1. Defense delivers
This was the game the Georgia Tech defense has been capable of playing all season, but hadn’t. The Yellow Jackets had given parts and shown glimpses, but never the full 60-minute product. The containment of running back Dalvin Cook was exceptional. His longest run was 17 yards and he finished with 82 yards on 17 carries, a little more than half his season average. He broke a few tackles, but was never far from Tech defenders. Ends Roderick Rook-Chungong and KeShun Freeman get kudos for setting the edge on stretch plays and keeping him from turning the corner.
This is a defense that gave up 200-plus rushing yards in its previous three games and was getting gashed for big plays repeatedly.
Defensive coordinator Ted Roof, who has taken considerable heat for his unit’s play this season, did a great job getting his group ready to play Saturday. One play will mainly be remembered from this game, but the defense put the Jackets in position to win.
2. Tech caught the breaks
After five weeks of failing to come up with the plays at the right moment, the Jackets made the plays. The defensive stand from first-and-goal from the 2-yard line after quarterback Justin Thomas’ first interception. Kicker Harrison Butker’s first-quarter make from 53 yards, tying his career long.
Thomas’ clutch (and risky) 33-yard completion to Ricky Jeune out of the end zone that preceded his 60-yard touchdown run before halftime.
Jamal Golden’s interception of quarterback Everett Golson in the end zone in the fourth quarter, FSU’s first turnover in 439 offensive plays this season. (Lawrence Austin made the breakup of the pass and it appeared to bounce off his foot and up into the air, where Golden grabbed it out of the air.)
Butker’s clutch make of a 35-yard try to tie the game with 54 seconds left. And, of course, the block by Patrick Gamble and Lance Austin’s 78-yard return.
Those sorts of plays stayed away from Tech, both by just chance and the Jackets’ inability to make them, throughout the five-game skid. They didn’t Saturday night.
3. Team win
All phases played well, particularly the defense and special teams. The offense came through with enough plays against a solid defense. The defense limited big plays, a weak spot in the five-game losing streak. The longest play from scrimmage was 22 yards. The red-zone defense was exceptional.
Butker was 3-for-3 on field goals and put all five of his kickoffs in the end zone. The punting unit netted 38.3 yards with only one punt returned. And, of course, the blocked field-goal try.
Offense had two costly turnovers, but controlled the clock in the third quarter, holding the ball for 12:16 and limiting the Seminoles to five plays, to shorten the game and limit FSU’s chances.
4. Who will ever forget that play?
The circumstances – Tech’s snakebit five-game losing streak, FSU’s 28-game winning streak in the ACC (including two over Tech in ACC championship games, both close losses), homecoming, a whiteout and just the general discouragement within the fan base this season for a season gone awry – provided a context that were like a fuse waiting to be lit. The play itself – unexpected, improbable and comparable only to Auburn’s “kick-six” win over Alabama in 2013 – was the struck match.
“It feels great to be part of a play like that, a game like that’s going to go down in history,” defensive tackle Patrick Gamble said. “We’re going to be old and gray one day and I can tell my child about this. It’s a blessing.”