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Georgia Tech’s Mistakes Loom Large

It’s fitting, I suppose, that a dreadfully disappointing season would end in such a dreadfully disappointing manner. Far from taking another step forward in Paul Johnson’s third season — history had shown the third year under his watch to be a turning point — Georgia Tech enters the winter nursing its wounds, eyeballing a cloudier future at the tail end of a 6-7 finish, the program’s first sub-.500 campaign since 1996.

It’s only one game, but there is a sizable distance between 7-6 and 6-7: it’s only one game, yes, but Georgia Tech might have erased some of the foul taste of a sloppy final two months with an Independence Bowl win over Air Force.

Only its own errors, both physical and mental, prevented the Yellow Jackets from their first bowl win under Johnson’s watch. For starters, those two muffed punts by sophomore Daniel McKayhan, even if he also led the team in receiving, loom large. It was the latter of the two, one that came early in the fourth quarter, provided Air Force with a short field with which to convert the deciding score.

Four turnovers in all: three fumbles — two by McKayhan — and an interception, one tossed by Tevin Washington near the Air Force end zone as Tech attempted a potentially game-tying touchdown drive. Just put those giveaways on Georgia Tech’s tab: that gave the Yellow Jackets 27 turnovers on the season, the second-worst total in the A.C.C. and the 20th-most in the country.

In that regard, the loss was a microcosm of Tech’s entire season. The Yellow Jackets were often stymied by their own incompetence: like a ballroom dancer with two left feet, Georgia Tech couldn’t get out of its own way. At least one turnover in each game; 16 in its seven defeats; eight in losses to Georgia and Air Force to end the season.

When looking at last night’s game, one couldn’t help but be struck by the fact that while each team ran a similar offensive system, Air Force was more precise and controlled, albeit less successful altogether offensively. Georgia Tech did a fine job keying on the Air Force ground game, forcing quarterback Tim Jefferson to attempt 23 passes, the second-most of his career — nevertheless, Jefferson made no mistakes, nor did the rest of the A.F.A. offense.

While Georgia Tech was falling all over itself, coughing up the ball at the most inopportune moments, Air Force remained within itself. Can we subscribe this dichotomy to the differing personalities along the sidelines? Though not altogether emotional, Johnson has shown himself prone to flights of supreme self-confidence, delusional moments of perceived invincibility that, to be fair, has yielded its fair share of successful results.

Air Force’s Troy Calhoun is far more measured, far more staid, a bit less likely to take the types of devil-may-care chances that may lead to a breakthrough moment or a potentially damaging failure. Georgia Tech attempted 40 fourth down conversions in 2010, 20 percent more than its next-closest competitor. Not that Air Force was that far off: the Falcons tried 30, but converted a high percentage than the Yellow Jackets.

Air Force attempted to convert five fourth downs yesterday; Tech tried three, on the other hand. So why does it feel like Air Force remained in control while Georgia Tech lost its composure?

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  1. [...] If you’re a Tech fan, Paul Myerberg has a depressing observation for you. … Far from taking another step forward in Paul [...]

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