November 26, 2022 Athens - Georgia Tech's interim head coach Brent Key and players run on the football field before an NCAA football game between Georgia and Georgia Tech at Sanford Stadium in Athens on Saturday, November 26, 2022. Georgia won 37-14 over Georgia Tech. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Brent Key: Georgia Tech ‘playing with one hand tied behind our back’ after turnovers

ATHENS — Brent Key had Georgia Tech prepared mentally and schematically to go toe-to-toe with No. 1-ranked Georgia on Saturday.

The Yellow Jackets busted 9-yard runs on each of their first two plays in the game en route to becoming the first team to score a first-quarter touchdown on the Bulldogs all season.

Georgia Tech was still on top entering the second quarter, 7-3, and Georgia managed just a 10-7 halftime edge with Key’s Yellow Jackets out-gaining them 187-153.

Key, however, took no consolation in the wake of what was ultimately a 37-14 defeat to the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs.

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“You play the game to win, you don’t play the game to come in second,” Key said. “You play the game to win, and that’s what we prepared for in the week.

“There is no other outcome that is acceptable, and that’s the way we approach the football game.”

Fact is, Key should soon have the “interim” tag removed from his head coach title.

The 44-year-old former Georgia Tech player led the Yellow Jackets to a 4-4 mark under his watch, including wins over then-Top 25 teams Pitt and North Carolina.

Key wasn’t willing to speculate if or when the Georgia Tech administration might make his hire official, keeping his postgame comments directly related to his players and the game that had just been played.

The interim head coach was able to pinpoint when things started to slip away for the Yellow Jackets in the third quarter, as much the team’s own doing.

“You’re looking at two consecutive series where the ball, field position-wise, never really crossed the 30,” Key said. “So we’re playing with one hand tied behind our back.”

Key is referring to Georgia starting third-quarter drives at the Georgia Tech 17 after a dropped punt snap, and then at the Yellow Jackets’ 25 after a first-down fumble on the ensuing possession.

The Bulldogs cashed in with a field goal and touchdown to extend the lead from 13-7 to 23-7 with two drives totaling just 28 yards on 11 plays.

Key said he’s “never had a good feeling after a loss,” but he paid tribute to his players after they finished a 5-7 season that began with Geoff Collins as head coach before Key took over in Game 5.

“To do what they’ve done and play as hard as they played until the clock hit zero, it’s a credit to the leadership they give to each other and players having ownership,” Key said.

“It’s been an outstanding time to coach these kids.”

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