And, lo, it came to pass that the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, betrodden by fate and cast down by miseries, rose up against their circumstances, shook a defiant fist at the heavens and smacked the Miami Hurricanes right in the moosh.
The Jackets won 14-10 in front of 53,764 stunned spectators by dominating early play, surviving a mild comeback by the No. 3-ranked Canes, and finishing the drill midway through the third quarter on a 16-yard Reggie Ball touchdown run.
Tech head coach Chan Gailey mixed caution -- 44 running plays against the nation’s top rush defense -- and audacity -- running shotgun-formation keepers from Tech’s own end zone to kill the clock late. The stunning win over the nation’s top defense justified Gailey’s oft-criticized decision to call his own plays. And the usually mild-mannered coach lashed out at media critics at his postgame press conference.
“Not one of you thought this could happen,” Gailey said forcefully to a room full of reporters. “Not one of you!”
Gailey and his team had been storing up resentment all week before unleashing it on the Hurricanes. On Monday, Gailey’s new five-year contract extension was announced and publicly criticized as a sign Tech accepted mediocrity. On Tuesday, suspended cornerback Reuben Houston was ordered back on the team by a Fulton County judge, despite pending felony drug charges. And on Thursday, the NCAA slapped Tech with its first-ever probation, for inadvertently using 11 ineligible players over six years.
Add injuries that sidelined Tech’s top tailback and only upperclass offensive-line starter, and the Jackets (7-3, 5-3 ACC) had every excuse to lose to a team few expected them even to annoy.
Miami (8-2, 5-2), had suffered some embarrassment of its own last week when a raunchy, player-produced rap song emerged, and had apparently decided to prepare for the ACC championship game a couple weeks early. Mental mistakes by their defense, and sluggish offensive line play gave Tech the edge it needed.
The vaunted Canes defense gave up a quick opening drive by the Jackets, 68 yards in nine plays. The Canes’ aggressive man-to-man pass coverage appeared to stop the drive with an interception near their goal line. But they crossed the line from physical play to mugging and drew a pass interference penalty, leading to a two-yard Tashard Choice touchdown run.
Miami quarterback Kyle Wright, a first-year starter, soon learned what other first-year QBs have learned this year about Tech defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta’s blitz-crazy defense. It’s confusing, and it hurts.
Tech sacked Wright seven times, and knocked him down many times more. The hits and confusing coverages rattled Wright into a game-clinching interception by Dennis Davis with less than two minutes left.
Wright was forced to throw every down on Miami’s final drive because Tech’s penetration up front held the Hurricanes to 30 yards rushing on 30 carries. Miami converted only one of 14 third-down attempts, and was stuffed twice on fourth downs.
“Things weren't clicking from the jump,” Wright told the Miami Herald. “We played about as bad as we could play. We didn't deserve to win today.'”
Ball and top receiver Calvin Johnson were shut down last year at home in Miami’s 27-3 rout. Not this time. Ball completed 11 of 30 passes for 158 yards and rushed for 28 yards and a score. Johnson drew rare single-coverage and responded with a highlight reel, catching six passes for 89 yards.
Gailey’s patient, ball-control offense helped keep the Jackets in the game when Miami seized momentum in the second quarter. Tech lost yardage on short exchanges of possession and Miami finally cashed in with a field goal. With about four minutes left in the half, Miami marched 90 yards for a touchdown, scoring when Sinorice Moss beat Houston on a 19-yard slant pattern.
Against Wake Forest the previous week, the Canes had turned a 17-6 deficit into a 27-17 halftime lead in the first half’s last four minutes. But Tech ran the clock and escaped to the locker room to regroup.
Refreshed, they racked up yards and took advantage of field possession themselves in the third quarter, aided by a 15-yard celebration penalty by Miami’s defense. Tashard Choice, who finished with 84 yards rushing, set the table with a 13-yard run, and threw a block on a blitzing cornerback to spring Ball for his touchdown.
From there, it was as if a golden hand had descended from the heavens and restored Bobby Dodd to the Tech sideline. Tech won the scoreless fourth quarter, and the game, with defense and punting.
Miami coach Larry Coker apparently lost faith in his offense’s ability to drive the ball with seven minutes left, going for a fourth-and-one at Tech’s 12 when a field goal would have cut the lead to one. Linebacker KaMichael Hall stunted and dropped tailback Charlie Jones for a three-yard loss.
Punter Ben Arndt averaged 40.3 yards on nine punts, put four inside the 20, and saved a touchdown in the second quarter by tackling Darnell Jenkins at the Tech 24. On Tech’s next-to-last possession, he blasted a 78-yard punt over Jenkins’ head, putting Miami on its own 11 with 2:37 to play.