Jackets’ offense shut down in 24-7 loss to Miami

Coming off its first loss of the season, the Tech football team failed to rebound against Miami in last weekend on the road. The Jackets recorded their lowest yardage total of the season against an aggressive Miami defense, accumulating just 211 yards on offense, and the special teams unit struggled as well en route to a 24-7 loss.

With the loss, Tech dropped to 6-2 on the season with a 3-2 mark in conference play. After reaching a ranking as high as No. 12 in the AP Top 25 after the Maryland game, the Jackets are no longer ranked in the Top 25 of any major polls following the loss to Miami, which was their third straight loss against the Hurricanes.

“Anytime you lose, it’s frustrating…We just have to let it go and move on,” said redshirt junior quarterback Tevin Washington.

The defeat was, to a large degree, due to Tech’s worst statistical rushing effort of the season. Tech managed just 134 yards on the ground, averaging 2.8 yards per carry, and the team’s longest run of the day went for just 11 yards. Only one game in Johnson’s tenure as head coach—Tech’s 33-17 loss to Miami in 2009—saw the Jackets rush for fewer yards.

The team’s leading ballcarrier was Washington, who picked up just 36 yards on 20 carries. Washington’s struggles stemmed from the fact that Miami shut down redshirt sophomore B-back David Sims and contained the A-backs on option plays to the edges; Sims and the A-backs combined for 22 carries to Washington’s 20.

Because Miami had success shutting down Tech’s run game across the board, the Hurricanes rarely had to play eight defenders in the box and Tech had few openings in the passing game. Washington completed six of 12 passes for just 63 yards with an interception; after averaging 12.7 yards per attempt going into the game, his mark was just 5.3 yards per attempt.

“It’s not fair to put all of this on Tevin, because there are a lot of us that have to do better…We can’t get to the perimeter,” Johnson said.

The misfortunes started quickly for Tech. After forcing a three-and-out after two incomplete passes by Miami quarterback Jacory Harris, the Jackets gave the ball right back as Washington was intercepted on a deep pass to senior receiver Tyler Melton.

The interception gave Miami the ball at Tech’s 46-yard line, and the Hurricanes took advantage of the short field. Running back Lamar Miller carried five times for 29 yards to power the Miami offense down the field, and fellow running back Mike James scored from two yards out to cap a 12-play drive that took 5:24 off the clock and gave Miami a 7-0 lead midway through the opening period.

The Jackets had two more possessions in the first quarter, but they were unable to move the ball very far on either one due to a failed conversion attempt on a fake punt and a 34-yard run by redshirt senior A-back Roddy Jones that was called back due to offsetting penalties. Tech stayed within a touchdown, though, as Miami’s last two possessions of the first quarter were fruitless as well even though the Hurricanes reached Tech territory on both.

A sequence early in the second quarter showcased Tech’s fortunes in all three phases of the game. The Jackets had the ball to open the second quarter, but for the fourth straight possession they were unable to cross midfield and had to punt. The Tech defense stifled Miami’s offense once more and forced the Hurricanes to punt near midfield, but freshman punt returner Zach Laskey lost the ball while attempting to pick up the bouncing punt and Miami safety JoJo Nicolas recovered in Tech’s end zone for a Miami touchdown. The score gave the Hurricanes a 14-0 advantage with 10:17 left in the opening half.

“Clearly today was the worst that has happened to [Laskey],” Johnson said.

Tech responded with its best drive of the day. Starting from its own eight-yard line after a poor kickoff return, the Jackets took more than nine minutes off the clock on a 20-play, 92-yard touchdown drive. Washington carried the ball nine times and punched the ball in from a yard out for a touchdown, and Tech cut Miami’s lead to 14-7.

Following the score, only 1:02 remained in the first half, but that turned out to be enough time for the Hurricanes to score. After a 48-yard kick return and a 32-yard reception, Miller ran up the middle for 14 yards to reach the end zone, capping a 37-second drive and giving Miami a 21-7 lead that lasted into halftime.

The Jackets had the ball first in the second half and crafted a lengthy drive, advancing from their own 20 to the Miami 32, but they ended up turning the ball over on downs on a failed fourth-down conversion.

Tech’s defense forced another three-and-out and a punt, but the offense failed to move the ball past Tech’s own 30-yard line before being forced to punt. Miami quickly moved downfield and picked up a 39-yard field goal that gave them a 24-7 lead and a three-score advantage with 13:55 left in the game.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Synjyn Days replaced Washington for Tech’s next series, but after picking up one first down, he lost six yards on a run and a fumble on the next play. Harris threw a quick interception to sophomore outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu, but Tech—with Washington back in at quarterback—only gained two yards on its next series before punting.

Miami took over with 10:34 left in the game and rode running backs Miller and James to a 14-play drive that took 7:31 off the clock. The drive ended with an incomplete pass on fourth down, but it effectively eliminated any chance that Tech had of coming back. Miami went on to win 24-7.

The loss came despite a strong overall effort from Tech’s defense. Because of  a strong performance from Miller, who had 93 rushing yards and a touchdown, Miami managed 263 total yards. Harris completed just eight of 23 pass attempts in the game for 140 yards.

In many regards, the play of Tech’s special teams unit was the deciding factor. Laskey fumbled the punt that was returned for a touchdown, and poor blocking on kickoff returns forced the Jackets to start from inside their own 20-yard line twice.

“We couldn’t overcome the special teams that we had today, and that is a reflection on me,” Johnson said.

The Jackets will face a challenge as they look to reverse their fortunes. Tech will return home from the two-game road trip to face undefeated No. 5 Clemson on Saturday, Oct. 29.

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