Some among you might see the final score — Georgia Tech 70, Elon 0 — and think, “That must have been the least exciting game ever played.” And here’s where I, stat geek that I am, rise to object.
“Unexciting, you say?” I say, pocket protector secure in my short-sleeved shirt. “Unexciting only for those without access to a calculator!”
Indeed, for long minutes on a mathematically overstuffed opening day, it seemed this callow contest might rise to the level of the historic. Allow me to recreate the drama:
Tech led 21-0 after six minutes, putting it on pace to win 140-0, which would be a school record most places but not here. (The 1916 Jackets beat Cumberland 222-0.)
Tech led 28-0 with 3:38 left in first quarter, putting it on pace to win 148-0. Heating up, these Jackets.
Tech led 35-0 after 13 seconds of the second quarter, putting it on pace to win 138-0. Slowing a bit, but still.
Tech led 42-0 with 8:51 left in the half after linebacker Tyler Marcordes took an interception 95 yards, putting it on pace to win 119-0. And when last did a FBS school hit triple digits?
In 1968, when Houston beat Tulsa 100-6. There have been four 100-point games since, all by smaller schools, the most recent a 105-0 victory by Rockford over Trinity Bible in 2003. (I know this because I found FootballGeography.com, which for a half-hour Saturday became my favorite website.)
Then Tech coach Paul Johnson lifted quarterback Vad Lee for the Jackets’ final series of the half. The Jackets didn’t score on that possession, and the final 8:51 of the quarter proved pointless. Now the Jackets were on pace to win only 84-0, which admittedly is a hefty spread. But a total in high double figures doesn’t carry the same oomph as a big fat 100, does it?
As if on cue, the Tech marching band offered a halftime tribute to mathematics. (I am not making this up.) Announcer “George P. Burdell” — that’s a longstanding Techie pseudonym — spoke the words “circumference” and “transversal” and “quadrilateral” over the PA, and songs performed included “One”, “Tea For Two” and “25 or 6 to 4.”
Perhaps sensing that his substitution might have cost his Jackets a chance at numerical immortality, Johnson redeployed Lee to start the second half. The first drive of the third quarter featured 13 runs against no passes. It yielded a touchdown, but consumed a precious 5:35. Tech made the score 49-0, but was on pace to win only 83-0.
Hopes for hanging a hundred on the scoreboard spiked after safety Chris Milton returned an interception to make the score 56-0 with 7:08 left in the third quarter. Tech was on pace to win 89-0. Could it actually happen?
Much depended on Johnson. Would he let Lee play on? Yes, he would! A touchdown pass — Lee threw three times in four snaps on this drive — to Robert Godhigh made it 63-0 with 4:28 left in the third period. Tech was on pace to win 93-0.
Then history took a hike. Lee didn’t play again. The Jackets scored only once more, that by accident. This wound up being just another of those pay-a-little-school-to-come-lose blowouts that mottle the landscape. A North Dakota State might beat a Kansas State once every decade, but most FBS-FCS matchups devolve into glorified scrimmages.
“This went as well as you could possibly hope,” Johnson said, and that was true from every standpoint except the triple-figure one. Lee looked poised and polished. The defense looked fast and ornery. Then again, this came against an opponent that makes a habit of banking its appearance fee and taking its drubbing: Elon opened last season by losing 62-0 to North Carolina.
To his credit, Johnson showed he might actually have a heart. He acceded to Elon’s request that the clock keep running in the fourth quarter, and he even tried to hold the score at 63-nil. But backup quarterback Justin Thomas broke free and kept going. “I told my man if he broke in the clear, take a knee,” Johnson said. “He said, ‘Come on, coach. I haven’t played in two years.’ … He was probably scared I was going to kill him.”
Having flirted with triple digits, the Jackets settled for posting the most lopsided win by a team based in the ACC. Which is something, I guess. Still, Tech is a school steeped in numbers. Every student must take calculus, and the Jackets even have a defensive tackle named Euclid. As the band’s PA announcer said at halftime, “Who doesn’t love a good math problem?”
For a while, 100 points seemed possible. The Jackets stopped at 70. They have an off-week now to work out the kinks.