One week earlier, Georgia Tech was a deflected pass on fourth-and-11 from leading the ACC Coastal. On this given Saturday, the Yellow Jackets trailed by 11 points in a game that, had it been lost, would have left them in the position of having to upset somebody to finish 6-5. In college football as in life, things change quickly.
Then things changed again. Tech took a game going wrong and made it go right. It outscored Wake Forest 28-3 to win 38-24. If it wasn’t the sort of win to catch the collective eye of the College Football Playoff committee, it was a vital victory for a team that would have been no lock to be bowl-eligible had it lost.
But it won, and right about here we’re duty-bound to offer a mid-October appraisal of these 4-2 Jackets. And we would, except that this correspondent, having seen four of those games in person, still isn’t sure what to make of them. (The cancellation of the Central Florida game deprived them of a yardstick, and maybe a loss. UCF is undefeated.) The best team they’ve beaten is probably Wake Forest, which is 4-3 and hasn’t won since Sept. 23, when it trounced Appalachian State 20-19. The only times Tech has faced teams of comparable talent, it lost.
Granted, it lost by a skinny point each time. But it did lose, and being beaten 42-41 by Tennessee in double overtime looks worse with every week. The Volunteers scored six offensive touchdowns against Tech; they’ve managed two in four SEC games, none of which they’ve won. As noted, the Miami loss came down to a tipped ball, which is to say it came down to luck. Still, the Jackets arrived in Dade County off a bye and caught Miami descending from a last-second victory over Florida State and were gifted a touchdown via the usual Mark Richt kicking-game gaffe … and they still couldn’t make it work.
On Saturday night, we saw Tech at its worst and best. The Jackets fell behind 21-10 because they could bank only a field goal after moving to the Wake 2 on their opening drive – “I was really, really frustrated: First-and-goal and get knocked back,” Paul Johnson said – and then seeing TaQuon Marshall get sacked when Johnson opted to go for it on fourth-and-7 from the Demon Deacons’ 33.
That teed up Wake for the drive that made it 7-3. The Deacs would likewise score touchdowns on their next two possessions, guaranteeing that Tech, which had trailed for four second-half seconds in its first five games, would be playing from behind this time. But the Jackets caught a break five seconds before halftime: A late hit on Marshall moved the ball into Brenton King’s field-goal range, which isn’t extensive. His 42-yarder at the gun cut the deficit to 21-13.
Barely two minutes into the third quarter, Tech had drawn within two points. Wake’s opening possession of the third quarter was a calamity, its center snapping the ball when quarterback John Wolford was looking elsewhere. Marshall scored on a 49-yard counter on Tech’s first snap after the punt. Wake would push its lead to five on a field goal after the Deacs ran the ball on third-and-8, which was the first sign that the visitors, who looked rather sleek in the first half, were simply trying to hang on. It was no surprise that they didn’t score again.
Despite failing on two 2-point conversions and having a 1-pointer blocked, Tech pulled away. It had opened the game with a pass and threw nine times in the first half, and we -- and certainly the Jackets' coach -- saw where that got them. Johnson's team would throw only twice in final two quarters, once on fourth-and-11 from the Wake 30. (We did mention that he doesn’t trust his placekicker.) The end was classic PJ football – option pitches, counter-option keeps and the B-back up the gut.
The final three touchdowns were examples of each: Qua Seacy from 42 yards on a pitch, KirVonte Benson from 11 on a dive and then, on the clincher with 1:57 left, Marshall on another counter for 70 yards on third-and-4. Marshall and Benson together would rush for 299 yards.
Said Johnson: “I was proud of our guys in the second half. (Wake has) played everybody close all year. I think they’re a good team.”
Maybe, but the Deacs weren’t nearly good enough to beat Tech, not even after taking an 11-point lead. With games against Virginia and Duke remaining, the Jackets should be able to get to six wins. It’s the other three games – at Clemson next week and then home dates with Virginia Tech and Georgia – that will tell the tale on this team and this season. The Jackets won’t be favored in any of those.