The Georgia Institute of Technology prides itself on its outstanding academic reputation. And rightly so.
But after watching this edition of Tech’s football team, I wonder just how much learning might be taking place. At least, on the gridiron.
Viewing Tech’s performance during Saturday’s uninspired 27-13 loss at Clemson proved more painful than watching an endless stream of commercials for Georgia’s gubernatorial candidates.
Unless you bleed Clemson orange and have your den festooned with tiger paws. In that case, you were watching gripping theater.
Clemson couldn’t really relax until only 3:28 remained. That’s when Chandler Catanzaro nailed a field goal for the final victory margin. The kick ended a dominating drive that ate up half of the fourth quarter.
It also put Tech in the position of having to score two touchdowns to tie the game, and that wasn’t going to happen. Not on this day. Strike up the Tiger Rag.
And yet, this game actually ended on the fifth play of the game. Tech had forced an incomplete pass on third-and-4, and anxiously awaited Dawson Zimmerman’s punt.
Or should have. Instead Tech applied the punt block, missed the punt, and hit the punter.
Roughing. 15 yards. First down, Clemson.
Just like that. Tech called time to perfectly align its defense so that Andre Ellington could motor 55 yards with minimal interference for a 7-0 Clemson lead. A lead the Tigers would never relinquish.
As coach Paul Johnson noted in his post-game remarks, “We thought we had a chance to block a punt. I think they turned two guys loose. When you turn your head and close your eyes, you run into the kicker.”
That proved merely the opening act for Tech’s special teams play, which Johnson described as “a nightmare.”
Six weeks ago, Tech managed to lose to a distinctly unremarkable Kansas team. At that time, Johnson told the AJC’s Doug Roberson during his Sunday recap, “We did enough stupid things in special teams to cost us the game. As poorly as we played on offense and defense, it killed us.”
Against Clemson, Tech’s litany of special teams mistakes included an illegal block on a kickoff return, a late hit on a punt, and the failure to down a punt inside the Clemson 5-yard line. Ultimately, it was a missed field goal by Scott Bair with 11 minutes left that would have made it a one-score game.
Not that it would have mattered. That’s when Clemson set sail on that game-ending drive mentioned earlier. 64 yards in 15 plays, and every single play was a run.
Johnson again: “They ran the ball better on us than they have on anybody in a while. I’m sure some of it was them blocking, and some of it was us getting in the wrong gaps and missing some tackles.”
Sadly for Tech, the offense was every bit as culpable as the defense. Joshua Nesbitt, needing only 44 yards to become the top rushing quarterback in ACC history, amassed two.
But then, he was 6-for-19 passing, for 83 measly yards.
Johnson’s take: “They’re a physical football team. Those defensive linemen are going to play in the NFL. They whacked us around.”
Apparently none of Tech’s linemen, on either side of the ball, heeded what Johnson told Roberson after the Kansas game:
“Show me, don’t tell me. We’ll see what they can do on Saturday. You do it by playing and doing your job and doing what’s right.
“Anybody can stand up on the plane and say, ‘Guys, we’re coming this week’ until you get hit in the mouth the first time.”
Unless I’ve misread the quotes, what we have here is a team that hasn’t progressed in six weeks. A team that hasn’t learned from its mistakes, and is therefore bound to repeat them.
Tech still has time to salvage its season. The off week comes at a perfect time. Opportunities await, with Virginia Tech and Miami up next. But Tech must finally learn from its mistakes.
Here’s Johnson on Saturday: “It’s never as good or bad as it seems. To start out, we were our own worst enemy. I’m not sure we played any different than we played all year, just probably against a little better competition.”
Here’s what Johnson told Roberson after the Kansas game: “It’s never as good or as bad as it seems. There were all kinds of mistakes, frustration, mental assignments, missed assignments ... we had every chance to win the game; we just didn’t make any plays.”
Sounds like it’s time for Tech to learn its lessons.