Nov. 2, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
Synjyn Days could hardly stop grinning, which was nothing new, but for the second time in as many weeks there was no room to wonder if he was forcing it.
This guy can smile even on the grayest of cold and windy days, and Saturday was all of that in Bobby Dodd Stadium. As he parried post-game questions from inquisitors, however, Days wore a genuine grin that even a notary would approve because once again Synjyn had been Georgia Tech’s engine.
You rush 24 times for 147 yards and a touchdown with 33- and 31-yard runs that were the two longest of your four-year college career, and catch a 17-yard touchdown pass, and you’ve had a day.
And if for the second week in a row you set career highs for yards (including 110 last week at Pitt) and carries (including 22 at Pitt), well, who wouldn’t grin?
There was room, though, to wonder what the senior quarterback-turned-A-back-turned-B-back might have done if he weren’t freezing early in the Yellow Jackets’ 35-10 win over Virginia.
The Jackets had just won a reprieve in the second quarter when, after a failed third down pass was wiped off the books by a holding penalty against Virginia safety Brandon Phelps, Days took off – for a while.
Thirty one yards later, on the Jackets’ (left) sideline, he was caught by Cavs safety Anthony Harris. On a 33-yard burst in the second half, he was just tackled…not caught.
Through and after it all, Days’ glib nature was in evidence.
“The first one, I actually thought I was going to break and score but I realized I was kind of old so I didn’t have as much giddy-up as I thought I had,” he said with the look of a Cheshire cat. “Hopefully, next week I’ll be able to get to the next gear and not get run down.
“The other one was pretty much the same thing. That was the second half, and I think my body was adjusted to the cold.”
Old or cold, Days has warmed up fast since Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson has gone to the bullpen to summon him to shoulder the load as fellow senior B-back Zack Laskey’s shoulder cools.
Days went to Pitt last week with 571 career rushing yards on 114 attempts in 40 games.
That’s 14.3 yards and 2.8 attempts per game.
Since Laskey went down, he’s rushed 22 times for 110 yards in the Steel City and 24 for 147 against the Cavs. Two-game totals: 46 carries, 257 yards.
That’s a turbo turnaround.
“He did some good things,” Johnson said. “He made some plays. He made a heck of a catch on that touchdown pass. It was a low throw, and he made the catch. He’s a big, strong guy.”
Days came to Tech as a quarterback in 2011, became an A-back gradually, and began splitting time at B-back earlier this season because the Jackets lack experienced depth at the spot.
At 6-feet-2, 231 pounds he has A-class heft to man the B.
At least once, it nearly was not enough.
His 33-yarder served as a big part of the Jackets’ 12-play, 75-yard, 6-minute, 41-second drive to open the second half, but a much shorter result later almost short-circuited the whole thing.
Staring at fourth-and-less than a yard at the Cavs’ 6-yard line, the Jackets had the benefit of a 21-10 lead. Not surprisingly, Johnson opted to go for it, but only after consulting Days and perhaps others in a rare first-possession timeout.
“Coach Johnson asked me before, ‘Do you think you can get it?’ I said, ‘Yes sir; it’s like breathing. It’s easy,’ “ Days recalled, with, of course, a grin. “That’s the kind of approach everybody tries to take.”
Days is the kind of guy you find yourself rooting for as if he were a member of the family, or perhaps a neighbor. Johnson trusted him, and soon sent Days behind his best player, right guard Shaq Mason – a mid-season All-American.
That time, Synjyn’s engine needed a fuel additive to dent Virginia’s blue wall. Even then, a chain gang was required to adjudicate matters with the oversight of officials. It was a bit of a tense moment after he took that handoff from quarterback Justin Thomas (5-11, 189).
“Honestly, I wasn’t even sure I got it,” Days said. “I think Justin actually helped push me over the line after he gave [the ball]. Big kudos to Justin pushing a bigger guy like me to get the couple yards I needed. Actually, it was probably an inch I needed.”
Actually, it might – might – have been an inch by which the ball was spotted forward of the first down marker.
Days’ 4-yard touchdown run two plays later was a less rigorous undertaking. He popped behind left guard, juked a tad, and scored upright.
Used fairly sparingly at fullback while Laskey was healthy, Days has quite suddenly played as if he knows what he’s doing in his third position.
Laskey had one 100-yard game in the Jackets’ first seven, a 133-yard effort in the Jackets’ 28-17 win over Miami on Oct. 4.
In two starts there, Days has crafted two century-plus works.
With 257 rushing yards in a span of eight days, he surpassed his rushing total of 89 yards over the first seven games, and the totals from his junior year at A-back (93) when he was largely a red-zone runner, his sophomore year (142) and his freshman year (237).
“At B-back, the only way you’re going to get better at it is if you keep getting more reps at it,” he said. “In practice, the scout team can only give you so good a look because it’s the scout team. But going against live bullets like we did today, carry after carry you start to feel better.
“That’s probably the [case] with any running back: the more carries you get, you feel comfortable with the ball in your hands, making the right reads and the types of cuts you have to make.”
In case anyone still questioned his versatility, Days – who in his time at A-back might have been the Jackets’ top perimeter blocker – added a touchdown reception in the fourth quarter.
On that play, a third-and-14, he swung right out of the backfield. The Cavs were no more ready for that than the French were for the Germans on May 10, 1940.
Reaching low as if to catch something he’d dropped, Days scooped the ball near his knees and the Tech sideline and rolled smoothly into the end zone for a 35-10 lead with 8:28 left in the game.
Still, even then, he was cold if not so much as before.
“On the sideline, DeAndre [Smelter] and Shaq were saying, ‘Let’s stay together,’ jokingly, but I was like, ‘Seriously, we really need to do that to stay warm,’ “he recalled of a first-half chit-chat. “But it’s football weather whether we like it or not.”
That’s Days, an all-for-one and one-for-all guy . . . with a grin.
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