By Don Stone - Georgia Tech Express
this season is a great improvement from the debacle that was 2015 when
Georgia Tech finished 3-9, 1-7 in the ACC and missed a bowl appearance for
the first time in 19 years. Virginia also had a bad season going 4-8. But
one of those four wins was a 27-21 Halloween win over the Yellow Jackets.
The 2016 season has had its shares of highlights including a last second
opening win against a good Boston College defense in Ireland. Wins against
Duke and their biggest of the season at then #10 ranked Virginia Tech on the
road brought signs of hope for Jacket fans. That one made them bowl eligible
for a holiday destination that could be anywhere from the Belk Bowl in
Charlotte to the Sun Bowl in El Paso with a half dozen options in between.
Tech has a decent shot of winning its last two games and finishing 8-4.
Next week at Georgia is definitely possible given the uneven performance
this season for the Bulldogs in Kirby Smart's first season. Even
though the Cavaliers won last year's matchup, the game today would be a
stunner if they come out on top. There's no way you can rationalize a road
win against the Hokies without Justin Thomas, Freddie Burden, Andrew
Marshall, J.J. Green and Dedrick Mills followed by a home loss to
the Cavs. Virginia comes in as the worst team in the ACC with losses to
teams like Richmond and UConn and their only wins against Duke and Central
Michigan. A stat to watch. On the surface, it would appear that Tech should
have a big game on the ground with the Cavs giving up an average of 179.2
yards rushing and the Jackets averaging 266.4.
New head coach Bronco Mendenhall has faced Paul Johnson
before as head coach at BYU, most recently in 2012 where he won 41-17 and in
2013 in Utah winning 38-20. Tech had games scheduled with the Cougars for
2014 and 2017 but cancelled them.
Lawrence Austin and Parker Braun were named ACC Players of
the Week for the Jackets who will send off 16 seniors playing their final
It was a 52 degree wind chill at kickoff. The 20 mph gusts would probably
play a part in the kicking game.
A sparse crowd was on hand...so small that the pregame ritual where
Buzz jumps into the student section in the north end zone and is hoisted
up to the top of the stands only made it half way. There were not enough
students to fill the top half. Even the normally enthusiastic fans who show
up with now shirts painted in yellow in the south end zone only had four
show up. I could only find about 50 or so fans wearing orange in the
visitor's corner, most of them in the upper deck. Attendance was announced
of just over 32,000.
Virginia started off from their 25 with a quick 24 yard pass to Keeon
Johnson. But on the next play, outgoing senior Patrick Gamble
sacked Matt Johns for a 7 yard loss to their 42. A few short gains
and they had to punt with Brad Stewart fair catching at the 9.|
A missed toss hit the ground with senior Isiah Willis grabbing it
for a two three yard loss. Three and out and a nice 55 yard punt by senior
Ryan Rodwell was caught by Daniel Hamm at the VC38 but run
back 26 yards to the GT36. Astronaut and 1998 Tech grad Shane Kimbrough
gave a live message from the space station.
Taquan Mizzell picked up a first down on a seven yard carry to the
26. On a third and three, Johns hit Olamide Zadcheaus for another
first at the 14. That's as far as they could get. Sam Hayward was
brought in and missed wide right on a 31 yard field goal attempt squandering
great field position.
Tech took over at their 20. Willis started with a five yard carry with
Marcus Marshall getting three, then four for a first down at the 31. Not
much on the next two carries to make it third and 8. Mendenhall
called his first time out. A Justin Thomas carry couldn't get enough
and Rodwell had to punt again for a touchback.
Catches by Mizzell for 7 and 8 got a first down at the 41. Mendenhall
took his second time out. A tough run by Mizzell got another first at the
48. Johns found Johnson for another first down at the GT33. On a third and
four at the 27, Johns scrambled and hit Doni Dowling for another
first at the 20. The first quarter came to an end.
Mizzell rushed for five with Albert Reid converting after six to
the nine. Mizzell got five more for a second and goal at the four. A direct
snap to Hamm gave Virginia the first points of the game, 7-0.
The team that had dominated Virginia Tech just a week earlier had yet to
show up. They began their third drive at the 25.
A nine yard catch by Clinton Lynch got some needed yards. Marshall
did the rest running 68 yards down the visitor sideline to tie the game at
The Cavs fumbled the punt but recovered at the 26. So far, the defense
had been unable to stop Mizzell, who got 7 more to the 33. He looks at this
point like he will easily surpass his 84.5 game rushing average with 58
yards already on 13 carries. Reid got a first on a carry to the 35. Mizzell
again for 7 to the 49. Reid converted a third and short into GT territory at
the 44. A wide open Dowling picked up 14 to the 30. On the way to the
ground, Johns threw it to Dowling for 13 more to the 17. But the drive
stalled with Hayward in for his second attempt, this one converting from 30
to give his team a three point lead 10-7.
A short kick was taken by Marshall out 25 yards to the 27. Marshall,
almost tackled for a loss, rumbled and stumbled for 20 yards to the 47. But,
on the next play, Thomas was sacked by Andrew Brown for a five yard
loss for a second and 15. Under pressure, the senior QB threw a pair of
incompletions forcing a punt to the 22. Terrell Lewis picked up a 15
yard interference call for not giving Hamm enough space on the punt, moving
the ball out to the 38 with 2:23 left in the low scoring half.
Mizzell ran for 8 followed by an 8 yard catch by Andre Levrone at
the GT36 with just over a minute remaining. Moving the wrong way, a pair of
false starts brought up a third and 20 at the VC43. After a short run,
Johnson took his first time out to stop the clock at 0:50. A wobbly punt
bounced its way to the GT16. Johnson chose to let the clock run out and
regroup in the locker room.
Except for the one big TD play by Marshall, the Jackets had been
relatively lethargic on both sides of the ball, with only 111 yards of
offense to the Cavs' 209. Apart from that 67 yard run, that left just 44
yards of total offense. Just three first downs by the Jackets to 13 for
Time of possession, normally heavily in Tech's favor showed Virginia with
the ball for 42 plays in 20:20 to the home team's 17 plays in 9:40. “We
couldn’t get them off the field," said Coach Johnson. "There were several
times since the opening possession that every time they needed to flip the
field, they’d flip the field. We were abysmal on third down, and we never
really got anything going running-wise, except for big plays. I don’t know
if we’ve played this bad all year up front, and really our A-backs failed to
make big blocks, so that was a deadly combination.”
At least Tech got the ball to start the second half starting at the 25. A
toss left to Willis saw the senior battle 19 yards to the 43, almost 20
percent of the total first half yardage on one play. But one play doesn't
make a drive. A nice Rodwell punt was downed at the three. A chance to hold
and get great field position.
A pair of safe carries made it third and six at the seven. But Johns got
them out of the hold with a clutch 18 yard pass Johnson to the 26. Back to
Mizzell for a dozen on the ground to the 38. Mendenhall took his first time
out facing another third and long. Johns was brought down after keeping it
for five forcing a punt. Stewart fair caught at the 20. Should have been
much better if the defense had held. The Jacket offense needed to find
itself, virtually ineffective so far.
A pair of key plays that might come back to haunt the Jackets. First as
Stewart ran free wide open and dropped a perfect pass 40 yards downfield, a
sure TD pass showed up as a mere incomplete pass. But it was much more.
Second, a call that Johnson would be second guess on. On the 29, as he
inexplicable went for it on fourth and one and failed. Virginia taking over
on downs. A Reid five yard rush got them into field goal range but Mizzell
fell down at the 24. No harm as Hayward missed for the second time from 42.
Tech took over at the 25.
Thomas started with a quick 22 yard pass to Lynch at the 47. An
ineligible receive downfield call made it first and 15 at the 42. This time,
Thomas had his bomb caught by Lynch running 54 yards to the end zone to give
the Jackets their first lead of the game 14-10.
After the punt, Virginia got the ball at their 30. Stewart had to be
helped off the field after the punt to the 16.
Thomas got some breathing room with a 17 yard catch by Ricky Jeune
to the 33. Marshall picked up seven. Then Qua Searcy, not heard from
much in recent games after a strong start to the season, took a toss right
and found running room taking it 60 yards for a third Jackets touchdown
putting them up 21-10. The score looking more like you might have expected.
Virginia began at the 25 but didn't get very far after Corey Griffin
picked off a Johns pass at the 49, returned 33 yards to the 18. After a
Thomas keeper to the 15 the teams switched to the other end of the field to
the fourth quarter.
In the third quarter, Tech had turned it around with 199 yards of offense
to the Cavs' 52, outscoring them 14-0 in the process.
Facing a third and one at the nine, Johnson took his first time out.
Lynch picked up the first down but a clipping call on Braun pushed it back
to the 24 for a very different third and 16. Donte Wilkins was banged
up on the play. The penalty was too much to overcome with senior Harrison
Butker showing why he will be missed, connecting from 42 for a 24-10
Down by two scores, Virginia began a nice drive starting at their 25.
With no pressure on Johns, the QB hit an open Levrone waiting on the
sideline for an easy 12 yarder. Good and bad news on the next play as
Mizzell broke free 29 yards only to see an unsportsmanlike penalty call on
TB Jordan Ellis move it back 15 to the GT43. Dowling got 7 to the 35.
Mizzell picked up a first on a carry up the middle to the 31. Tight end
Ryan Santoro got his first catch for six to the 25. Mizzell caught one
for seven and a first down at the 18. Mizzell caught another for six and
first and goal at the 8. Most of Johns' passes have been short with a few
longer gains done after the catch.
The defense stopped them to bring up a fourth and goal at the one.
Mendenhall went for it and converted easily with Santoro uncovered in the
back of the end zone bringing the Cavaliers to within a score, 24-17.
Tech began their drive at their 35. On a third and five, a bad snap
forced a punt giving the Cavs a shot at tying the score. But a 60 yard
Rodwell punt was perfectly knocked down at the two yard line by Meiko
Dotson. With 5:21 remaining, they needed to go 98 yards needing 7 to tie
Passes to Dowling and Mizzell got them a first down to the 14. But the
defense turning in possibly the play of the game as Lance Austin
intercepted Johns at the 24 and artfully weaved his way to the end zone for
a 31-17 lead.
“It is always good to score on defense," said Austin. "Unlike Corey
[Griffin], I have a little shiftiness, so it feels good to get back into the
An unsportsmanlike call against Tech because they were actually enjoying
the big moment was enforced on the kickoff. Inconsequential with Virginia
taking over at their 25.
The defense rose again and stopped the Cavs who failed on a fourth and 7
attempt, taking over at the VC27 with 2:45 left. After a bad toss that
recovered by Tech, Johnson called a time out and went to the huddle to
apparently chew the offense out for being sloppy. The defense jumped off
sides on a third and 21. The coach went for it on fourth and 15 getting it
to the 22. The Cavs took over needing a pair of TDs with just over a minute
left, no timeouts and 1:30 on the clock. A few meaningless plays and first
downs only padded the offense's stats a bit. Throw in a sack by Kyle
Cerge-Henderson and a last second interception by Brant Mitchell
and it was all over. Final score, about what you might have thought it would
be going in, Georgia Tech 31, Virginia 17.
In his final game at Bobby Dodd Stadium, Thomas walked along the south
end zone wall high fiving as many fans as he could.
“I tried to approach it as any other game," said Thomas. "I did not want
to come in thinking about this being the last one. I wanted to make sure I
executed. It was fun, a great last one, and we went out with a win. We have
a lot of great memories in this stadium and did a lot of good things
throughout our careers. It was a great moment."
Virginia actually wound up with more total yards 409-321. But most
of them were between the 20s. But most of that advantage came in the first
half. A pair of missed field goals didn't help their cause. Now, with a
chance for a respectable 8-4 season, the Jackets head to Athens to take on
the Bulldogs. Would the team from last week at Virginia Tech and this week
in the third quarter show up or the one from this week's first half. That
will determine the outcome in a very winnable game.