CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Georgia Tech’s Jamal Lewis wants his teammates to take Saturday’s 28-23 loss to Virginia and “flush it down the toilet.”
The danger is in the rest of the season swirling away with it.
A season that started as promising as any in this century began to spiral on the Yellow Jackets in the horror house that is Virginia’s Scott Stadium. Poised to rebound from last week’s humbling 14-point loss to Boston College, the Jackets invented ways to lose to the Cavaliers.
Like fumbling a punt to set up the eventual game-winning touchdown.
Like jumping before the snap to turn a fourth-and-1 play into a fourth-and-6 with less than five minutes to go.
Like failing to finish off tackle after tackle on a 210-pound tailback.
Like falling behind 21-7 in the first quarter.
Like starting Atlantic Coast Conference play 0-2 after winning two non-conference games by an average of 42 points.
“To be 2-2, from where we were and as good as we are, is just something that wasn’t expected,” Georgia Tech quarterback Taylor Bennett said.
No, this was odd even for a game played at Scott Stadium. The last time Georgia Tech left Charlottesville with a victory, Virginia was ranked No. 1 in the country and the Yellow Jackets won 41-38 on a field goal in the waning seconds.
Saturday lacked those kind of fireworks. Mistakes and miscues by both teams marked the game instead, with Georgia Tech managing the last two.
The Yellow Jackets led 23-21 with nine minutes to go and were set to receive a punt around their 25-yard line. Return man Andrew Smith, in the game because starter Tyler Evans suffered an injury early in the game, decided against calling for a fair catch even as Virginia’s Aaron Clark bore down on him.
Clark hit Smith a second after he fielded the ball, knocking it loose and pulling Smith away from the fumble. Virginia’s Patch Duda recovered. The Cavaliers took the 28-23 lead on the next play, with quarterback Jameel Sewell hitting Stanton Jobe with a 25-yard touchdown pass.
“I was just trying to make a play and get us good field position,” Smith said. “I tried to make a move before I secured the ball and he got on me pretty quick. I have to give it to him because he was in my face.”
Georgia Tech’s offense almost helped Smith save face two series later. Smith returned a punt 11 yards to midfield, and Bennett quickly moved Georgia Tech into the red zone. He scrambled for 13 yards on a third-down-and-14 play, diving for the first-down marker and coming up two feet short.
Georgia Tech wide receiver Correy Earls suffered a neck injury while blocking for Bennett on the play. The game was delayed for approximately 20 minutes while Earls was placed on a stretcher and taken off the field.
Whether it was the long wait or the fact that he’d practiced as a blocking tight end for only a few days, Derrick Morgan jumped before the snap on the fourth-and-1. Morgan, a true freshman defensive end, drew the penalty, and Virginia’s Chris Long sacked Bennett on the ensuing fourth-and-6 conversion try.