Tech football had performed just above expectations entering their third game of the season. No sane analyst would have picked Tech to beat Clemson, but the Jackets managed to squeak out a victory against a USF team on roughly equal footing. Entering last Saturday, an even record was an above-average outcome for a Jackets team predicted by many to be the worst team in the ACC Coastal. Then the roof fell in, and Tech lost to its first non-FBS opponent in over three decades.
There is no sugarcoating the fact that, as bad as Tech was forecast to be, they should have won. Tech was favored by 26 points in Vegas. Tech players has access to far more resources and experienced personnel than any Citadel player might. Tech was playing at home in front of a friendly crowd. I repeat: Tech should have won.
Tech losing to Clemson was business as usual. Tech losing to The Citadel was not. Clearly, something went wrong on Saturday, and we were left scrambling.
Postgame, Geoff Collins took the blame for Tech’s woes with the whistle — the Jackets gave up 80 yards on eight penalties after combining just four penalties in their first two games against Clemson and USF. “That’s on me and we’ll get that fixed, because it was really clean football the first two weeks of the season, and then today, for whatever reason, there were some costly penalties that affected the outcome of the game.” And indeed, there were a number of factors at play in the game — the penalties, Tech’s decimated offensive line, a late-game mistake by the referees — that helped doom Tech to the upset loss.
But there was more at play than a few bad breaks and hot tempers for the Jackets, and that loss was more than the “bump in the road” that Collins called it postgame. Tech’s offense has still struggled to find its footing, and the defense looked thoroughly unprepared to play against The Citadel’s option — despite the fact that Tech, prior to Collins’ tenure, ran the option for more than a decade.
Linebacker David Curry called The Citadel the better team postgame, but also indicated that he did not feel as though Collins and the coaching staff paid as much attention to preparing as they should have in preparing for The Citadel. “The coach is very focused on everything that he does. I don’t think that this week there was good attention [paid] to every detail, like we should, and it showed up today,” said Curry.
This might be a familiar refrain for Collins, who, as Temple head coach last year, lost to Villanova, an FCS team like The Citadel, in the Owls’ season opener despite having all off-season to prepare. With a bye-week following The Citadel game, there was no reason for Collins to have been slacking on the details. But that was actually not the case — Tech’s defensive play-calling forced the Bulldogs to the perimeter during the option, but the Jackets seemed flummoxed with defending the perimeter. It is a damning indictment of Tech’s coaching staff that The Citadel — playing the last portion of the game with their backup QB — put up 350 yards against a defense that has practiced against their specific offensive scheme for much of their entire college careers.
Collins also talked about the bigger picture postgame. “When you just look at the loss today, it’s going to hurt. And it’s going to look bad. And I’ve got to imagine, I’m going to look bad. And that’s fine. I can take it. I understand what this program is going to look like and what this program is going be.” This is a rebuilding year for the program, and everyone involved, especially Collins, understands that. But for all of Collins’ focus on the bigger picture, he cannot lose sight of the details.
The smallest of leaks will sink the biggest of ships — and Collins took on a lot of water Saturday. Grab a bucket and start bailing.