Jackets close season with worst loss of the year, falling to LSU, 38-3

Tech lost its season finale against LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl at the Georgia Dome, 38-3.

LSU slowed Tech’s offensive game significantly, holding the normally explosive rushing game to just 161 yards. Sophomore running back Jonathan Dwyer had 68 yards on 10 carries. Dwyer was also the leading receiver, catching three balls for 66 yards. Freshman running back Roddie Jones had 35 yards on 9 carries.

For the game, Tech only converted three-of-15 third down attempts and only made two-of-six fourth down attempts. The Jackets had five drives of four plays or less.

The Jackets kicked the ball off to start the game, and the kick went out of bounds. The mistake set up LSU at their own 40-yard line. This led to the first score of the game and established an LSU lead they would not lose.

“I think the turning point in the game was when we lined it up and kicked it off,” said Head Coach Paul Johnson.

Tech came closest in the first quarter, when they drove 60 yards on 13 plays and settled for a field goal to close the gap to 7-3.

For the rest of the half, the Tech’s offense would only have 14 more offensive plays. LSU would start three drives in Tech territory, including two inside of Tech’s 25-yard lines. All three drives resulted in touchdowns.

“We got overpowered on both lines of scrimmage. More so on offense than defense,” Johnson said.

The game turned into a rout in the second quarter, with LSU scoring four consecutive touchdowns and heading into the locker room with a 35-3 lead.

Playing with a large deficit, Tech began to throw the ball. Nesbitt threw 24 times in the game, a season-high for the offense this season. He finished the game eight-for-24 with 150 yards and one interception.

“We tried to throw a couple of routes… but we didn’t have time to set our feet,” Nesbitt said.

Many of the touchdowns were set up by Tech’s special teams miscues. These included a botched punt return, an onside kick which was not recovered and an unsuccessful fake punt attempt inside of Tech’s own 25-yard line.

“I think this is the worst special teams game I can remember,” Johnson said.

These mistakes helped set up favorable field position for LSU throughout the game. The Tigers had four drives start inside of Tech territory and had seven drives start at their own 40-yard line or better. In contrast, Tech had seven drives start inside their own 20, and their best field position of the day was on the closing drive of the game, when they started at midfield.

Tech came closest to scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter, when a drive brought them into the LSU red zone. On fourth and one, Nesbitt rushed for one yard, but LSU forced a fumble on their own six-yard line. The Tigers recovered the ball, the Jackets’ third turnover of the game.

“It was a disappointing ending to the season. We got outplayed, we got outcoached. It was a good beating,” Johnson said.

Despite a five-touchdown lead, LSU continued to play aggressively late in the second half. Facing a fourth and five on their own 45-yard line, the Tigers successfully converted a fake punt attempt. LSU continued to pass well into the second half, attempting 14 passes to just 15 rushes.

“I can only coach one team. That stuff usually comes back to get you,” Johnson said.

For Tech’s relatively young team, this was the last game for only a few starters, most notably senior defensive end Michael Johnson, senior defensive tackle Vance Walker and senior defensive tackle Daryl Richard. 18 seniors in all will graduate from the team.

Johnson finished with two sacks and one forced fumble.

With the win, LSU improved its record in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl to 5-0. Tech dropped to 0-4. Despite the ACC’s recent success against the SEC, the conference has dropped four straight games against the SEC and lost both of the matchups in bowl season.

The loss was the worst of Tech’s season and the worst of the bowl season.

It was the first time that a Paul Johnson offense failed to score a touchdown since Navy’s Homecoming game in 2006 against Rutgers, where the Midshipmen lost 34-0.

“I don’t think this affects our team moving forward. The 2008 season’s over. I look forward to 2009,” Johnson said.