LAWRENCE, Kan. — Bobbing above the endless sea of bouncing royal blue-clad bodies was a singular white sign.
It read: “Buzzkill.”
Moments before the sign and its owner joined a swarm of Kansas students and fans in rushing Memorial Stadium’s Kivisto Field on Saturday afternoon, the loud early season noise surrounding the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets was silenced — in blind-side fashion — into a quiet murmur.
Upset by the unranked Jayhawks 28-25, the Yellow Jackets, while dodging wide-eyed, field-sprinting spectators, walked back toward their locker room in stunned silence, some staring at the scoreboard and its unexpected numeric message. While looking on, they likely watched their No. 15 ranking plummet.
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“They were playing harder than we were,” senior Yellow Jackets center Sean Bedford said. “They were as inspired a team as I’ve seen in my five years here.”
Much the same sentiment was uttered by several of Bedford’s teammates, as one-by-one, blank faces stumbled out of the locker room and in front of the awaiting media members.
“It’s a tough loss, but there was a lot of pressure on them to win, and they got the win,” Georgia Tech offensive lineman Nick McRae said. “You’ve got to give them a lot of credit.”
The credit and blame, however, didn’t end there, others said.
“It was a matter of us beating ourselves (Saturday),” Georgia Tech B-back Anthony Allen said. “We were taking the wrong steps and doing all the little things wrong.”
Those “little things” included failing to adequately block defenders in the rushing game, dropping passes at ill-opportune times and becoming penalized defensively at even worse moments, players said.
Despite holding a three-point lead coming out of halftime, the Yellow Jackets’ little errors turned into big ones.
There was a roughing the punter penalty that negated a Georgia Tech defensive stand in the third quarter. Then, there was a roughing the passer call on third down that squashed a more important defensive hold at the start of the fourth quarter.
Following that latter infraction, the Jayhawks (1-1) stormed downfield and scored 29 seconds later when receiver Daymond Patterson broke several tackles by tripping, spinning and stumbling into the end zone for a score that put Kansas up 28-17.
“There were a lot of missed tackles,” Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson said. “We didn’t have a lot of guys getting off blocks.”
In addition to the defensive miscues, the offense fumbled twice in the second half and lost both. While neither turnover ended up hurting the Yellow Jackets (1-1), they certainly didn’t help.
“You know, we should have scored more than (25),” Johnson said. “Nobody played good enough to win.”
The fact that Kansas was able to score 28 may have come as a surprise.
The previous week, against FCS foe North Dakota State, the Jayhawks couldn’t even muster a scoring drive, as the Bison pulled their own upset, beating Kansas 6-3.
A student of all that is college football, Johnson said last week that the Yellow Jackets were well aware of Kansas’ offensive struggles but could not look at them as signs of weakness. Instead, he implored his team to look at Kansas as a unit that would have a massive chip on its shoulder .
But according to the players, there may have been some oversight on their part.
“We saw what happened (to Kansas) last week, and we let that get to our heads,” Georgia Tech linebacker Steven Sylvester said. “We came out here, and I’m not going to lie, I think we underestimated them a little bit. They came right, out and they popped us in the mouth.”
Although they allowed more than 300 yards of total offense and playing from behind most of the second half, the Yellow Jackets still had opportunities to stage a dramatic comeback.
On their second-to-last drive, with quarterback Joshua Nesbitt’s heels nearly touching Georgia Tech’s goal line, the Yellow Jackets marched 96 yards in two-and-a-half minutes to score a touchdown that brought them within three. The series was capped by Nesbitt’s 40-yard touchdown completion to receiver Stephen Hill. Moments later, the two connected for a successful two-point conversion pass.
After a Kansas punt with three minutes remaining, the Yellow Jackets took over for one final push to win or tie the game.
Six plays later, on a fourth-and-8, Nesbitt launched a pass into his own sideline that was several yards out of Hill’s reach.
“It was miscommunication on the throw,” Nesbitt said. “That was all me.”
The focus now has to shift. The Yellow Jackets travel this week to North Carolina for their ACC opener and a game that could have significance on their postseason.
“It begins at the top with the seniors. We’ve got to do a better job being accountable,” Bedford said. “We can yell and shout and get people hyped up all we want, but ultimately it comes down to setting the example, and we need to do a better job of that. Practice, before the games, we need to set the example.
“You have my word that we are going to do a better job of that from here on out.”