Georgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee looks for an opening through the Virginia Tech defense during Thursday night’s game at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta. (Photo: Karl L. Moore)
ATLANTA — It’s easy to point to Virginia Tech’s recent domination of Georgia Tech simply continuing as being the main factor in the Hokies’ 17-10 win over the Yellow Jackets before 50,214 fans at Bobby Dodd Stadium late Thursday night.
It’s easier still to look at how successful the Virginia Tech defense, led by defensive coordinator Bud Foster, has been against Tech coach Paul Johnson’s spread option offense during the Hokies’ (4-1, 1-0 in the ACC) current four-game win streak over the Jackets (3-1, 1-1).
So Thursday night’s performance in which Tech was held to just 273 total yards and 129 on the ground would seem to be just more of the same.
But while the Virginia Tech defense was undeniably stout, what was most frustrating to Johnson and the Jackets is that many of their wounds Thursday night were self-inflicted.
“It was a tough game,” Johnson said during his postgame news conference. “Clearly, you have to give Virginia Tech (credit). They played better than we did. They probably coached better than we did. I’ve never seen so many mistakes. It seemed like every series we had the ball on offense, we either jumped offside or had some sort of penalty.
“We had a hard time picking up the (Virginia Tech) blitz. It was a comedy of errors. … And against a good defense, if you’re going to make mistakes, you’re not going to be successful. We’ve got to play better, and we’ve got to coach better, bottom line.”
The comedy of errors was no laughing matter to the Jackets, starting with a fumble on the fourth play from scrimmage that set the Hokies up at the Tech 27-yard line.
That miscue led to a 21-yard touchdown pass from Logan Thomas to D.J. Coles two plays later that put Virginia Tech up 7-0 just 2:27 after the opening kickoff, and forced the Jackets to struggle uphill the rest of the night.
But the mistakes didn’t stop there.
Tech fumbled the ball twice more, though it recovered both, and quarterback Vad Lee was picked off twice in Virginia Tech territory, the last on Kendall Fuller’s interception at the Hokies’ 24 with 1:06 remaining to thwart the Jackets’ last attempt at the game-tying score.
But perhaps even more damaging were the penalties, nine in all — the most by a Tech team since Johnson took over as coach in 2008 — for 66 yards.
Eight of those infractions were committed by the offense, most of them false start penalties and many of them coming at crucial times that cost the Jackets dearly in field position.
“We had a lot of mental mistakes out there,” said Tech senior A-back Robert Godhigh, who finished with just 4 yards on four carries, though he did add a 40-yard pass reception. “We had a real simple game plan, but we were killing ourselves, basically, with penalties and mental mistakes.”
Virginia Tech’s defensive front did have a hand in some of those penalty as the Hokies did plenty of stunting during the Jackets’ early possessions, particularly Derrick Hopkins, Luther Maddy and James Gayle, who combined for 17 tackles.
Lee said the Jackets tried to counter by altering the snap count, which did draw a few offside penalties on Virginia Tech, but also seemed to throw the Jackets out of sync.
“We tried to change things up because they were so aggressive,” said Lee, who finished with 35 yards on 18 carries and was 7-of-24 passing for 144 yards and two interceptions. “They were jumping offsides, and we were jumping offsides. We were just trying to go on two to see what they were going to do before they did it. It is what it is.
“For the most part, they had a good defensive scheme. As always, Virginia Tech has a good defense. But for the most part, we were killing ourselves with penalty and (turnovers). We were just killing ourselves, and you can’t do that against a good team.”
What was most frustrating to the Jackets is that the mistakes put a damper on what was mostly a solid night from the Tech defense.
Outside of the early score on a short field and a 95-yard scoring drive late in the first quarter and early in the second, the Jackets held the Hokies relatively in check.
Despite a strong night from Thomas, who completed his first nine passes on his way to a 19 of 25 for 225 yards nigh and 58 yards and a TD on the ground, the Hokies managed just 276 yards of their own, including only 55 on the ground.
But with another nemesis on the horizon in Miami next week, senior defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu says neither he nor his teammates can afford to let the frustration linger.
“It’s frustrating, but it’s just one game in a big season, said Attaochu, who had three tackles, including one for loss, Thursday. “We can’t let it bring us down. We have a lot of things (still) in front of us that we can accomplish. That includes an ACC championship. So, as a leader, I can’t be too down about one loss. We have to look at Miami and get back to work and really encourage the guys to be upbeat.
“Football’s a game of ups and downs. Week to week, the situation can change. So, we’re just going to go into next week ready to beat Miami.”