Georgia Tech appeared poised to make a major step up in the Atlantic Coast Conference standings and enhance their postseason options last week before suffering a fourth-quarter collapse against Virginia Tech that may even put their bowl hopes in jeopardy.
The Yellow Jackets (4-3, 3-3 ACC) had things under control in Thursday night's affair before two lapses in the secondary gave the visiting Hokies two touchdowns on long passes and the eventual 34-20 victory.
You can make that three defensive lapses with the breakdown that let Hokies QB Bryan Randall escape from his own 17-yard line for a 32-yard gain on a second-and-10 play that preceded his 51-yard touchdown pass to freshman WR Josh Morgan.
That strike came after an 80-yard touchdown pass on the previous series in which Hokies WR Eddie Royal was left wide open around his own 35-yard line.
From a 17-9 lead entering the final quarter, the Jackets found themselves trailing 27-20, and their fate was sealed when QB Reggie Ball threw interceptions on each of the Jackets' final two possessions, one of which was returned for the game's final touchdown.
"We didn't jam the guys off the line like we should have and they got downfield," coach Chan Gailey said of the two big pass plays. "When you don't get pressure that way, then all of a sudden you have time to make the throw."
The Jackets had taken advantage of three Hokies' turnovers in the first half for a 17-7 lead and surrendered only a safety in the third quarter when Ball lost track of where he was on the field and ran out of the end zone trying to avoid a sack.
But after piling up 219 yards in the first half, the Jackets managed only 126 in the last two quarters.
"It hurts to let one get away like this where we thought that we were in pretty good shape going into the fourth quarter," Gailey said. "We gave up some big plays and just couldn't sustain anything offensively, and that just hurt us tremendously."
The Jackets face a tough task in trying to regroup with a trip to North Carolina State on Saturday. Their remaining games after that are against Connecticut and Virginia at home and rival Georgia on the road Nov. 27. It's possible the Jackets could head into the season finale at Athens needed one more victory to become bowl eligible.
GAME BALL GOES TO
LB Gerris Wilkinson -- He led the Jackets' defense with 14 tackles, including a sack and another tackle for a loss. He also forced a fumble that stopped a Virginia Tech threat in the first half.
KEEP AN EYE ON
TB Chris Woods -- The sophomore was forced to carry the rushing load in the second half when starter P. J. Daniels went out with a knee injury. He responded with 57 yards on just nine carries. His 33-yard run early in the fourth quarter got the Jackets on their way to their final points, a 34-yard field goal by Travis Bell.
QUOTE TO NOTE
"A ballgame always comes down to big plays. We made two of them and they made three." -- LB Chris Reis, after the loss to Virginia Tech
The Jackets got 166 yards on the ground against a tough Virginia Tech defense, even with TB P.J. Daniels out with an injury in the second half. QB Reggie Ball accounted for 60 of that, and TB Chris Woods came off the bench to run for 57 in the last two quarters.
STILL NEEDS SOME WORK
The Jackets are still inconsistent in the passing game. Ball completed fewer than half his passes (14-for-29) in throwing for 179 yards. He was intercepted twice. The Jackets need to make better use of 6-4 freshman Calvin Johnson (four catches, 51 yards). He had only one catch in the second half, that coming with only 12 seconds remaining.
Daniels (bruised knee) left the game in the third quarter and did not return. He had only one carry in the second half after rushing for 53 yards on 14 carries in the first two quarters. His status for this week's game at North Carolina State is undetermined.