Despite a stout showing from Tech’s defense, 20 points were more than enough for the Pittsburgh Panthers as they took down the Yellow Jackets at homecoming to go 6-3 on the season. With the loss, Tech falls to 2-6 on the season and 1-4 in ACC play, effectively ending whatever slim hopes the Jackets may have had for a postseason bid. The Jackets mustered just 10 points for the game as QB James Graham went 3-13 with 57 passing yards, Tech’s worst offensive showing since recording just 2 points against Temple earlier this season. Here were the biggest takeaways from Tech’s loss under the lights.
Graham hits the bench, Johnson shines
Tech’s QB competition was the talk of the off-season this year, and it continued into the start of the season as Tech rotated Tobias Oliver, Lucas Johnson, and James Graham at QB for some of the first games of the season. While Graham won the job outright by mid-season and appeared solid against Miami, he hit the bench during halftime after going just 2-9 with 54 yards, and Johnson — who had previously appeared in the game as a kick-holder for placekicker Brenton King — took over. Johnson went 5 for 8 with 51 yards, good for a 62.5% completion rate and a 116.1 passer rating in the half before coming up limping after a red-zone fumble. Graham returned to QB following Johnson’s injury and finished the game, going 1 of 4 with 3 passing yards.
“There were some balls [Graham] wishes he could have back,” Collins explained post-game, effusively praising Graham’s attitude. “We brought him in at halftime, talked him through it, he settled down… he was the consummate teammate, he was cheering for [Johnson] and was excited to see him back out there playing.”
Despite a poor showing, Graham was collected post-game, and promised to improve: “I didn’t play as well as I wanted to — I missed a lot of throws that I should have made and I felt like I was rushing everything. I should have just settled down, set my feet — I’m just going to get better this week at practice, working at things like that in the pocket.”
Tech run game stifled by Pitt defense
The Jackets torched one of the nations’ top run defenses last game, racking up 207 rushing yards against Miami, but against a stout Pittsburgh defensive unit the Jackets struggled. Tech put up just 86 yards rushing, averaging 3.0 yards per carry. Workhorse back Jordan Mason had a game to forget as well, as despite accumulating plenty of volume — the sophomore recorded 56 yards per carry on 15 carries, a far cry from his breakout game against Miami. Graham, slotting in at QB for the first half, was reasonably successful with keeper plays, going for 30 yards on 8 attempts, but both Graham and Mason tended to avoid the perimeter on rush plays and usually found plenty of Panthers ready to receive them up the middle, limiting Tech’s capacity for big plays. Tech’s longest rushing play of the game was just 18 yards.
Tale of the Takeaways
Collins made a name for himself as a top-tier defensive coordinator at schools like Mississippi State and Florida, but Tech has struggled on the other side of the ball this year, allowing 412 yards per game entering today. Saturday’s game, however, represented Tech’s finest defensive effort on the season in terms of turnovers — Tech picked up 3 takeaways and a blocked punt against a Pittsburgh offense that had allowed just 1.6 turnovers per game on the season prior to today. Tech’s brightest defensive star was on full display, as Juanyeh Thomas recorded 8 tackles and a dazzling one-handed interception. Despite ample opportunity, however, Tech recorded just 7 points off of turnovers. Tech’s defensive line also struggled to pressure the pocket, recording just 1 sack.