Two defensive touchdowns scored by Miami in the second quarter led to its 35-21 win over Georgia Tech on Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
It was the first time Tech coach Paul Johnson said he’s ever seen that and it was the first time in Tech’s history that two fumbles have been returned for touchdowns in a game.
“It’s disappointing that we gifted them two scores in the second quarter off turnovers,” Johnson said. “It turned out to be a momentum-changer in the game.”
The last time Tech allowed two defensive touchdowns happened against Virginia Tech in 2005. The Yellow Jackets lost that game 51-7.
Leading 14-7, Miami increased its lead to 21-7 when Shaq Quarterman picked up a fumble by Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas and returned it 17 yards for the touchdown.
It would be unfair to blame Thomas for the fumble. Facing second-and-10 on the 25-yard line, Tech lined up in its usual formation. Before the snaps, Miami’s Trent Harris walked up to the line, over the left tackle. Johnson said nobody made a call to come back (to him). At the snap, Thomas rolled right on what was supposed to be a play-action pass. Tech’s left tackle blocked down to his right, and the A-back on the left side ran a route to the left. Neither picked up Harris, who had a clear path to Thomas and hit him at full speed. Thomas appeared to favor his left side after the massive hit.
“When you turn a guy loose who is lined up on you, when they guy is lined up dead on you and you turn the guy loose, I don’t know who can coach that,” Johnson said. “I promise they aren’t coached to do that.”
On Georgia Tech’s second play of its next possession, Thomas rolled left and was going to pitch to the trailing A-back on second-and-9 on the 26-yard line. But the A-back was actually running parallel and very close to Thomas, who tried to bring the ball back down. The ball fell out of his hands and Miami outside linebacker Joe Jackson picked it up and ran it 18 yards for a touchdown.
Miami was the last team to return a fumble for a touchdown against Tech when Jermaine Grace did so last year.
Tech’s offense bounced back after the back-to-back touchdowns on Saturday to score and cut Miami’s lead to 28-14 at halftime. On the final touchdown drive, Thomas appeared to have trouble moving his left arm. The offense didn’t run any triple-option plays on the drive.
“There are very few teams good enough to turn over the ball twice for touchdowns and come back and win the game,” Johnson said. “We made way too many mistakes again. We have to do a better job preparing them.”