Personality Missing

Oct. 8, 2010

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

– Those prone to forecasting – fans like you – have for a few weeks figured that Georgia Tech has to make hay in early October because the schedule grows teeth before Halloween and then remains jagged.

The Yellow Jackets (3-2, 2-1 ACC) started rightly with last-minute win last Saturday at Wake Forest. Today’s game against semi-wayward Virginia (2-2, 0-1) and next Saturday’s game against Middle Tennessee State line up as steps in the right direction . . . if they’re taken.

This team is not yet worthy enough to treat any game as a tune-up or trial run, but given that the Jackets are not nearly what they want to be by the arrival of a three-game gauntlet of Clemson, Virginia Tech and Miami with the first two of those on the road, these contests are in some regard just that.

Lose either one, however, and good luck referring to that game as a tune-up. And neither game is a gimme because Tech has yet to man up anywhere.

The defense showed signs at Wake, but it’s hard to over-credit the effort given that the Demon Deacons were rolling with a fourth-string quarterback.

The offensive line remains a work in progress (kind understatement), and today is likely to use the fourth combination of starters in just the sixth game. Jay Finch will probably start at left guard for Will Jackson, whose badly sprained ankle is problematic. Nick McRae had a shot, and it did not go well.

Julian Burnett is likely to start at inside linebacker beside Brad Jefferson. That will make him the third ILB to start in that spot following Kyle Jackson and Brandon Watts.

Coach Paul Johnson said the only thing missing from last year’s offense is the volume of big plays. That’s one way of looking at it.

But Tech’s personality is absent. Their signature is meant to be running the ball, and while some rushing statistics are as impressive or slightly moreso this season than last, others are worse. Here’s the worst of the worst:

When faced with third down and between 4 and 6 yards to go – which is, of course, not necessarily a passing down for Tech as it would be for most teams – the Jackets are faceless.

Tech has faced that situation 19 times. Joshua Nesbitt has attempted six passes, completing four, three for first downs. That’s a 50 percent conversion rate by air.

On the ground, Tech has rushed 13 times for 9 yards, an 0.69-yard average. They’ve converted twice (15.4 percent).

Tech’s been better throwing in that situation.

Last season, Tech converted for first downs when it passed in those situations eight of 13 times (61.5 percent). But Johnson still favored running the ball (some being scrambles off pass plays). By running, they converted 19 of 39 such situations (48.7 percent), averaging 6.85 yards per carry.

Tech’s present offensive synchronization or shortage thereof is attributable to every unit.

For there to be significant improvement on the offensive line, players need to better read each other’s minds. Linemen must know their assignments, and those of their line mates.

They’re tested on this every week, and in games a lineman has to know, if the defender he was supposed to block stunts out of his reach, whom to hit instead. Or, if someone stunts across his face, he must know whether to take that defender rather than the one he thought pre-snap that he was to block.

“Sometimes, people start passing [defenders] off when they think somebody else is going to block them, and that was their man,” said co-offensive line coach Mike Sewak. “This group is so young. They haven’t reached their maturity level yet. They haven’t reached their mental toughness. They reached their physical toughness yet.”

As junior tackle Nick Claytor said, “We just have to play at a higher level. That grace period of being nervous is over. It’s time to win games.”

Actually, it’s past time for that. “I don’t know where they are,” Johnson said of his players and their collective mindset.

Asked if he could remember being head coach of a team that was this deep into a season without knowing its personality, Johnson said, “not that I know of.”

The coach also said, “It’s like I said the other day. The sky is not falling. It’s not like we’re O-5. But I don’t think we’re playing to our potential, and that’s a direct reflection on me and the rest of the coaches. We’ve got to get them to play up to their potential.”

We now throw open the floor for ideas on how to make this happen. Send suggestions to stingdaily@gmail.com.

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