Despite a competitive and contentious first half, Tech crumbled late and lost to the Duke Blue Devils 14-28 on Saturday. With 5:00 to go in the third quarter, Tech was tied with Duke 7-7, but Tech fumbled on the next two drives and then fumbled again on a subsequent kickoff deep in their own territory which Duke capitalized on to the tune of a 21-point advantage. Tech’s mistakes in ball handling proved too much to overcome as the Jackets fell to 3-4 on the season.
QB TaQuon Marshall struggled on the ground and went for just 41 yards on 16 rushing attempts, but his pitching ability had noticeably improved, especially from Tech’s game against Clemson earlier last month. Jerry Howard, Jordan Mason, and Clinton Lynch each went for 30+ yards during the game. Still, the Jackets struggled with scoring and ball handling across both halves, as Tech was held to less than 15 points in their first game since last year’s game against Georgia.
Echoing his remarks from weeks prior after Tech lost to Clemson on the back of multiple fumbles and missed plays, Tech head coach Paul Johnson again expressed frustration with his offense’s ball handling. “I thought we cleaned that up, but we haven’t,” Johnson said. “There’s a small margin of error. We can’t win games when we turn the ball over three times [like that].”
Tech’s offense had found its rhythm against two of the worst defenses in the country in their most recent games, beating up on Bowling Green State and Louisville. Tech had punted the ball just once in those two games after Johnson had emphasized that he would take a more hands-on approach to coaching ball-carrying. Johnson reiterated his commitment postgame Saturday: “We’ve got to do a better job coaching ball security. It comes back to us.”
Anree Saint-Amour leads Tech Defense
Tech’s defense got off to a rocky start against Duke, as Tech gave up three first downs and a touchdown on four straight plays, as Duke knifed down the field with a series of quick passes. But Tech’s defense was lights out on the following drives –Tech’s defense held Duke to 5/10 on third downs and 0/2 on fourth downs. Tech’s defense did yield those three touchdowns by Duke in the third quarter, but each fumble had occurred deep in Tech’s red-zone, handicapping the defensive unit. Leading the charge again was Anree Saint-Amour, who continued to build his case for All-ACC honors, picking up 2 sacks and forcing a fumble during the game. Duke’s offense was tied for second in the FBS in turnovers lost entering the game with just three, but Tech forced five turnovers, including a key interception in the first quarter that gave Tech its first score.
Saint-Amour praised his defensive unit following the game. “I feel like we do a pretty good job getting takeaways, which is a big thing on defense with the ability to change the game. We’re making less mistakes every game and I feel we’re growing as a defense, so we’re all going to get better.”
Blue Devils and Tech Get Physical
Tech’s loss on the road at the hands of Duke last season did nothing to imply the level of animosity that was present between the two teams Saturday. Duke and Tech got into multiple altercations during the second quarter, from pushing and shoving to a Duke player restraining a Tech player on the ground following the downing of a punt attempt by the Jackets. The tensions escalated to an all-out brawl after Tech kicked off following their only first-half touchdown, where Duke LB Jacob Morgenstern and Tech LB Victor Alexander engaged in a fist-fight as the benches emptied on both sides. Both players were assessed personal fouls for their roles in the fight, and Alexander was ejected from the game.
Tech Bitten by Injury Bug
While most of Tech’s woes during the game were self-inflicted, Tech also lost multiple players during the game. LB David Curry and WE Stephen Dolphus each left the game early and did not return, and Marshall was forced to leave the game as well during the fourth quarter with injury. Johnson indicated that he believed Marshall would be fine as the nature of Marshall’s injury was not serious but said that he would need to wait until Sunday to find out more. Because of Marshall’s injury, RS freshman and former four-star recruit QB James Graham received his first snaps of the season, picking up four yards on one carry.