A Win Is A Win

Sept. 4, 2010

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

Paul Johnson likes to say, “It is what it is,” and the Georgia Tech coach even said it after Saturday’s 41-10 season-opening win over South Carolina State when the asked his thoughts on Joshua Nesbitt’s proficiency (or lack thereof) when trying to pass against the Bulldogs.

When a sage journalist said that Nesbitt did not, from his vantage point, appear comfortable throwing the ball, the coach said, “He didn’t look too good from my view, either. It is what it is.”

To modify Johnson’s default summary and apply it on a grander scale to his team at large, Saturday’s game was what it was supposed to be.

The Yellow Jackets rolled a lower tier team, albeit one that may well have a solid season in the Football Championship Subdivision, yet as in every game of football ever played they revealed a few warts.

You know what they mean? Not much in my view.

S.C. State was proficient against the run last season, but you should have expected the Jackets to run the ball well because that’s what they do, and because they had more depth on the line of scrimmage.

Check.

The Jackets rushed for 372 yards, and although the Bulldogs kept Tech’s B-backs in check and limited Anthony Allen to 28 yards on six carries. S.C. State virtually asked Johnson’s quarterbacks to run by keying the B-back.

Nesbitt rushed 16 times for 130 yards and a career high-tying three scores, and all Tech QBs rushed 26 times for 208 yards. The only play Tech lost yardage on was a muffed pitch from Nesbitt to Embry Peeples, whose timing was thrown off when Nesbitt pump-faked the ball first (and somebody missed a block to allow a defender in the picture).

The defense made keen adjustments after S.C. State moved the ball effectively on its first two possessions, and gave just a little more ground on the Bulldogs’ final nine possessions as on the first two.

So Tech rectified that, and at least one more fly in the ointment will be solved when next the Jackets play at home, Sept. 25 against N.C. State. Athletics director Dan Radakovich promised that problems some fans had entering the stadium Saturday due to the confluence of a late-arriving crowd, a new security company and beefed-up security measures will all be ironed seamless by then.

“We apologize that some of our fans had trouble entering the stadium today,” Radakovich said in a statement. “We feel confident this issue has been addressed.”

Left guard Will Jackson did not return after suffering a left knee sprain early in the game, but Johnson said that injury is not expected to be serious. Safety Cooper Taylor did not come out of the locker room for the second half, but nobody asked Johnson about that, and there was no new information about Taylor after the game.

But in general, if you were of a mood to look for something to worry about, it would have to be that passing attack.

Nesbitt completed just one of six passes for six yards, and watched wide receiver Tyler Melton bobble a ball away for an interception. A couple of his throws were not close. He joked about it. Johnson joked about it.

It was perfect for fans because if they didn’t have something to fret about they’d be lost, so maybe in a way it’s a good thing Nesbitt struggled to throw the ball Saturday.

Beyond Nesbitt’s running, which was crisp, quick and decisive throughout, I was most encouraged by the defensive changes the Jackets made after S.C. State’s first two possessions. In simple terms, Tech spread out to match S.C. State’s spread and started pressuring Bulldogs QB Malcolm Long more from his right side (he’s right-handed).

The Bulldogs’ passing attack shriveled precipitously thereafter, and although the S.C. State run game perked up, it was – save a 55-yard burst up the middle in the third quarter – not a steady thorn in Tech.

I found it interesting that defensive coordinator Al Groh asked the defense to do some things in the game that they had not practiced much, if at all recently because Groh and his staff did not anticipate needing them in this game. S.C. State, however, had a solid game plan and forced Groh’s hand.

That he had the confidence in his players to pull the material out of the closet said something, although he first gave the players an out when on the sideline he said, in so many words, “if you don’t feel comfortable doing this, we won’t.”

Nobody spoke up, and the Jackets did it. Linebacker Kyle Jackson said, “we trust him,” and cornerback Mario Butler said, “he trusts us.” That adds up to good news.

Before the season, remember, Paul Johnson said that one of the reasons he made a change at defensive coordinator was a lack of trust last season.

“I think it’s ultimately important,” Johnson said in early August. “If [players] don’t believe in what you’re doing, it’s not going to be very successful.

“I don’t think you can survive if they don’t believe you’ve got a chance to do it.

“I want to make sure we don’t push all that off on [former defensive coordinator] Dave Wommack because Dave was a good guy, and a good coach. It wasn’t all Dave’s fault. It wasn’t that what he was doing wasn’t sound . . . I think the kids had lost some confidence.”

I have confidence, too, and I need to go.

I’m driving to north Georgia to meet my family and several neighbors, and I’m late to the party. If I’m to survive my wife, I’ve got to roll. First, I’ve gotta stop by the house first and pick up the dog.

Hey, it is what it is.

Sorry the tailgating photos did not work out. We may try again later this season. Send comments to stingdaily@gmail.com.

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