Door Ajar

Sept. 25, 2010

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

In baseball, it’s known as “The Shutdown Inning.”

It’s the half-inning immediately following your team’s scoring. The goal is to get the other team out and back on the field playing defense, building on the momentum gained in your previous at-bat.

The concept works the same way in football. Score then hold the other team, get the ball back and give your offense another opportunity to score on a defense that could probably use a breather, mentally as much as physically.

In Saturday afternoon’s 45-28 loss to North Carolina State at Bobby Dodd Stadium, Georgia Tech was presented four such momentum-building opportunities.

Three times they not only were unable to provide the necessary shutdown, but allowed the Wolfpack deflating touchdowns. While the one success was a Jerrard Tarrant interception return for a score early in the fourth quarter that put the crowd back into the game, it was followed by another scoring drive. This one put the game all but out of reach.

“I felt like we did have a lot of momentum after the play,” said Tarrant. “Everybody knew it was a big series, the next series. It was more ourselves than N.C. State. We really let ourselves down on the series after the interception.”

“One of the things, we tried to keep on fighting but it wasn’t good enough,” added cornerback Mario Butler. “We made so many mental mistakes. Then you’ve got to give N.C. State credit. Their quarterback, Russell Wilson did whatever he had to do to get his team a victory.”

Wilson, who threw for a career-high 368 yards, understands the value of the shutdown inning, as he also is a pro baseball player in the Colorado Rockies system.

But unlike his MLB suitor, he understands the importance of “small ball,” as he used his legs and plenty of dips and dunks to 11 different receivers to frustrate the Tech defense.

“We knew going into the game that [Wilson] would kill us if we didn’t contain him,” said Tech Head Coach Paul Johnson. “How many times did he kill us outside? I know he scored the one touchdown when he broke contain. There were several times when he extended plays. He’s a really good player.”

He was especially good when Tech needed a shutdown.

On the first two drives following the Georgia Tech scores, Wilson was a combined 11-for-13 for 150 yards and two touchdown passes.

The first one came late in the second quarter after Tech cut a 10-0 lead to 10-7. He was 6-for-8 and accounted for all 69 official yards of the drive. He actually threw for 90, following a 10-yard illegal block penalty following a first-down completion that moved the ball back, then an 11-yard, seemingly momentum-changing sack by Brad Jefferson.

The second came early in the third quarter, immediately after Tech, in typical Tech fashion, went 64 yards in 1:25, coming out of the locker room.

Wilson coolly went 5-for-5, accounting for 60 of 67 yards.

“It was the performance of the quarterback,” said Defensive Coordinator Al Groh. “He did a good job eluding whatever pressure was there, moving within the pocket, getting out of the pocket, spotting open receivers. Two or three of those were converted to backs coming out to the backfield. We were supposed to have coverage on the back and somewhere in there lost vision on the back. When you’ve got man-for-man coverage, you have to keep your eyes on the man. It appeared we came up deficient in having the discipline to do that.”

“It’s always frustrating. Especially on third down, when there was maybe a missed tackle or someone wasn’t in the right place at the right time, which gave them that little inch to get the first down,” added Tarrant, pointing to State’s 53.3 conversion rate on third down (8-for-15). “It’s always frustrating, when you can get the team off the field and get the offense back on the field.”

The third time was the charm for Tech, as after Joshua Nesbitt, who ran for 95 yards (he gained 119 but lost 24, mostly on late sacks) drove the Jackets down the field, Tarrant pulled in an ill-advised dying quail and took it 33 yards down the sideline, diving from the three and hitting the cone for a score.

But once again, the defense had no answers.

The Wolfpack’s 74-yard, nine-play drive, wrapped up by Wilson’s 23-yard pass to T.J. Graham, his third TD pass of the day, and third completion of the drive, all but put the final nail in Tech’s coffin. Wilson was 3-for-4, for 46 yards. The one incompletion was a ball wisely thrown away, learning his lesson from the previous series.

Wilson’s day took from another solid day by senior linebacker Brad Jefferson, who matched his career-high with 11 tackles (7 solos), and recorded his first two career sacks.

For the Yellow Jackets, it’s back to the drawing board, then on to Winston Salem, for next week’s match-up with Wake Forest.

“From a conference standpoint, we’re at the same spot we were a year ago,” said Johnson. “We’re 1-1, except it’s from out of our division.”

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