Scatter-Shooting... For The Stars

Oct. 19, 2010

Next game: Saturday at Clemson, 3:30 p.m., ABC (regional)/ESPN (national)

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

With so much going on in `ball and the ACC, it’s a good time to scatter-shoot. It’s been a while.

Off the top, I found occasion to disagree with head coach Paul Johnson in his Tuesday media gathering, where chief topics were Georgia Tech’s pending game at Clemson and the Yellow Jackets’ upcoming three-game journey into what he called the “gauntlet” of ACC action. In Tech’s case, that’s consecutive games in 1. the Tiggers’s den; 2. at Virginia Tech and; 3. against Miami – the Hokies and `Canes being Coastal division foes.

Not one to typically heap over-abundant praise on players, Johnson was effusive in his review of Clemson senior strong safety DeAndre McDaniel, whom he said might be the best player Tech has faced in his time at the school. That’s serious effusion.

McDaniel, who is second on his team with 38 combined tackles and assists, four tackles for lost yardage, with four pass breakups, is fantastic, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound heat-seeking missile.

But my vote – and I’m not saying I’m right, only that my opinion differs here from that of the Big Cheese – is that Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn was the beast player Tech has faced under Johnson. Typo intended.

Moving on . . .

Agree with coach that the Tiggers are not going to welcome theJackets with open arms. They’re having a “Purple out,” at DeathValley. Yuck, a giant bruise. Those people are tired of losing toTech. It’ll be hostile. There’ll be real wounds, you can bet.Speaking of people with bad intentions, while the Jackets may notbe over-prone to double team, they’d better figure a way to gethats on Clemson end Da’Quan Bowers (No. 93). He’s playing likeClayborn, who blew up the Jackets in the Orange Bowl, and he’sbigger (6-6, 294). Clayborn is 6-4, 285.

Injuries were a problem in Bowers’ first two college seasons, but he’s playing like the young man whom ESPN.com rated as the No. 1 high school prospect in the nation in 2008, when he entered school early after graduating in December `07. Scout.com and Rivals.com rated him the No. 2 prospect.

The community recreation, sport & camp management major has nine sacks, the most in Clemson history for six games. Ah, Tech doesn’t pass much, you say? Bowers leads the nation in tackles for lost yardage (15.5) despite playing one less game than many (Clemson is 3-3).

He’s third on the team in total tackles with 37 on 76 fewer snaps than McDaniel (38), and 47 fewer snaps than free safety Rashard Hall (41). Bowers leads the team in first hits (33). Remember, he’s not a linebacker and not a safety. He is an utter menace.

Not sure what to make of this PJ comment: “We’re not where we’dlike to be, but we’re still averaging (31.9) points. It’s a lotbetter than it used to be, but it’s not up to everybody’sexpectations or even our expectations. Sometimes, I’m not sure if Idon’t create some of that myself because I have such highexpectations. There are few offenses that score every time they getthe ball.”

Does anybody else recall Johnson ever suggesting that he’s set too high a standard? For anything?

In response to questions from Jeff Schultz (the first AJCcolumnist at Tech in a few weeks), he sort of balanced that bysaying: “I’d have liked to have been 7-0 . . . I would have like tohave not fumbled the ball at all and maybe have seven or eightpunts instead of what we have (23). I think that’s what you shootfor unless you want to sell yourself short.

“At the end, you have to look back rationally and say, `OK, did they achieve about what they could have achieved? Did they over-achieve? Did they not come up to where you thought they could be?’ But now is not the time to do that.”

Correct; shoot for stars while there are stars at which to shoot. It’s a mistake to say, `We’re not as good as we thought so we’d better lower expectations.’

Note: there is a difference between this general mindset and parsing some of what you try to do because there is evidence to suggest that you’re not good enough at certain tactics to justify continuing them. It’s the difference between retreating and re-trenching.

Tech, by the way, has fumbled 23 times (tied with Nebraska for most in the nation), losing 10 (tied with UCLA and New Mexico for most lost). This is a teaching point.

I’ve written a couple of times that I wasn’t sure yet what Techis, or what it has in itself, and that at times the Jackets haveplayed as if they’re not sure what to expect of themselves. Thatdidn’t make me a genius, but a little validation came forthTuesday.

Johnson said, “I think we knew what the strengths of our team were a year ago [this time]. I think we knew that we had some constants. You knew by this time last year that No. 8 [wide receiver Demaryius Thomas] was going to make plays; you could count on him most every game to make plays. You also knew that for the most part you might have to win in a shootout.

“This year, I don’t know. The game could be 14-7, or it could be 42-40. I don’t know. It’s not like we’re dominant in any one area. That’s probably more normal than the other way.”

Yep, that’s more normal. Fortunately, there are signs that Tech is playing through its insecurities. The Jackets’ identity may not yet be crystal clear, but in the past two-plus games they have not looked as if they were waiting for an identity to emerge; they’re playing as if trying to forge one. They’re less tenuous, more decisive.

Tech is on the edge of critical mass. The teams widelypredicted to be at top of the Coastal are there now. Virginia Techis 3-0 in league play, the Jackets 3-1, Miami and North Carolina2-1 each. Miami and Georgia Tech each have one loss to an Atlanticdivision team. UNC’s loss to Tech puts the Heels a little more ontheir heels.

If Ga. Tech wins out, the Jackets will win the Coastal and a return to the ACC championship game because they and Va. Tech will each have one ACC loss (even if the Hokies lose no other games). The Jackets will have won the head-to-head and will be undefeated in division play.

There are myriad possibilities. It will not shock me if we see a tie atop the Coastal of teams with two ACC losses each.

Saturday, UNC is at Miami. A week later, there will be no critical ACC Coastal collisions as Ga. Tech and Va. Tech are off, Miami is at Virginia and UNC plays out of conference.

Then, Ga. Tech will be at Va. Tech on Thursday, Nov. 4, and two days later UNC is at FSU.

Nov. 13 has the makings of the Coastal’s biggest day. Miami visits Bobby Dodd Stadium, and Virginia Tech will be at North Carolina.

“It’s going to sort itself out,” Johnson said. “We were picked fourth; we’ll see if they were right. We play a really talented Clemson team this week. You got Miami and North Carolina playing; one of them is going to have two losses. Then, it kind of hits the gauntlet.

“Right now, we control our own destiny in the league. We’re going to find out if we’re good enough to maintain that.”

Couldn’t agree more.

Hey, anybody know what’s pollinating or whatever to cause all these wasps or yellow jackets buzzing around? They’re everywhere. If you have any information, or opinions about the Yellow Jackets, send them to stingdaily@gmail.com.

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