MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — It was a moment with which they were all too familiar.
The disappointment had been there before. So had the pain.
But it had been a long time — nearly a full calendar year, to be exact.
The emotions written all over the faces of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets late Tuesday night at South Florida’s Land Shark Stadium told a tale they have begun to know too well.
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Losing the Orange Bowl to No. 10 Iowa by a 24-14 score, the ninth-ranked Yellow Jackets dropped their fifth consecutive bowl game.
“We just couldn’t seem to get anything going or hit a pass play to get a jump start or hit a big play,” Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson said. “Normally, we seem to get a lot of big plays, but we never seemed to get going.”
The Yellow Jackets had a chance to get going early on when they gave B-back Jonathan Dwyer the ball on their very first offensive play of the game. Coming on the heels of a fumble recovery by linebacker Sedric Griffin on Iowa’s opening drive, the handoff to Dwyer was Georgia Tech’s opportunity to give the Hawkeyes (11-2) an early look at its spread option offense.
But just after Dwyer burst through the defensive line and into Iowa’s secondary, officials threw flags to signal that they witnessed a false start from offensive lineman Joseph Gilbert. As Dwyer had slipped past a final defender, the call negated what would have likely been a quick, momentum-building score.
“There’s no doubt,” Dwyer said, asked if he felt he could have scored on the play. “There was no one there. The safety ran by me, so there’s no way I was going to get caught from behind. Especially, it was the first play of the game, I was juiced up.”
With his emotions at an early game high, Dwyer believed that the run could have helped give the team early momentum.
“For all you know, that big play could have been the tempo-setter for us to win the game. You never know,” Dwyer said. “You never know even if we could rewind that and Joe didn’t jump offsides, but it’s just what happens.”
Following the penalty, the Yellow Jackets (11-3) went on to commit eight more for another 62 yards. With penalties coming in key situations, Georgia Tech placed itself in compromising positions.
“We put ourselves behind the eight-ball with penalties,” Johnson said. “And when you don’t have a lot of big plays, that’s what happens. There’s a lot of areas we’ve got to get better at, and that’s one of them.”
Much of the Yellow Jackets’ troubles were impacted by their season-low 155 yards of total offense.
Facing a stiff Iowa defense that was noted for its physical play, the Yellow Jackets had a tough time mustering any offense against the Hawkeyes.
“We have been preparing for these guys since the beginning of December,” senior Iowa linebacker Pat Angerer said. “Our coaches have done such a good job getting us ready, and we’ve seen just about everything they could throw at us.
“(Tuesday), our defensive line played unbelievable like they have been all year, and all the credit really goes to them.”
Hawkeyes defensive end Adrian Clayborn enjoyed a big game against the Yellow Jackets, taking away game MVP honors after securing nine tackles.
In the first half, Iowa’s defense held the Yellow Jackets to just 32 yards of total offense — their lowest mark in at least 20 years for the opening two quarters and their worst mark in any half since having just 29 against Gardner-Webb last season.
There were very few bright spots for the Yellow Jackets, but defensively, they played one of their strongest recent games. After giving up 600 yards rushing to Clemson and Georgia in their previous two games, the defenders held on to make enough clutch plays to keep the Yellow Jackets in the game.
“We just took it upon ourselves to play well after not doing well in the last couple of games,” Macon native and linebacker Julian Burnett said. “We knew we had to step it up, and so we just bowed our necks and went after it.”
The true freshman had a big goal-line tackle on Iowa’s second drive.
One of the only real bright spots for Georgia Tech came late in the first quarter when cornerback Jerrard Tarrant intercepted an Iowa pass and took the ball back 40 yards for an early score. At the time, the touchdown cut the Hawkeyes’ lead to 14-7.
While the pain in Georgia Tech’s locker room was easily visible, it did not seem to affect the players’ resolve. Senior linebacker Sedric Griffin, who was playing his final game, believes the Yellow Jackets will soon win a bowl game and rid themselves of what has become an ugly postseason trend.
“Georgia Tech is on the rise right now,” he said. “They’re going to work hard in the offseason and watch out next year. Everyone is hurt right now, but there is now doubt in my mind. We will rise again, and Georgia Tech will rise again.”