ATLANTA — Georgia Tech got plastered on New Year’s Eve, leaving Morgan Burnett worried about a hangover.
"It’s a bad way to go out," Burnett said after LSU crushed the No. 14 Yellow Jackets 38-3 in Wednesday night’s Chick-fil-A Bowl.
"It leaves a bad taste in your mouth. You always remember the last loss, so this will be on our minds for a long time."
The bowl loss before Georgia Tech’s hometown crowd knocked some of the warm and fuzzy feel off a nine-win season. It also reminded the Yellow Jackets they have more to learn.
Added Burnett, the sophomore safety: "There are a lot of things we have to work on in the offseason."
Burnett’s last comment should make coach Paul Johnson smile. If there’s anything positive to gain from a lopsided loss in a bowl game played about two miles from a school’s campus, it’s the lesson delivered to the players.
There were some concerns voiced before the bowl game that the Yellow Jackets heard too many compliments after their emotional 45-42 win over Georgia to close the regular season. The win ended Georgia’s streak of seven straight victories in the series, and Georgia Tech players had the score engraved on rings made for the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Georgia Tech trailed only 7-3 before being outscored 28-0 in the second quarter by LSU. The Yellow Jackets were overwhelmed by three turnovers, including a lost fumble on a punt return.
They were not accustomed to the big deficit or trailing the full game. The Jackets trailed by more than seven points for less than 28 minutes in 12 regular-season games and never trailed by more than 16 points.
Georgia Tech (9-4) fell short of its attempt for the program’s first 10-win season since 1998.
Johnson said he won’t let the ugly loss spoil the accomplishments of his first season in Atlanta.
"I’m proud of them for the season," Johnson said. "I’m not going to let this put a damper on the season.
"Clearly we weren’t ready to play, so that comes back to me. Clearly they were bigger and faster than us."
Johnson has reason for optimism. Georgia Tech started 16 freshmen and sophomores on offense and defense against LSU. There were no senior starters on offense.
Johnson’s most difficult offseason task will be finding replacements for senior defensive linemen Michael Johnson, Vance Walker and Darryl Richard, who served as game captains against LSU. The only other senior who was listed as a starter, cornerback Jahi Word-Daniels, was held out with an injury.
One of the top returning players on the defense will be Burnett, who had seven interceptions to tie for the national lead in the regular season.
The three seniors and sophomore defensive end Derrick Morgan gave Georgia Tech a strong defensive line, but Johnson said the defense faded late in the season.
The defense carried the team early in the season as players adjusted to Johnson’s new spread option offense, but Georgia Tech gave up 23 or more points in each of its last six games.
"We struggled at the end of the year," Johnson said. "We didn’t play as well defensively the last couple of games as we did early. We tried to take the extra time (in bowl practice) to go back and make sure we were more sound and focus on our shortcomings."
Quarterback Josh Nesbitt, top running backs Jonathan Dwyer and Roddy Jones and top receiver Damaryius Thomas are expected to return to an offense that was on a roll before being shut down by LSU.
Georgia Tech ranked No. 3 in the nation in rushing entering the bowl, but Johnson says there’s more to come in his spread option attack. With better pass-blocking, Johnson says the Yellow Jackets will be a better threat to pass next season.
Nesbitt was only 8-for-24 passing for 150 yards with an interception against LSU. Most of the production came on two plays — a 40-yard pass to Dwyer on Georgia Tech’s first play and a 47-yard pass to Marcus Wright.
Dwyer had only 67 yards rushing on 10 carries.
"We were trying to start a new era in this bowl, the Paul Johnson era, but we’ll have 16 of our 22 starters back next year and we’ll definitely be using this as motivation in the offseason," Dwyer said.