Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson was incredulous when asked whether his defense had gotten worn down by Tennessee by the end of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game on Monday in a 42-41 Tennessee win.
Johnson, never one to mask his feelings, heard the question and responded appropriately.
“From what?” Johnson said. “Let’s see … Yeah, they wore down.”
Before the reporter had a chance to finish his follow-up question, Johnson allowed a little more steam to escape and said, “We had the ball 41 minutes; they had it 18. If they wore down in this game, they’d better get their butts home.”
On a night when Georgia Tech kept the ball for 41:27, ran 96 plays and amassed 655 yards, the defense could not hold a 14-point third-quarter lead. Granted, two Georgia Tech turnovers did set up a pair of Tennessee touchdowns, but the Volunteers scored on a 50-yard touchdown pass and drove 93 yards for the tying touchdown in the fourth quarter.
“We never created a negative play, so you never get them behind, and it’s like then they get some big plays,” Johnson said. “They threw a couple jump balls and got them, and we missed tackles. They throw a little stop route over there and missed two tackles. Give their kid credit. I mean, he made nice play, broke a tackle. But that’s it in a nutshell. If you never get a negative play, it’s hard to play.”
The Georgia Tech defense was credited with one negative play, a 2-yard loss on a nice tackle by Desmond Branch. But the Yellow Jackets failed to record a sack and rarely got heat on Tennessee quarterback Quinten Dormady, who was making his first start. Dormady had a handful of catchable passes dropped, or it might have been worse.
The lack of pass rush allowed the Vols to target cornerback Step Durham, who was badly beaten on a Marquez Callaway touchdown catch. And it didn’t help that veterans Corey Griffin and Lance Austin missed on tackling Callaway on the sideline and allowed him to score on a long touchdown.
“Obviously I’m pretty torn up, but you know what, I’ve got to keep going,” junior linebacker Brant Mitchell said. “The leadership is going to take over with our defense and our team. We’re going to keep going this week.”
The other failure came in the kicking game, where sophomore Shawn Davis underperformed his first start. Davis won the job from Brenton King, a highly recruited freshman who has been dealing with a groin injury.
Davis badly missed a 47-yard field goal midway in the third quarter that would have given Georgia Tech a 17-point lead. Given new life, Tennessee drove 70 yards for a quick touchdown, and it was suddenly a one-touchdown game, a swing of 10 points.
Davis also missed a 36-yard field goal at the buzzer that would have won the game. Unlike the first field goal try, which came at an awkward angle, Davis had good position, but the kick was low, and Tennessee’s Paul Bain got enough hand on the kick to block it.
“You know, it was disappointing,” Johnson said. “I mean, either of those field goals ices the game, too. The one at the end of the game is 36 yards. He kicked that thing head high. We’ll give the other kid a chance and see what he does.”
New punter Pressley Harvin III fared better in his debut. The true freshman’s first punt went 56 yards, and he averaged 46 yards on three kicks.
Jacksonville State at Georgia Tech
12:30 p.m., Saturday