The well-worn truth that a game is never decided by one play revealed itself again Saturday when Georgia Tech lost to Pitt 37-34.
From Tech’s perspective, the most lingering plays were safety Corey Griffin tipping a pass that deflected directly to tight end Scott Orndoff for the game-tying touchdown and B-back Dedrick Mills’ getting denied on 4th-and-1, both late in the fourth quarter. However, there were a number of critical plays that mattered just as much. Here are a few.
Missed blocks stop drive
On Tech’s opening drive, down 7-0, Tech reached the Pitt 25 and had a 1st-and-10. On first down, tackle Trey Klock couldn’t get a clean release off the line, and wasn’t able to reach linebacker Matt Galambos, who tackled B-back Dedrick Mills for a one-yard gain. On second down, a pitch to Mills, A-back Isiah Willis made an aggressive charge at safety Terrish Webb, but Webb dodged the cut-block attempt and brought down Mills for a six-yard gain. On 3rd-and-3, a triple-option play was botched as quarterback Justin Thomas was brought down from behind before the play could unfold.
The Yellow Jackets settled for a Harrison Butker field goal.
On Pitt’s second drive, the Panthers looked like they were going to face a 3rd-and-9 or 3rd-and-10 around the Tech 30 after a well-defended screen play was stopped for a one-yard loss. However, after forcing a hurried throw, linebacker Terrell Lewis was penalized for roughing the passer. Rather than a third down that might have resulted in Pitt attempting a field goal and a 10-3 lead, the Panthers instead had 1st-and-10 from the Tech 14. Pitt was in the end zone three plays later for a 14-3 lead.
After Tech closed to within 21-17 on wide receiver Ricky Jeune’s stellar catch for a 31-yard touchdown reception, Pitt started the next drive at its 22-yard line with 1:48 left in the half. On first down, defensive end Antonio Simmons hurried quarterback Nathan Peterman, who threw to the sideline to Orndoff. Cornerback Lance Austin jumped the route perfectly, but he couldn’t make the interception and the ball fell incomplete. Had he been able to cleanly catch it, Austin had a clear shot down the sideline for a touchdown. Pitt ultimately punted, and the Jackets were still able to finish the half with a Harrison Butker field goal, but seven points would have been better.
Mishandled fourth down
On the opening drive of the second half, down 21-20, Tech reached the Pitt 36 and faced 4th-and-4. Coach Paul Johnson made the decision to go for it. Quarterback Justin Thomas sprinted out to his left, deftly evaded defensive end Ejuan Price and fired to wide receiver Mikell Lands-Davis, who dropped the ball at the 21-yard line. Had Tech gone no further than the 21, the Jackets could have taken a 23-21 lead with a field goal. Instead, Pitt got the ball and drove for a field goal and a 24-20 lead.
The play was preceded by an apparent missed assignment on the offensive line that allowed defensive tackle Shakir Soto to get into the backfield and stop Dedrick Mills for a one-yard gain.
Blitz can’t get home
Pitt faced a 3rd-and-7 on the Tech 44. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof called for a zone blitz, dropping defensive end Antonio Simmons into coverage and bringing linebacker Victor Alexander and safety A.J. Gray from the right side at Peterman. However, Alexander and Gray were unable to pressure Peterman, appearing to come up through the same gap. Peterman fired to tight end Scott Orndoff for a first down.
On Tech’s final drive of the game, the Jackets faced a 3rd-and-11 from their 24-yard line. Thomas moved the pocket left and fired across the field to wide receiver Brad Stewart, who charged hard off the line to back off cornerback Ryan Lewis before coming back to the ball. He made the catch and got out of bounds. Unfortunately, Stewart ran about a step too shy. His route ran past the first-down marker but he came back to the ball just shy of it, creating a 4th-and-1. That set up the 4th-and-1 that the Jackets failed to convert, opening the door for Pitt to win on a game-ending field goal.
To be in position to win the game, Tech made scores of plays. A-back blocking on the perimeter was better. Thomas had a superior game throwing the ball and made a number of plays with his feet. Simmons continued his strong play from defensive end. Butker made two clutch field goals. A-back J.J. Green had a standout game. The Jackets just needed one or two more, but didn't get them, and that was the difference.