Position Imposition

Oct. 23, 2011

By: Jon Cooper
Sting Dailiy

– Don’t let the 24-7 final score of Saturday afternoon’s game against Miami fool you.

It was a winnable game for Georgia Tech.

“I thought we had a chance, and I think we did have a chance, we just didn’t get it done,” said Head Coach Paul Johnson. “I am frustrated that we couldn’t find something to do better on offense. Clearly they had a better plan than we did, because we couldn’t get any rhythm, couldn’t get anything going. We couldn’t hit any good plays. We couldn’t overcome the special teams that we had today, and that is a reflection on me.”

A big reason Tech was unable to put itself in better position to win is that the offense, for a second straight week, was not a factor. That, in turn, was due to them never having any kind of field position.

From their first offensive play of the game, they were backed up and, with the exception of two drives, stayed that way.

Head Coach Paul Johnson intended to make quarterback Tevin Washington more of a factor in the game with his passing and tried to do so on Tech’s first play from scrimmage. But Washington’s pass, sailed over the head of A-Back Orwin Smith and right into the arms of free safety JoJo Nicolas, who would be a thorn in Tech’s side all day.

“We never got in sync from the interception on the first play,” said Johnson.

“I just overthrew the ball,” said Washington of his fourth interception in three games and sixth on the season. “We had Orwin wide open and I made a bad pass.”

Twelve plays and 5:24 later, Miami was in the end zone. The 12-play drive would be two more plays than Tech had in three first-quarter possessions, all three of which began at the 20 yard line.

Field position didn’t get better on the three second-quarter possessions, with those beginning at their 30, their 8, and their 24.

The Jackets managed nine first downs in the first half, but seven of them came on one drive, the 20-play, 92-yard drive that ate up 9:15 of the second quarter and resulted in Tech’s lone score of the game.

While the length on Miami’s kickoffs — a missing ingredient that Johnson has harped on all season long — and punts were a big factor, the plays bookending the Jackets’ scoring drive typified Tech’s frustration the entire day. Both came on special teams.

With Tech trailing 7-0 and about to get the ball back, freshman returner Zach Laskey chose to field a ball in traffic at the 10 yard line. His muff bounced off the foot of a Miami defender and rolled into the end zone, where Nicolas recovered, extending the Hurricanes’ lead to 14-0. On the ensuing kickoff, redshirt freshman Tony Zenon hesitated, then got stopped at the eight.

Both plays, while frustrating, can be traced — and forgiven — to youthful exuberance and trying too hard to make a play.

An unfortunate consequence was tentativeness the rest of the game by Laskey, who is potentially a very exciting player.

“Clearly today was the worst that has happened to [Laskey],” said Johnson. “He had a few that he had bobbled, but it looked like he just didn’t want to come up and catch them.”

Zenon’s over-aggressiveness — he, too is an exciting, young talent, that Tech will need moving forward — was covered up by Tech’s scoring drive.

There would be no covering up or recovering from what happened in the final 1:04, Tech kicked off following the touchdown, 64 seconds from heading to the locker room fired up and optimistic about tying the game with the second half’s first possession.

Instead, the kickoff Miami’s Travis Benjamin returned the kickoff 48 yards into Tech territory. Three plays later, Miami was in the end zone, Tech trailed 21-7, its largest halftime deficit, stunned and wounded.

The second half didn’t get much better for the Jackets.

As per the entire day, it started with poor field position, getting the ball at the 20. The offense managed three first downs, converting three third downs, but then ran out of gas at the Miami 32, when Washington’s pass fell incomplete on fourth-and-three.

The Jackets were bottled up the rest of the day. The offense never ran another play from beyond their 31 yard line. Their best position setting up a play was their own 33 but a false start penalty moved them back to the 28.

They managed only two first downs on four second-half possessions after that first drive. Unable to move the ball, the Jackets never established field position and were never able to flip the field.

Only once all day did Tech start a possession from as far out as its own 30, while Miami started eight of its 11 drives at its 30 or better, four of those at or beyond the 40.

It was a frustrating day on the offensive side of the ball, for Tech, which has been shut out in six of the last nine quarters.

“It’s real frustrating,” said Washington of Tech’s third straight loss to Miami. “Anytime you lose, it’s frustrating because we prepared all week and thought we had a good game plan to come out and get a victory. For me, I felt like I let the team down. We just have to let it go and move on and get past it to the next game.”

Johnson refused to let Washington take all the blame.

“It’s not fair to put all of this on Tevin, because there are a lot of us that have to do better,” he said.

Smith, who had a 28 yards on five carries, believes Johnson’s idea of getting more going through the air is the way to go in future weeks.

“I think we can get the quarterback and B-Back more involved,” he said. “I think we should at least give them a chance. We can’t be a one dimensional team. Most teams try to stop the quarterback or stop the B-Back. We all have to be rolling just to be a great offense. We have to get everyone back on pace up front and up the middle.”

A little better starting position wouldn’t hurt, either.

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