The talk heading into the season was about whether Georgia Tech had enough pieces around its senior quarterback to make any noise in the ACC Coastal Division. Ironically, against their first Coastal opponent, the Yellow Jackets lost not because of the supporting cast, but because of that signal caller himself.
Justin Thomas let his team down.
Thomas threw an interception and lost two fumbles which were both returned for touchdowns. That was the difference in Week 5, as Miami knocked off Georgia Tech, 35-21.
“Those two turnovers hurt us,” Thomas told Reuters. “That was pretty much the turning point of the game.”
The loss was Georgia Tech’s second straight at home to a Top-25 ACC opponent. The Yellow Jackets are now 3-2 overall but 1-2 in the ACC.
Coming into this game, the Yellow Jackets had to find a way to establish their option game and control the clock. In terms of accomplishing that goal, it couldn’t have gone much better for Georgia Tech.
The Yellow Jackets dominated time of possession, roughly doubling up the Hurricanes, 40-20 (rounded to the nearest whole number). Georgia Tech ran for 267 yards and averaged 4.9 yards per rush. In the first half, the Jackets gained 133 yards on the ground and outgained Miami by 34 total yards.
Yet due to two scoop and scores on back-to-back plays in the second quarter, the Hurricanes had a 14-point cushion at halftime, and Miami started with the ball in the third quarter.
Once again, things began to flow according to plan for Georgia Tech to begin the second half. Tech’s defense forced the Hurricanes into two three-and-outs on UM’s first two possessions of the third quarter. The Yellow Jackets’ running game continued to dominate and scored a touchdown midway through the quarter, making it a one-possession contest.
However, Miami answered with a touchdown and retook the lead just 1:33 later. The Hurricanes’ offense scored a modest 21 points in this game, but the 14 points Thomas gift-wrapped to Miami reduced his own team’s margin for error. Down by 14 again after the Hurricanes’ touchdown late in the third quarter, Georgia Tech continued to pound the ball, but the Yellow Jackets aren’t built to erase double-digit deficits in the final 20 minutes.
That’s especially true if Thomas continues to struggle. In the first half Saturday, he went 7-of-7 for 63 yards and a touchdown, so without the two fumbles, it was a very solid performance. During the second half, though, he was just 4-of-12 for 31 yards with an interception, and if not for a dropped pick, it would have been two interceptions.
Georgia Tech is never going to be a passing team as long as Paul Johnson is head coach. Thomas isn’t going to pass for 300 yards anytime soon, but his team doesn’t need him to do that. The Yellow Jackets need him to be the leader of the offense at critical moments and a rock when the squad faces adversity.
ESPN sideline reporter Kris Budden reported during the game Thomas was sitting by himself on the bench after his second fumble was returned for a score. Although it’s always hard to judge from afar, that’s not the typical act of an accountable leader. If he feels uncomfortable being a leader, he has to be one by example.
At the very least, Thomas needs to cut down on the mistakes. He said it himself – they were the turning point of the game.
“Without those, who knows what would be happening right now,” Miami coach Mark Richt said. “You saw what they were doing on offense, how they controlled the ball and took every second off the clock between plays. It’s so true that you’d better maximize your opportunities when you can. It just turned out it was on defense.”
Georgia Tech was competitive in Saturday’s game. A little more poise from Thomas could really improve this team. Thomas has two months left in his regular season college career. He and the Yellow Jackets need to make these next several Saturdays count.