ATLANTA, GA – 17 plays. No, that wasn’t the tally from of one of Tech’s proverbial “Death Marches.” It was Tech’s total number of offensive plays in the first half of Saturday’s home finale versus the Virginia Cavaliers.
For most of the game’s first half, the Cavaliers defense held the Jackets’ spread option offense in check. On offense, the Cavaliers played keep away with three drives of 9 plays or more. The result was a 10-7 halftime lead for the ‘Hoos.
One lone chunk play from B-Back Marcus Marshall, a 67-yard touchdown rip, kept Tech within striking distance.
“Clearly as coaches we need to do a better job getting ready to play,” said Tech head coach Paul Johnson. “We could not get off the field on defense, and on offense we were abysmal on third down. Too many negative plays. We missed too many opportunities from the first series on.”
The start to the third quarter was hardly different for the Jackets’ offense. Tech’s first two drives ended after just 4 plays, the latter a turnover on downs at the Jackets’ own 29 yard line.
“For a team to take that risk, there was a sense of desperation on their side, trying to separate,” said Cavaliers head coach Bronco Mendenhall. “I don’t want to speak for their coach, but they viewed that as a sign that that was a huge play, and they weren’t able to convert with a team that runs the ball very, very well.”
Rather than deflating after handing the ball to the ‘Hoos in plus territory, the failed conversion instead jolted the Jackets and provided a sense of urgency that had been missing all game. The Cavaliers were stuffed on three downs and shanked a 42 yard field goal attempt. The spark that the Jackets’ offense needed was provided by their defense.
And that spark turned into fire. Three offensive plays later, redshirt sophomore A-Back Clinton Lynch slipped out on a skinny post behind the Virginia defense and hauled in a 54 yard Justin Thomas pass en route to the end zone. Just like that, Tech grabbed the lead 14-10.
“That was definitely a huge play,” said Tech safety Corey Griffin. “I don’t know how Clinton gets that wide open every time. But it’s definitely a momentum swinger and game changer.”
From that point forward the Jackets defense rolled despite being on the field for 88 plays on the game. Tech forced three turnovers by way of interception, including a pick-6 by cornerback Lance Austin, and allowed the ‘Hoos just one scoring drive to close out the game. The Jackets offense added one more touchdown, another explosion play of 60 yards by A-Back Qua Searcy, along with a Harrison Butker field goal.
The final score – Georgia Tech 31, Virginia 17.
Saturday’s win at Bobby Dodd Stadium marks the last of its kind for 16 Georgia Tech seniors. Said defensive tackle Pat Gamble, “I took it all in. I tried to take it a step at a time. You definitely feel it when you know it’s your last time playing at Bobby Dodd, the last time going out in front of the fans, running out behind the Wreck. I don’t know, it’s a bittersweet feeling.”
With no games left to win in Atlanta, Tech’s senior class has no choice but to look elsewhere. Come Monday the Jackets turn their attention East toward Athens and the Georgia Bulldogs. And without question, seven days from now the outcome of Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate week will eliminate any semblance of mixed emotions.