Georgia Tech endures first defeat in 31-25 loss to Duke


It was a week filled with optimism surrounding the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, but there was a quality opponent waiting in the wings in the form of the Duke Blue Devils. Sadly for fans of the Jackets, things did not go as planned on Saturday afternoon, and in the end, Paul Johnson’s team suffered their first defeat of the season, falling by a final margin of 31-25.

The day began in positive fashion for Georgia Tech, as Ted Roof and the defense forced a punt on the game’s opening drive. This was (obviously) a welcomed change from how the group looked at times during the Miami game, and when the Jackets capitalized with a field goal on the other end, things appeared to be going swimmingly in Bobby Dodd Stadium. Unfortunately, the 27-yard field goal from Harrison Butker would mark the only lead of the game for Tech.

Questionable officiating, and penalties in general, began to make its mark on the game on Duke’s next possession, as there were several notable calls that went the wrong way for the Jackets. The biggest play of the possession came when Tech safety Corey Griffin was whistled for targeting, and that 15-yard penalty (and the ejection of Griffin) was tacked on to a 29-yard reception by Duke WR Shaun Wilson. That vaulted the Blue Devils into field goal range, and from there, Duke needed only six additional plays to cross the goal line for a 7-3 advantage.

There was a ray of light on the ensuing kick-off, as Jamal Golden exploded for a 68-yard return to set up a would-be scoring drive. However, the Jackets continued to shoot themselves in the foot with penalties, and Tech could only advance the ball 20 yards over 6 plays while settling for another Butker field goal. From there, the two teams traded punts, but there was more damage to be done for Duke, and the Devils raced to a 14-6 lead on the strength of a 12-play, 82-yard touchdown drive that was capped by a 3-yard run by Thomas Sirk.

That touchdown march was a microcosm of the entire day for Paul Johnson’s club. Chris Milton was whistled for a costly pass interference penalty on a third down (and it was yet another controversial call), and later in the drive, Duke converted a 3rd-and-26 when QB Anthony Boone connected with WR Max McCaffrey for a 30-yard game on the penultimate play of the drive. The lead was only 14-6, but it certainly felt as if the momentum was headed in the wrong direction.

Still, the Jackets would not go away that quietly, and Zach Laskey punctuated a 12-play touchdown drive with a 4-yard plunge over the goal line to narrow the lead to 14-12. Yes, the 14-12 score is correct, as Paul Johnson elected to go for two in an attempt to tie the game, but Laskey could not cross the goal line, and Tech entered the halftime break with a 2-point deficit.

It was a very long halftime period for both teams, and some fans would likely blame the lengthy break for what happened in the second half. Repeated issues with lightning caused a 77-minute delay (in addition to the normal halftime), and that was an ugly sign of things to come for the Tech offense.

First, Zach Laskey coughed the ball up on the third play of the opening possession of the second half, and in short order, Duke capitalized with a 46-yard touchdown drive to take a 9-point lead at 21-12. Following that increase in the deficit, Jamal Golden did manage to come up with his second fantastic kick-off return of the day, scampering for 51 yards into Duke territory, but the Jackets stalled offensively (this became a theme), and the drive came to a screeching halt on a questionable incompletion call (and subsequent review) followed by a missed 52-yard field goal from Butker.

Duke extended the advantage to 24-12 with a field goal on their next possession, and while the Jackets did advance deep into Blue Devils territory in response, Justin Thomas threw a back-breaking interception near the goal line. The Jackets would hang around a bit, including a big stop on a 4th-and-1 early in the fourth quarter, but Thomas issued another interception that basically sealed the game, and Duke put things away for good on a Thomas Sirk 1-yard touchdown run with 8:18 to play that placed the Jackets in a 31-12 hole.

On the (somewhat) positive side of things, Tim Byerly entered the game for Georgia Tech when the game was theoretically over, and he captained a reasonably impressive 9-play, 73-yard touchdown drive to cut the advantage to 31-18. The backup quarterback threw for 29 yards and rushed for another 26 on the march, and that was just the beginning.

The momentum jumpstarted by Byerly actually continued on his second drive of action, as he completed three solid throws to Darren Waller to start the possession, while creating extra time with his legs and two additional completions and finishing the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run of his own to close the gap to the 31-25 final margin. Duke accumulated one first down on the ensuing drive, and sadly, that was that. It was nice to see that the Jackets could be in capable hands should anything happen to Justin Thomas, but at the same time, Bylerly’s efforts against a “prevent” Duke defense could not be misconstrued to the point where there is anything even approaching a “quarterback controversy”.

The full picture of this game is one of frustration on multiple levels. Tech fans would rightfully complain about officiating that was visibly uneven throughout the day, and without question, there were some significant swings based on questionable calls that went in the wrong direction. Still, Georgia Tech was highly complicit in their own demise, committing 8 penalties and 3 turnovers, and just one week after the offense fired on all cylinders, that was anything but the case on Saturday despite 483 total yards.

From here, the Yellow Jackets have no choice but to regroup in a hurry, as Georgia Tech travels to Chapel Hill to take on North Carolina under the lights next Saturday. The team is now in a logjam with one loss in the ACC Coastal, but the season is anything but lost, and it feels appropriate to state that Georgia Tech’s goals are still very much within reach, with the exception of any faint hope at a birth in the College Football Playoff.

Saturday’s events were anything but pleasurable at Bobby Dodd Stadium, and after a nearly 5-hour marathon, no one left the building happy.