MIAMI GARDENS, FLA. – Whatever they call the stadium here now – it’s had more aliases than a character in a Robert Ludlum novel. And however it looks – in lieu of a roof (we know how troublesome those can be) they’ve gone with more of a Don-Shula’s-covered-porch-on-steroids theme these days. It just doesn’t matter. It’s still the same house of horrors for Georgia Tech.
So long as the Miami Hurricanes take up residence here, 25 miles up the road from their Coral Gables campus, the Yellow Jackets will regard this stadium as your bare leg would a fire ant mound.
At this stage, I don’t think anything less than an exorcism or a condemnation would help what ails the Yellow Jackets here.
In truth, the setting probably does not matter as much as the opponent. With Saturday’s 25-24 loss , that made eight defeats in the last nine games against the ‘Canes. It’s just that this particular L in this particular place – throw in for good measure such a soaking rain shower that you could almost hear the mildew growing on Paul Johnson – was the most galling yet.
Because it was one of those variety of losses that seed a very heightened variety of dejection in a team. One that makes even the stoutest heart ask: If we can’t beat them now, when will we ever?
It was old Georgia coach Mark Richt – two seasons now back at his Miami alma mater – who benefitted from every twist of good fortune. Saturday’s victory over Tech gave him and the Hurricanes a clear look forward to finally making it to a first ACC Championship game. This makes two straight victories – over FSU and Georgia Tech – in the waning seconds for Miami. It is dancing a joyful samba on the ledge, with this good man in the lead.
To every such story of great good fortune in football there must be a corresponding victim. Enter Georgia Tech.
As Yellow Jackets senior linebacker Victor Alexander said afterward, his frustration in the fermentation stage: “We came down here to win. We’ve been having animosity against Miami for the longest (time). We had in our mind: We got to beat these dudes. This is that year we’re going to beat these dudes and we’re going to shut their mouth.”
It’s not that Miami didn’t try to aid that cause. Richt made a terrible decision to open the second half. In fact, it was the Faton Bauta of poor special teams decisions. The ‘Canes’ botched onside kick was turned into a 42-yard touchdown return by Georgia Tech’s Lamont Simmons. That gave the Yellow Jackets a 21-13 lead, all the momentum and every excuse to take control of the ACC Coastal.
And it’s not that Georgia Tech didn’t do the one thing that was crucial to beating Miami – not turning over the ball. Zero turnovers. Miami likes to award its gaudy “Turnover Chain” to whichever player causes one. That trinket remained in hiding this day, a victory at least for good taste.
But Georgia Tech’s offense went missing the second half – gaining only 54 yards on the ground, a pittance. And the Yellow Jackets suffered greatly for the wont of a single play.
Sending writers south to record these events was rather a duplication of effort. Paul Johnson, after all, was on hand afterward to distill so much grain into a couple small sips of hard truth.
“We make a high throw and we can’t catch it,” he said, referring to a fourth-quarter drive-extending pass from TaQuon Marshall that skipped off the hands of Brad Stewart. Instead of running more clock and maybe even putting up a clinching score, Georgia Tech punted with 2:30 left in the game.
“And they catch it off two deflections. That was the game,” Johnson said. That was the fourth-and-10 pass gathered in by Miami’s Darrell Langham despite being tipped by Tech cornerback Lamont Simmons. That essentially enabled the ‘Canes to kick a winning 24-yard field goal with just four seconds left.
“We had the ball and couldn’t hold onto it. And on 4th-and-10, their kid made a helluva play,” Johnson summarized.
“They made one more play than we did. They executed. It hurts a lot,” Tech senior safety Corey Griffin emphasized.
It’s not like Griffin or the rest of his mates are unaccustomed to experiencing such pain whenever Miami’s around. That doesn’t mean they have to get used to it. Or do they?