Monday, October 26, 2015

More on the Miracle

Tech needed a miracle to beat FSU, and got it. It had been highly possible that Seminoles All-American kicker Roberto Aguayo could very well have made the game-winning 56 yard field goal. And even if he hadn’t it was just as likely that FSU would’ve came out on top in overtime, based on the love affair Paul Johnson seems to have with the forward pass. After five straight losses I was done with my note-taking. This game I would just watch.
First, the miracle. I was on the couch watching the play. Any 56 yard field goal attempt is interesting to me, but especially one to win a game Georgia Tech is involved in. That would be something. Then the kick was blocked, and everything started happening so fast. The thought of “game over – we’re going to overtime” may have crossed my mind. I saw the ball and the Tech player hesitate before picking it up. I wasn’t sure of any of the rules, but by then he picked it up and ran. I wasn’t yet thinking of the similarities to Auburn’s Chris Davis running back the missed 57 yard field goal 109 yards to win the Iron Bowl (clearly a greater play).
What I saw was the dreaded escorts racing down the field next to the ballcarrier – looking good but not blocking. Fresh off his end zone interception of a deflected pass, Jamal Golden had earlier botched a punt return, prompting me to tweet that he was no Kelly Rhino – the slow but sure-handed Tech north/south punt returner  / son of former All-American Randy Rhino. Golden glanced at one speedy FSU defender and decided not to block him. Golden (number 4, above) didn’t block anyone. It almost cost Tech the game. But the rest is history. I was able to sit and enjoy the moment.
Social media was blowing up. Along with the usual accolades and obvious news reports “Most AWESOME finish ever!!! Ga Tech defeats Florida State on a blocked kick and run-back with no time on the clock! 78 yards!” I most enjoyed the on-the-scene selfies and photos from Wayne Rogers, Steve Hawkins, Bill Headley, Connie Morris, and Chris O’Leary. My contribution succinctly referenced last week’s loss to Pitt ”Die by the last-second 56 yard field goal, live by the last-second 56 yard game-winning field goal. #togetherweswarm” Tom Leuze posted “Lance Austin is my new hero!” I did not reply because I didn’t know who Lance Austin was. Tom might have changed the channel or been talking about an earlier game. Not until the next morning would I realize he was talking about the Tech touchdown scorer.
Great story on Austin being escorted into the end zone by his twin brother, and how both had already played and contributed more in this game due to injuries. Nice to see the fans storm the field. A great ending to homecoming, the mostly successful whiteout, and the picturesque nighttime downtown Atlanta setting. Hustling off the field grinning like the Cheshire Cat, Paul Johnson appreciated the ball finally bouncing his way. Later replays would show his attempt to wave off the return, though surely he was happy with his player’s disobedience.
But even in the exhilaration I knew what Paul Johnson knew as well – the Jackets were lucky to escape with a win. While the defense played their best game of the year – holding alleged Heisman hopeful Dalvin Cook to a mere 82 yards rushing and forcing inconsistent QB Everett Golson to beat them through the air – Tech’s offense consisted of three Harrison Butker field goals and one long keeper by QB Justin Thomas. Though FSU took away the fullback dive and forced the Engineers to wide their second and third string B-backs outside, Tech was able to move the ball reasonably well on the ground all night. In his Monday night radio show Johnson reminded us how many undetected mistakes happen that us regular fans can't detect.
But as usual Johnson called too many dropback pass plays with mostly unfavorable (and sometimes disastrous) results. FSU scored their first ten points off Justin Thomas turnovers – both pass plays, including one pick six. The OL O-line, built for run blocking, was a revolving door for the Seminole pass rush. As quick as the fleet Thomas could take the snap from center, drop back looking left, then turn to set up to throw, the rushers were closing in. On one end-zone rollout A-back Marcus Marshall failed to block, and Thomas was lucky to escape a safety. Late in the game an ill-advised third down dropback resulted in a sack that took the Jackets out of field goal range, instead forcing a punt. ESPN2 analyst Ron Franklin correctly pointed out the Johnson should only be mad at himself for the poor play call, that Tech shouldn’t stuck to the option.
Take away the two interceptions and the fourth quarter sack and Tech might have been up as much as 19-6. There would have been no need for a last second miracle. As it was Tech played perhaps their best game of the season, particularly on defense. Had the D played this well against Duke, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, and even Notre Dame the Jackets could be closer to 7-1 than 3-5. The Jackets will have to play just as well the rest of the way to become bowl eligible, but there are no slouches: Virginia, Virginia Tech, at Miami, and rival Georgia. Perhaps Tech should wear all white again next week.      
I’m guessing FSU fans were more disappointed in their team’s performance than stung by the miracle defeat. Gone was the no turnovers all year streak. Gone was kicker Aguayo’s perfect fourth-quarter field goal performance. Gone was the undefeated season. Gone was the 28 game ACC winning streak. Knowledgeable ‘Noles knew from previous close games that this was an egg waiting to be hatched. Quarterback Golson showed why Notre Dame was willing to let him walk. If FSU hadn’t lost to Tech, surely Clemson would expose their number nine ranking as unjustified.
ACC loyalists would have you think having one undefeated team (Clemson) and one one-loss team (when FSU theoretically lost to Clemson) would give the conference a shot at two teams in the playoff. Hogwash. As strong as Clemson looks, FSU is light-years behind. Still, anything could happen in Death Valley on November 7.
Speaking of Clemson, the Tigers only get better and better. Miami showed themselves to be the thugs they are, and Dabo was swift to make sure his team did not stoop to the ‘Canes level. Keeping them on the field at halftime was genius. At least one Bulldog fan thought UGA should fire Richt and hire Dabo, but that ain’t happening. There’s only one school Dabo would jump to: Bama.

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