Sept. 14, 2010
By Matt Winkeljohn
It had been a while since I’d seen a Volkswagen Scirocco, and the one growling in front of me at Techwood and Bobby Dodd Way on Tuesday was only one of a few harbingers of strangeness.
As the stinking brown car – with a windshield that had long cracks running horizontally from what looked like a bullet hole – rumbled (muffler-less?) while waiting on the traffic light, I was eager to park and get inside. Wanted to hear Paul Johnson opine three days removed from a ghastly loss at Kansas.
My window was down. Beautiful day. A dragonfly was just outside my window. Odd. It hovered like a hummingbird, but with a lighter “whirrrr” sound made by its wings. Maybe I shoulda put my window up.
I looked back at the Scirocco, which had a hand-mounted fan on the dash. I turned back to check the dragonfly. “Whap!” It zipped right into my head, bounced off my temple, and back out the window. Then, gone.
As I parked moments later, I was reminded of a column by Dave Kindred, who wrote at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution when I started there in 1987. Dave was, and still is, often masterful.
He once columnized from Las Vegas before what I recall was to be a Marvin Hagler fight. I remember him writing about taking a cab whose driver had a sneer. There was tale of a dragonfly buzzing around in the car, I think, and the cabbie was smoked about it.
Eventually, the cabbie rocketed his hand, palm up, and, “Whump!” he crushed his antagonist against the ceiling in a blot of pulp and wings.
Moments after this odd recollection, I was listening to Georgia Tech’s coach speak of his team ridding itself of a pest of different sort, the lingering stench of a loss.
“I am actually looking forward to getting last week behind us and getting into conference play,” the coach said in referencing a pending trip to North Carolina.
From Johnson’s vantage point, the Yellow Jackets did an OK job preparing to play the Jayhawks, but showed up expecting cruise control to be enough. In the words of the boss, “We just didn’t play with any zip or burning desire; they wanted to win more than we did.”
From the inside looking around (which is to say from a player’s perspective), B-back Anthony Allen feels like practice last week had a stench. His take was that the Jackets – note how he does not include coaches – had a clunker of a week heading to Lawrence, Kan.
Then, there was something of funereal ambience.
“It started in practice. We didn’t prepare good enough, and then before the game we were real flat,” Allen recalled. “The locker room was real quiet. People were in their own zones, wasn’t anybody ready to play.
“You could sense it a little bit [in practice] when guys are getting tired, or the effort isn’t as good as it usually is. That happened a little last week. The coaches tried to prepare us. It was a matter of us making errors. Practice like it’s a game.”
Put another way, defensive end Jason Peters said, “I don’t think we were as focused mentally. We didn’t do what we needed to do. It wasn’t what Kansas did. It was our own internal operation.”
It’s easy to wonder after a game in which there were unacceptable short-comings and lethargy in all phases whether there will be changes. There will be, apparently.
And you can bet that freshman A-back B.J. Bostic will stay close to Johnson on the sideline, which Johnson suggested would help the player get in the game. That was a problem at Kansas, where even though Bostic was supposed to be shuttling plays in, he was at one point off standing by himself. “If he wants to,” Bostic will play, the coach said.
That’s how discombobulated the Jackets were at Kansas.
Should normalcy return this week, Tech will figure out how to slow the passing attack of the Tar Heels and Marietta’s T.J. Yates, and the Jackets’ passing attack will be more on beam, and yada, yada, yada.
All the X’s and O’s will be important, but mindset may matter most. There’s only so much a coaching staff can do here. At some point, players have to be accountable for assignments, energy and attention to detail. They have to install their own urgency.
“From the looks of the game, I can certainly motivate better,” Johnson said, “but you know what my experience has been in 31 years? That’s movie-TV crap.
“You’d better be able to motivate yourself because I’m not going to motivate you 12 Saturdays a year, and anybody that thinks you’re going to go in the locker room and somebody is going to punch a locker or cave in a blackboard, or head-butt somebody and everybody [goes] `AHHH!’ . . . that’s make-believe. It doesn’t happen.”
Nope. At some points, blood needs to boil and it’s not always up to coaches to make that happen. It’s time – and will be for the rest of the season — for more peer-to-peer accountability, passion and a penchant for precision in practice.
Then, perhaps we’ll see the Tar Heels in the role of the dragon fly . . . Kindred’s, not mine.
“You get (ticked) [after a game like Kansas]. It’s a rude awakening,” said senior linebacker Brad Jefferson. “You hate to lose. You’ve just got to get in your playbook. Tune in at practice, even when you’re on the sideline.”
If this doesn’t make sense, send complaints to somebody in Athens. Or, if this strikes you as coherent, surprise me with an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.