter, the most crucial being a false start penalty by A-back Clinton Lynch that ultimately put the Jackets in a 3rd & 6 situation instead of 3rd & 1. The flood gates truly opened, however, when B-back Jerry Howard fumbled with 2:41 remaining in the 3rd Quarter, beginning what may be the most embarrassing three minutes of Georgia Tech Football history. After letting Duke complete a 48-yard touchdown pass on 3rd & 12, the Jackets proceeded to fumble on their next two touches of the football: quarterback TaQuon Marshall fumbled on the first play of the following drive, leading to a quick Duke passing touchdown, and then Juanyeh Thomas fumbled on the ensuing kickoff to set the Blue Devils up for their third touchdown in two minutes. You can’t do all of that and expect to win a game.
Kickoff returns are hurting the Jackets
Juanyeh Thomas’s 3rd Quarter fumble was just the icing on the cake of an already bad day returning kickoffs. On the game’s opening kickoff he was brought down on the 19-yard line, and on his second return (which went for just 15 yards) a holding call brought the Jackets’ starting position back to their own 8-yard line. On his third return Thomas tried to do too much, running backwards before fumbling the ball away on the 6-yard line. If Thomas calls for a fair catch on those kickoffs, Tech starts each of those drives on the 25-yard line and at least one Duke touchdown is prevented. I wouldn’t mind if Thomas calls for a fair catch on every kickoff for the rest of the season, because while there’s no doubt he’s a playmaker, the potential reward just isn’t worth the risk.
Anree Saint-Amour is a gamechanger
The lone bright spot for the Jackets came on the defensive side of the ball, with Anree Saint-Amour giving the Jackets one of the best individual defensive efforts in recent memory. Saint-Amour feasted on the Duke offense in the first half, racking up two sacks, a forced fumble, and a QB hit that resulted in an interception by cornerback Lamont Simmons. Sadly his effort will likely be forgotten due to the game’s outcome, but hopefully Saint-Amour can continue his dominance for the Jackets’ defense for the remainder of the season.
This game was a big test for Georgia Tech, and only half the team showed up to play. The defense wasn’t spectacular, but they did enough to win, holding Duke to 304 yards of offense and coming up with two big 4th down stops. The offense, on the other hand, averaged just 3.8 yards per rushing attempt and put the defense in difficult situations by repeatedly fumbling the ball.
Looking ahead, the offense will need to get things figured out fast, as there are still major issues with blocking, pitch relationships, and ball security. The defense still has lots of room for improvement, especially in terms of pass coverage and giving up long 3rd down conversions. Making a bowl game seems highly unlikely at this point, with games against Virginia Tech, Miami, and Georgia still remaining. It’s time for Paul Johnson to get things figured out fast, or this could end up being his final season on The Flats.