Aug. 28, 2008
By JACK WILKINSON
The operative word was new. New coach. New option offense. New unies (hey, everything Old Gold is new again). New attitude. A new buzz, all over the Flats. On a picture-perfect postcard evening, a new day dawned for Georgia Tech football Thursday. With it came another new touch: Hope.
We pause now for this disclaimer: Yes, it was only the opener. Yes, it was Jacksonville State, a late-scheduled entry from the Gated Subdivision Series, or whatever Division I-AA is called these days. And yes, these Gamecocks will never be confused with Spurrier’s. Still, Tech beat `em like a rented school. And isn’t that, in part, the point?
“We had 41 points and 484 yards,” Johnson said. “We can get better, but I don’t know how much better you can get than that.”
That said, Johnson knows this: There’s much work to be done, ample improvement to make before next week’s visit to Boston College and then on to Virginia Tech.
Yet as openers go, this was fine. A grand opening? No. A perfect option? Only at times. This couldn’t compare with the 2003 home opener, in newly-renovated and expanded Bobby Dodd, when 55,000 fans roared their approval of Tech’s 17-3 upset of mighty Auburn. That wasn’t merely a win or a victory, but a triumph in every sense. This was a good win, a fine first impression and the start of a new era.
“Any time you win, you should be happy,” Johnson said. “I learned a long time ago [that] an ugly win is better than a pretty loss. So we’ve got a lot of areas to work on.”
Jack Crowe should have such problems. “Playing against this offense, you can have eight or nine or 10 people doing what they’re supposed to do,” said the Jacksonville State coach. “If you have one guy that doesn’t take the pitch, it can be 40 yards. There were some of those plays in there.”
Big plays, all around. A-back Roddy Jones ran 49 yards for a touchdown. New quarterback Josh Nesbitt scrambled for a 34-yard gain and rushed for two touchdowns. His backup, freshman Jaybo Shaw, sped 43 yards to set up his 1-yard score. Lucas Cox rumbled 22 yards on his only carry of the night.
And then there was Jonathan Dwyer. “Jonathan Dwyer is a player that we had in our sights about three times and just couldn’t tackle him,” Crowe said of Tech’s sophomore B-back, or set back. By halftime, Dwyer already had his second career 100-yard game, rushing for two TD’s and 113 yards, including a 37-yard burst.
“I think Jonathan Dwyer is a phenomenal player,” Crowe said of the 228-pound sophomore. “What gets you in this offense is, you assign one guy to him and that one guy is isolated on him.
“There’s just too many issues with this offense for people to deal with it. We had two-and-a-half weeks to deal with it. The rest of these folks will get two days. Good luck, ACC.”
All six of Tech’s scoring drives lasted less than three minutes. Four consumed less than two.
“We did pretty well. We showed our fans and the nation what this offense can do,” said Dwyer, who took a post-game Lambeau Leap into The Swarm, the Tech student section beyond the North end zone. “We have a lot of talent here and we were productive. We have some things to clean up, but we looked pretty good.”
They were two chop block penalties. A few dropped passes, including Roddy Jones’ drop on Tech’s first play from scrimmage. The Jackets fumbled four times, losing one.
But defensively, Tech contained Ryan Perrilloux well, at least in the first half when the Jackets got two interceptions from Morgan Burnett and led 27-0 at halftime. The perilous Perrilloux threw two scoring passes in the second half, but the LSU transfer — with no comparative complementary players around him now — showed his frustration at times.
A surprisingly large — and loud — crowd of 45,706 enjoyed opening night immensely. The upper North Stands — newly named “The Jackets Nest” — was far more populated than usual. On a night for new beginnings, and without Clemson or Georgia as the opponent, that was new, too.