ATLANTA — A few Georgia Tech players refuted the suggestion that they carried a hangover into Saturday’s 49-28 loss to Middle Tennessee State as a result of a stunning overtime loss a week earlier to Miami.
Perhaps, then, the Yellow Jackets were still punch drunk. Either way, Georgia Tech (2-3, 1-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) seems to have forgotten how to play defense.
One week after Miami inflicted most of its damage on Georgia Tech with 436 passing yards, the Jackets couldn’t keep Middle Tennessee running back Benny Cunningham from rushing for 217 yards and five touchdowns in Bobby Dodd Stadium in another sort of stunning result.
“We were prepared to tackle because we practiced it so much, but guys were just missing tackles,” Georgia Tech linebacker Quayshawn Nealy said. “I don’t know what to say about that.”
Georgia Tech took a 7-0 lead when senior quarterback Tevin Washington scored the first of his school record-tying four touchdowns, but Middle Tennessee (3-1, 1-0 Sun Belt) carried the action from there while racking up 510 yards of total offense.
It didn’t seem to matter that Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson had defensive coordinator Al Groh move from the sideline to the coaches’ box.
“I told (Middle Tennessee) coach (Kevin) Stockstill after they game they got after us, and whipped our butts,” Johnson said. “I want to give them some credit . . . but after seeing that, it was embarrassing. I don’t think there’s any other way to describe it. We didn’t play with a whole lot of energy.”
There was common thread in Bobby Dodd Stadium, where the Jackets lost to a non-BCS program for the first time since falling to Navy in 1996. This was also the first time that Georgia Tech lost at home in back-to-back weeks since 1998.
For two weeks running, Georgia Tech hasn’t had a clue on defense. Miami racked up 609 yards of total offense a week earlier. That’s 1,119 yards of total offense allowed in consecutive games.
Middle Tennessee passed the ball with relative ease Saturday, too, as quarterback Logan Kilgore completed 17 of 23 passes for 246 yards and two touchdowns.
Cunningham rushed 27 times, and often the Jackets didn’t come close to him. He was untouched on a 60-yard run up the middle that gave the Blue Raiders a 14-7 lead in the second quarter. He also had two touchdowns called back by penalties.
Middle Tennessee moved to 3-9 against ACC teams, and Georgia Tech lost to a Sun Belt team for the first time in seven tries.
Also for the second week in a row, a fan fell over a railing in Bobby Dodd Stadium. School officials said Saturday that the unidentified student was responsive and alert after falling approximately 15 feet. He was transported to Atlanta’s Grady Hospital.
Middle Tennessee twice led by a touchdown in the first half, although Washington each time scored to even matters.
Cunningham’s third touchdown and a 75-yard pass from Kilgore to wide receiver Marcus Henry — who took advantage of a mismatch against stand-in linebacker Malcolm Munroe — gave the Blue Raiders a 35-21 lead in the third quarter.
Moving Groh upstairs didn’t help. “I don’t think we had as much confusion getting the calls in,” Johnson said. “But the results weren’t any better.”
Washington added his fourth TD run in the fourth quarter, but an interception by Middle Tennessee cornerback Kenneth Gilstrap — who grew up in Lithonia, outside of Atlanta — preceded Cunningham’s 4-yard scoring run. He later added a 3-yard TD.
Georgia Tech beat Middle Tennessee 42-14 and 49-21 in the past two years. Saturday, it didn’t look like the Jackets were in the mood to play.
Life in the game won’t get easier; Georgia Tech plays at Clemson next Saturday.
“I think we just didn’t come out ready to play today,” said Washington, who was credited with 19 carries for just 4 yards including sacks and other lost yardage plays as Georgia Tech was out-rushed 264-238. “They came out with an edge. I think we could have done a better job getting ready for this game. I don’t think the Miami loss had anything to do with it.”