Georgia Tech did enough to lose its home opener Saturday on a sun-bleached afternoon at Bobby Dodd Stadium. However, South Florida did more, opening the door for the Yellow Jackets to deliver coach Geoff Collins his first victory at Tech’s helm.
The Jackets exploited two Bulls turnovers – one on the Tech goal line – and nine penalties and contributed enough plays of their own doing for a 14-10 win. Safety Tariq Carpenter, running back Jordan Mason and punter Pressley Harvin were among the most significant contributors for Tech, which evened its record at 1-1 after its season-opening loss to No. 1 Clemson two Thursdays ago.
“Just a character win,” Collins said. “A team that plays together and just battles all the way to the end, doesn’t worry about the situation, just puts the ball down and plays together and plays at a high level. Just really proud of the group that’s in the locker room right now.”
Tech did enough to overcome its own mistakes and shortcomings, including two second-half turnovers and defensive breakdowns that enabled gains of 48 and 54 yards, to survive against a team that has now lost eight consecutive games dating to last season and lost its season opener to Wisconsin 49-0.
That mettle was on display in a game-changing goal-line stand by the Jackets in the fourth quarter. Tech was hanging onto a 14-10 lead when freshman tight end Dylan Deveney lost control of his first career reception, fumbling the ball away at the Bulls’ 45-yard line.
A dreadful outcome – a second consecutive defeat to the Bulls in which the Jackets held a double-digit fourth-quarter lead, following last year’s 49-38 defeat in Tampa, Fla., – loomed for a fan base and team that has a firm familiarity with come-from-ahead defeat. Tech had already coughed up the ball on the previous possession – a Lucas Johnson interception off a deflection – that set up South Florida’s first touchdown, a 20-yard pass play on the first play of the fourth quarter that cut the lead to 14-10.
There were 11-1/2 minutes remaining. On South Florida’s first play after the fumble, Bulls quarterback Jordan McCloud exploited a busted coverage that enabled tight end Mitch Wilcox to haul unencumbered through the Tech secondary with the Jackets giving chase.
“I was just saying, ‘I’ve got to get on down,’” Carpenter said. “‘I can’t let him score. I’ve just got to give our defense a chance to play again.’”
Carpenter chased him down at the 1-yard line. His hustle was rewarded three plays later, when South Florida running back Jordan Cronkrite attempted to extend the ball over the goal line on a third-and-goal play from the 1-yard line, and defensive tackle T.K. Chimedza knocked it out of his hands and snagged it out of the air to deny the Bulls.
“The dude tried to jump over us. I saw the ball, saw an opportunity, punched it out, ended up grabbing it,” Chimedza said. “It was just one of those miracle plays.”
“The defense never panicked,” Collins said. “Got a goal-line stand to win the game.”
Tech punted the ball back, but it was the last of Harvin’s six titanic punts, dropping the Bulls back to their 6-yard line, from where they could only advance to their 23 before punting. Tech ran out the clock from there, aided by a targeting penalty on USF on a third-and-12 play in which quarterback Tobias Oliver lost two yards and likely would have had to punt the ball away with a little more than two minutes to play.
South Florida coach Charlie Strong said that it appeared to him that Cronkrite had gotten the ball over the goal line before it was knocked away and also that the targeting penalty was not merited.
Tech, which again played quarterbacks James Graham, Oliver and Johnson, finished with 257 yards of total offense. Tech again stuck with the run, as its run/pass ratio was 49/21 after a 45/18 ratio against Clemson. Tech’s 21 pass attempts produced 76 yards. Mason ran 20 times for 99 yards and a touchdown.
The Jackets’ efforts on offense were not helped by game-ending injuries to left guard Mikey Minihan and center Kenny Cooper, forcing offensive-line coach Brent Key to shuffle his lineup.
“There’s still a lot we can build on,” Johnson said. “But there were some good things to take away and bad things to take away.”
Going back to 2014, ACC teams held under 300 yards of offense have won 16 percent of their games, according to sports-reference.com. The defense played no small part in securing the outcome for the Jackets, albeit against an offense that likely doesn’t measure with what Tech will face in ACC play. South Florida was held to 262 yards of offense and was held to 4-for-15 on third-down conversion attempts.
“It’s just about the win, and it’s about us doing us,” Mason said.