Notes, observations from Georgia Tech's 23-21 loss to Virginia Tech. (Sorry for the delay)
Thomas in better form
Quarterback Justin Thomas looked like he had more juice in his legs. He had 52 rushing yards on 15 carries, which includes lost yardage on two sacks. It was a bit of an improvement on his 18 yards on 10 carries against Virginia. He had three rushes of 10 yards or more, though none for longer than 20. At times, particularly in the fourth quarter, it seemed like Thomas keepers were all that was working.
“He’s beat up,” coach Paul Johnson said. “He can’t be the only one out there who makes play. You’ve got to get something out of the other positions. You’ve just got to.”
Tech failed to record a rushing attempt longer than Thomas’ 16-yarder. It was the second game this season without a rushing attempt of 20 yards or more. The most recent game in which the Jackets were unable to record a 20-yard run was the 2014 season opener against Wofford.
Tough night for Snoddy
A-back Broderick Snoddy got his first extended amount of playing time since the Duke game. He had one quintessential Snoddy play, a catch that he used his speed to turn into a 15-yard gain. Thomas also threw incomplete to him on a wheel route on Georgia Tech’s second possession on a play that could have gone for a big gain but a Hokies defender grabbed a fistful of Snoddy’s jersey as he ran past, slowing him down.
But two of his three carries ended in fumbles. One was a tough pitch in which linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka was barreling into his chest as the ball arrived. Snoddy didn’t bring it in and the Jackets lost possession. The other was a less forgivable fumble, early in the fourth quarter on a first-and-10 from the Hokies 35-yard line. Defensive lineman Dadi Nicholas stripped him of the ball on a toss, a fumble that may have been caused at least in part by difficulty handling the ball with the hand that was fractured in the Duke game.
About the penalty
Johnson said that Tech was just about in field-goal range at the time of guard Errin Joe’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Thomas had fallen at the Virginia Tech 39 after no gain on second-and-5. The Jackets would have faced third-and-5 at the 39 and was hoping for another four yards, which would have given kicker Harrison Butker a 52-yarder, which he has proven he can make. He has twice hit from 53, against Georgia last year and Florida State this season.
It would have been a fitting ending (had the kick been successful) to a night in which the 1990 national championship team was honored, as it beat Virginia Tech that season 6-3 on a last-second field goal by Scott Sisson. You have to think that, as team members, coaches and staff watched the game from the Bobby Dodd Stadium stands, that thought was percolating in at least some of their minds.
Virginia Tech has proven itself quite capable of mangling Georgia Tech anniversary celebrations. The Hokies beat the Jackets 17-10 in 2013 when the 100th anniversary of Grant Field was honored with a return of several former All-Americans.
I am not surprised, but chagrinned nonetheless that some shots were being taken at Joe on Twitter. It was a costly mistake, clearly, but hardly merits an attack.
“The guy made a mistake,” center Freddie Burden said. “We all made mistakes today. It was obvious. So you can’t be down on just one person. It’s the whole team to blame. You just have to keep going, move on.”
Defense stands up
Somewhat lost in the loss was that the Georgia Tech defense played a fairly strong game. Holding Virginia Tech to 5.0 yards speaks to the job the Jackets did limiting big plays and forcing a lot of no-gain plays. I thought Roderick Rook-Chungong did a nice job setting the edge at end on run plays. D.J. White was tested often and had three pass breakups.
Noteworthy to me was that on the final seven possessions for Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech allowed nine points, and the touchdown was on a possession that the Hokies began on the Georgia Tech 18-yard line. (Virginia Tech did miss a field goal.) There were a lot of big plays to force long third downs or punts. And it was done without Adam Gotsis, Jabari Hunt and, for a half, P.J. Davis.
Credit to defensive tackle Patrick Gamble, who played almost the entire game. Kyle Cerge-Henderson played a good bit and Anree Saint-Amour earned his first sack, one of two tackles for loss.
Going back to 2012, ACC teams have played 25 games against FBS competition in which they held their opponent to 5.0 yards or less, had two takeaways and returned an interception for a touchdown. Prior to Thursday, those teams were 23-2.
Balls on the ground
Tech’s fumble issues continued with four more to get to 24 for the season. Three were lost, including B-back Marcus Allen’s fumble that gave Virginia Tech the ball on the Jackets’ 18-yard line with 9:18 to play. The miscue turned into the Hokies’ go-ahead touchdown.
The most fumbles that Georgia Tech has had during a season during Johnson’s tenure was 37 in 2010.
One last thing
The funny thing about Thursday’s game – not “haha” funny, I suppose – and about so many of the games this year, is that the Jackets weren’t so far (again) from pulling it out. If Joe hadn’t commit the penalty, or Allen had caught the third-down pass from Thomas to keep the previous drive going or any number of plays had gone Tech’s way, Butker might have been putting a field goal through the uprights as time expired and the perspective on the game would be entirely different.
And the large majority of what happened in the game wouldn’t be any different. I’ve probably cited the Rudyard Kipling poem “If” before, but I have found myself (because I am a nerd) thinking about one line in it often this season – “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster/And treat those two impostors just the same”
That said, I don’t think anyone would try to pretend that the way the team has played in all three phases as high-rate, but it’s funny that, like most seasons, a difference of maybe 10 plays would vastly change the perception of the season because the Triumph/Disaster ratio would be different.