The Georgia Tech season hit its new nadir for 2017 here Saturday, amid some especially poor special-teams work, TaQuon Marshall’s introduction to the interception and the growing theme emerging of a team that will go out of its way to avoid grasping anything that might be in reach.
On such an event as Tech’s 40-36 loss to Virginia on Saturday, there really is only one way to sum it up.
Leave that to the Yellow Jackets quarterback, Marshall, whose first words during the postgame interview actually were a whispered critique of his own performance to a teammate seated next to him: “Damn, 6-for-22,” he muttered as he scanned the final stats sheet and came to his completion number.
And, then, even more pointedly, he said to everyone, “Just coming up short, it sucks.”
Tech’s season of almost doing something memorable – but never quite – seems pretty well fixed now, a lasting portrait of 2017. This was the third loss by four points or less, and the third time that coach Paul Johnson has had to, like the frustrated fisherman, try to explain the one that got away.
“We had our chances. We had our chance on offense to go down and score and we had our chance on defense to stop them. And we didn’t do it. Didn’t get it done,” he said.
The maddening aspects of this team were on full display against an opponent that had been blown out its past two games, was a nine-point underdog and was playing before a small, wet crowd. The announced attendance was just more than 38,000, but was considerably less by the look of the gaps all about Scott Stadium’s quaint horseshoe. It spoke volumes for the cumulative GPA of Virginia’s students and alums not to come out on a rainy, gunmetal day such as this.
One moment, with its first play of the second half, Tech is blocking with machine-like precision and Marshall is off on a 78-yard touchdown gallop. For too many other moments, the offensive line impeded no one. Five sacks Virginia had, and eight tackles for a loss. Tech’s last desperate play to win this game ended with Marshall running for his competitive life, and losing the race.
Marshall authored some big plays with his arm Saturday – only six completions, but the average gain per completion was nearly 30 yards. And he authored two devastating interceptions – the first of his career at Tech here in the eighth game of the season.
The defense could not mount token resistance as Virginia drove 64 yards for the winning touchdown in five plays and less than two minutes.
Coaching has done Tech no favors either. Johnson insists they work tirelessly on special teams, but aside from one punt block Saturday it never showed. The Cavs had two lengthy kickoff returns, including a 92-yarder for a touchdown. And the attempted onside/pooch kick by Tech after its first touchdown was simply silly.
All leaving the Yellow Jackets with an undeniable sinking feeling.
“When you lose close ones it’s definitely tough. You have to get over them and play the next play and move on to the next game. We’ve been able to do that very well, in our opinion. It’s kind of hard not to look back, but at the same time we have to look forward,” senior safety Corey Griffin said.
“I think about (the close losses) all the time. The outcomes that we’ve had they’ve made more plays than we did at the end of the day. Go to Tennessee (Mercedes-Benz Stadium) and lose by one point. Go to Miami lose by one point. Come here and lose by four points. Not like teams are absolutely blowing us out. They are just making one more play than we are.
And, now, a season of almosts could become something worse.
Look at the remainder of Tech’s schedule. Virginia Tech at home. At Duke (the Jackets have yet to win on the road this year). A Georgia team playing for the ultimate stakes.
And it is fair to wonder if this team might avoid winning all the way to the end.