Oct. 25, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
As tests go, Georgia Tech’s query today by the confluence of rivers will not be of the final exam quality inasmuch as there are more games to come, yet the Yellow Jackets’ game against Pitt has a bit of a now-or-never feel to it.
The Jackets (5-2, 2-2 ACC) will not be eliminated from the Coastal division race if they fall short, but they’d be left dangling out over the edge.
In a two-game losing streak in which the margin for error was tested repeatedly by the mistake-prone Jackets, Tech struggled to stop Duke and North Carolina when they were on the edge – in the red zone.
Ten times the Blue Devils and Tar Heels drove inside the Jackets’ 20-yard-line and 10 times they scored. Nine times, those were touchdowns.
Pitt (4-3, 2-1) is not much for overall offense (the Panthers are ranked No. 11 in the ACC in total while averaging 394.7 yards per game), yet the Jackets are in no position to rest on such knowledge for there are serious devils in the details.
Panthers sophomore running back James Conner is rolling as the nation’s eighth-leading rusher (959 yards, 137 per game), and sophomore wide receiver Tyler Boyd has done a fine job imitating former Pitt wideout Larry Fitzgerald with 36 receptions.
As a freshman, Boyd caught 85 passes for 1,174 yards and he pulled in a career-high 11 passes at Tech last year so he has an idea what’s happening.
Really, it’s simple for Tech.
“We’ve just got to play better,” Tech head coach Paul Johnson said earlier this week. “We’ve got to make plays, and play with better effort. We’ve got to do a lot of things.”
The Jackets’ attention to detail has been sub-standard the past two weeks.
They know it.
Duke and UNC kept quarterback Justin Thomas largely in check in the running game and frequently prevented him from free lancing, and much more importantly the Jackets’ defenders too often began free-lancing themselves.
This is a week for the Jackets to pick each other up.
Senior B-back Zack Laskey will not play because of a shoulder injury so senior Synjyn Days is expected to see substantial action at the fullback spot. Senior Matt Connors, who has one carry this season, may also play there, and freshman C.J. Leggett, who has none, might well debut.
Offensive players this week have found themselves boosting the confidence of defenders who’ve struggled, especially last week.
The Jackets need a jump start.
“I’d say the main thing is energy, and getting the same intensity that we had for Miami and [Virginia Tech],” said senior offensive lineman Shaq Mason. “Those weeks the energy and preparation were all rah-rah, and we were ready to get after it.
“I guess after we lost to Duke, we kind of lost that a little bit. We definitely need to get that back. When we were playing those two, there was no doubt we were going to win those games.”
Confidence occasionally fleets in the absence of success, but is critical in finding it.
In that category, the Jackets may still be fine. They need to sharpen their sense of timing, however, to get back on a winning track.
Johnson has faith.
“I think our kids just kind of keep playing. They’ve done that in every game,”
Johnson said. “A couple of times it’s been good enough to win the game and a couple of times it hasn’t. I think our guys are going to play to the end. That’s just the nature of who we are.”