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Here’s how close Georgia Tech came to beating Tennessee

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The Yellow Jackets had numbers, until they lost them.

There aren’t enough words to type in this blog post about how good Georgia Tech quarterback TaQuon Marshall was on Monday night. In his team’s upset bid against No. 25 Tennessee, Marshall carried 44 times for 249 yards and a school-record five touchdowns. He was one of the best players in all of college football’s Week 1.

But football’s a cruel sport.

The last play of Marshall’s outing was a two-point conversion try that decided the game in double overtime. It was an option, like almost every Tech play; Marshall could keep the ball and try to plunge three yards forward himself, or he could pitch to trailing B-back KirVonte Benson.

Final score: 42-41, Tennessee. Marshall’s last-ditch pitch attempt to Benson was ruled a forward pass, a dead ball that ended the game.

Georgia Tech messed up. The Yellow Jackets should’ve scored and won.

How Paul Johnson, Tech’s head coach, puts it:

We screwed it up. That should have been a walk-in. That play was so -- that should have been a walk-in, and we screwed that up, so we didn't deserve to win.

I mean, they didn't have enough guys over there, and [the blocking WR, top of the screen] tried to reach out and grab somebody as opposed to releasing inside and clinging the corner, because there's one guy you could have pitched to or run it in yourself, and we didn't do it.

So we didn't make the play. They did.

Johnson knows the flexbone option offense better than any person alive, so his word’s unimpeachable here. You can also see it all happening.

Georgia Tech used some misdirection at the snap, letting Marshall roll out to his right with a numerical advantage. If the Jackets executed fundamentally from here, they’d have scored:

At that point, there were seven players to the right of the hashmarks. Three of them were in orange, and four were in white.

If Marshall would’ve kept the ball, gone further to the right, and made the right pitch-or-keep decision — and his teammates held the right blocks — the Jackets would’ve scored. The guy with the two black lines coming out of his body in the diagram up above, Tennessee linebacker Cortez McDowell, was unblocked, but the play’s designed to make him choose which of two potential ball carriers to stop.

How the play’s supposed to work, per Johnson:

It was a counter action. We'd set up and we'd run a bunch of two-point plays out of that web thing, a pick screen out of the thing, so we were going to bring the motion, and they took the safety over there [to the left]. It was going to be a time out, so all they've got left [on the right side] is a five-technique [defensive end] and a hip linebacker, so we're supposed to be able to release and pull the guard along the five.

Our tackle reaches out and tries to reach the five, and then the guard turned up into him and there was nobody -- the quarterback had to turn up and there was nobody on the linebacker, and then he pitched it late, but he had to kind of throw it out there. If we do it right, even if we don't block the guys, then he could have pitched the ball and the guy would have been a race to -- we just didn't do it right.

The “five-technique” is No. 19 Darrell Taylor, a standing end aligned outside Georgia Tech’s right tackle. He’s supposed to get blocked by guard Parker Braun, No. 75 for Tech. But Braun misses him, and that’s where trouble first meets Marshall.

Right tackle Will Bryan, No. 70, also misses a block on Tennessee linebacker Colton Jumper. (He’s No. 53, coming from across the formation.) Suddenly, Marshall’s numbers advantage has flipped to the Vols. Taylor, the end, meets Marshall head-on.

Marshall could’ve made an emergency pitch earlier, and that might’ve worked, too.

Had Marshall flipped the ball to Benson here ...

... the Jackets would’ve had a chance to the outside.

Benson’s odds of scoring would’ve depended on how well his receiver on the flank blocked for him, and whether any other Vols changed directions in time to catch him in a dead sprint to the corner. But Marshall should’ve pitched it is not as strong a criticism as Marshall should’ve gotten better blocks and had a simpler read.

It’s hard to fault an offense that put more rushing yards on Tennessee than any other team ever has, but for one play at the end of a long game, it just got beaten.