#TGW: Chasing Composure

Sept. 30, 2016

Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word –

As Georgia Tech football prepares for the meat of the ACC schedule with Miami visiting Saturday to kick off Coastal Division play, head coach Paul Johnson is looking for players with more poise.

That word’s come up several times because there wasn’t enough when the Yellow Jackets lost last week to Clemson. This applied on both sides of the ball, particularly on offense where Tech managed 22 total yards in the first half.

It’s one thing when an opponent has overloads of size, speed and skill (or maybe that’s three issues), but when the Jackets – any number of them — fail to do what they’re asked on a play for whatever reason, Johnson said they’re not giving themselves a fair shot.

The Hurricanes (3-0, 0-0 ACC) don’t have the remarkable size in the front seven of their defense that Clemson has, but they may be as fast.

Whether or not Miami knocks Tech (3-1, 1-1) loopy at the very beginning, as the Tigers did, the Jackets have to keep their heads straight. Once Tech had time to re-calibrate at halftime against Clemson, the second-half results were better, if not stellar.

But the Jackets were in a 23-0 hole by then.

Before that, one bad thing led to another and as the grim tales stacked up they cluttered minds, which in turn slowed feet and reaction times.

Stunned at the start, Tech seemed to dwell upon miseries and played the first half in a daze. The Jackets took too long to flush their minds.

“I think that’s a possibility and I think that’s a pretty good analogy,” the head coach said. “When things don’t go well early, it sometimes is panic . . . Everybody thinks it’s all (about) these locker room speeches and come out and beat your head into the wall and, `Man, I’m fired up.’

“But you better be poised and execute. All of the stuff is gone after you get hit in the mouth a couple times.”

In football, every player will win some physical battles and lose some. Johnson wants the Jackets to give themselves a best chance every play. That means there’s no time play-to-play to reminisce, review, brood, nor bask.

“If everybody was perfect on every play, we’d all be successful; they would all be touchdowns,” he said. “What I’m talking about is that you can’t have the missed assignments on top of . . . playing a team that was really physical and really good.”

Whether mistakes were caused by confusion, lack of focus or trepidation, the inattention to details doomed plays. The Tigers helped, or rather hurt, too.

“Nobody does it on purpose, but you have to have more poise and you can’t do it, especially against better people,” Johnson said. “[With t]he nature of what we do, especially when we play a team like Clemson and Miami — they’re very similar — we have got to out-execute them.

“You are not going to go out there and beat them if you have 25 missed assignments because you don’t give yourself a chance to execute.”

Much of this applies to defensive players. Sophomore linebacker Victor Alexander said he sometimes thinks too much in games. That slows reactions.

Defensive coordinator Ted Roof looks for defenders to read a key or two – not four or five — and go.

“I actually struggle with that more than anybody on this defense,” Alexander said. “[Roof] has a saying that, ‘When you see a lot, you see a little, but when you see a little, you see a lot.’ Being able to just focus in on the small things, you’ll see a lot better.”

In-game over-analysis leads to a sort of paralysis, and this has been problematic dating to spring and summer practices.

“For whatever reason, we struggle when we play ourselves,” Johnson said. “At the Saturday morning scrimmages, at times . . . we have the hardest time of stopping one side when the other gets the jump. It just steamrolls.

“That’s what I’m talking about with poise. I think some of that is experience and some of it is like last week . . . playing a really good opponent. If I had the answer, we wouldn’t do it. But I know it’s an issue.”

The simplest solution may be to just play; repeat what’s been practiced, react to what’s first seen. If you win, do it again. If you don’t, do it again. And definitely don’t dwell or worry about what others think.

There will be time for that later.

“I think it’s a sign of not being as poised as you need to be and also knowing that they’re really good,” Johnson said of the Jackets’ foggy-headed first-half ways against Clemson.

“Sometimes, I think you can’t play the game afraid to make a mistake. You’ve got to play, and go have confidence in your ability that you can play with those guys.”

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