Jackets lose first homecoming in 13 years

Tech suffered its second loss of the season on Saturday at Grant Field when the Jackets fell to the Cavaliers from University of Virginia, 24-17. This loss was the first Homecoming loss for the Jackets since 1996, and moved the Jackets to 6-2 overall and 3-2 in the ACC.

“We made enough mistakes in about every area to lose the game about twice over…. You have to give [UVA] credit. They came in here and did what they needed to do to win the game, and we didn’t get it done,” said Head Coach Paul Johnson.

Throughout the game, the Jackets struggled to get their offense onto the field. The Cavaliers held the ball for almost nine more minutes than the Jackets, and Tech’s defense was only able to force one punt during the entire game.

“We could not get [UVA’s offense] off the field in the first half. We had four possession in the first half…. When you get the ball on offense in this type of game you better put points on the board. You better maximize it and take advantage of the [possession],” Johnson said.

Virginia topped Tech in just about every offensive category. UVA had 270 yards passing compared to Tech’s 103 yards. The Cavaliers completed 29 of 39 passes attempted, while the Jackets only pulled in seven of 15. Virginia went 11 of 18 on third downs, while Tech converted only four of 10. While the Jackets were able to surpass the Cavaliers in rushing yards, the 30-yard difference was not enough to carry the Jackets to a win.

“We missed a ton of tackles. We have been getting a lot of pressure on the quarterback, but [UVA] protected their quarterback pretty well,” Johnson said.

The injuries on the defensive side of the ball also hurt the Jackets. Senior cornerback Jahi Word-Daniels did not play due to a hamstring injury he suffered last week during the Clemson game. Sophomore free safety Dominique Reese went out at halftime with an injury after picking up an interception and two tackles for losses in the first half. The loss of those two defensive secondary starters showed.

Five Cavaliers had four or more receptions, with all of them having at least 26 yards receiving. Senior tailback for the Cavaliers Cedric Peerman had 55 receiving yards and another 118 on the ground. Senior UVA wide receiver Maurice Covington led the receiving corps with 76 yards and a touchdown.

Offensively for the Jackets, freshman A-back Roddy Jones led the team with 75 yards off of 11 carries, the highest yardage in his young college career. Sophomore B-back Jonathan Dwyer came behind Jones with 70 yards on 17 carries. Dwyer has only had two other games this season with less than 100 yards rushing. The first came against Virginia Tech, the Jackets first loss of the season, and the second came in the near upset by Gardner-Webb.

It was also a rough day for sophomore quarterback Josh Nesbitt. He was involved in two fumbles during the game. One came because of a botched snap between him and junior center Dan Voss. The second came while Tech was in the red zone during the third quarter.

Nesbitt also threw an interception on Tech’s last drive of the game. It came at the UVA 43-yard line and ended the game for the Jackets, as the Cavaliers took over with just 1:18 left in the game. Nesbitt was also struggling with defensive penetration by Virginia, as he was sacked four times for a combined loss of 36 yards.

“[The first fumble] was a dropped snap. On this level, you like to think you can get quarterback, center exchange. The one on the goal line, we just fumbled the ball…. And the interception at the end was a poor decision,” Johnson said.

There were some brighter spots for the Jackets on the defensive side of the ball. The Jackets were able to force three turnovers, which Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack said was a his goal for the defense. The first came in the first quarter when sophomore safety Morgan Burnett intercepted a pass off of UVA sophomore quarterback Marc Verica and returned it for 13 yards. The second turnover was Reese’s interception, which came in the second quarter. The final turnover was a fumble recovery by sophomore defensive end Derrick Morgan, who recovered the fumble by Verica while senior defensive end Michael Johnson was going for the sack.

Burnett and freshman safety Cooper Taylor led the Jackets with 11 tackles apiece, tying the season high for Burnett and setting a new career high for Taylor.

Roddy Jones returned kicks for the Jackets for the first time since the Boston College game. He returned a total of three for a combined 58 yards. Freshman A-back Marcus Wright saw his first two kick returns of the year on Saturday, which combined for 38 yards. Jones also had 29 yards on his only punt return, the longest return for the Jackets this season.

“I feel like [the kick off returns] went a lot better today. It was something that we have been working hard on in practice, but it is still something we have got to keep getting better on,” Jones said.

With the loss to UVA, the Jackets fell out of all major national polls and out of the top spot in Coastal Division, which UVA now leads, being the only team in the Coastal division with one conference loss.

The Jackets hope to rebound this Saturday as they take on No. 15 Florida State, who is now the highest ranked team in the ACC. The Jackets have not beaten the Seminoles since 1975, the year before Head Coach Bobby Bowden took over the Seminoles.

“Any time you lose you are disappointed…. We have a young team. And as I told them after the Virginia Tech game: good teams don’t lose two in a row. We have to see if we can come back and, next week, play against a team that is as athletic or more athletic than any team in the league,” Johnson said.