Sept. 19, 2015
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
More often than not, there is not much to be said for the boilerplate, but Paul Johnson nailed it earlier this week.
When the Georgia Tech head coach suggested that as the coach at Navy, “We never made a big deal about [going to Notre Dame],” and, “it’s like going to play anybody else,” he wasn’t being dismissive. He was tending to the 14th-ranked Yellow Jackets’ psychology ahead of their game against No. 8 Fighting Irish.
Tech is not especially young with 17 of 22 starters being fourth-year juniors, seniors, fifth-year seniors or graduate students.
Yet when you add to all the radio interviews and national stories written to the fact that today’s game at the home of the sport’s most famed program, why should Johnson endorse any narrative suggesting Tech is out of its element?
Johnson’s counting on upper classmen – even if they’ve never been in this situation because going to Notre Dame for a nationally-televised game when both teams are still in the national playoff hunt is different than playing Georgia or going to the Orange Bowl when both are out.
So, the most far-flung Jacket, senior defensive tackle Adam Gotsis, is helping send the message home.
“At the end of the day, it’s just another football game,” said the precocious Australian. “I’m sure other people have a different opinion on that . . . to us, we’re just going up there to play football. If you buy into everything else and the hype all that other stuff, you’re not going for the right reasons.”
There are quite a few younger Jackets in the playing rotation, especially at running back and wide receiver, and you might say that all of these guys are new to the level of exposure bestowed upon them now.
So, fifth-year senior safety Jamal Golden said, “This is some of the guys’ first trip on the road. You just got to try to let them know how it’s going to be. When you make a good play, it’s not going to be all loud and rowdy . . . you’ve got to bring your own energy. The field’s the same length . . . you just got to play the same.”
The Jackets have a chance, and not just today, to make Tech football more relevant than it has been for a while.
Notre Dame is a perfect foil for a team coming off two victories so lopsided that offensive marks have fallen like ducks in a shooting gallery.
The Irish are certain to present a far greater challenge than Alcorn State (69-6) and Tulane (65-10). The Jackets have not yet seen the likes of these Irish. “It’s tough because we don’t have 6-5, 320-pound O-linemen on our scout team, or even on our starting team,” Gotsis said. “But they’re physical with us.”
Tech won’t bring dozens of former highly-touted recruits, yet Johnson has a steely brand of student-athletes in his quiver.
It takes a special kind to study on The Flats. As Tech student Kaitlin Shea recently penned for The Odyssey Online (http://theodysseyonline.com/georgia-tech/the-truth-about-georgia-tech/169001), “We are here because we expect better of ourselves, our education, and the world.”
So as the Jackets prepare to face perhaps the best defender they’ll see this season in Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith and an offensive line far superior to what they’ve seen, they’re buckling down without white knuckling.
“They’re really, really, really good,” defensive coordinator Ted Roof said of the Irish line. “They’re big, they’re experienced, they handle movement very well, they pass schemes off very well, they’re very physical and they’re very well coached. It’s a huge challenge . . . The bar’s gotta go up this week.”
One thing is for sure: the Jackets and their fans won’t be surprised upon replays during the NBC telecast of the famed, “Rudy” play.
A movie was made about former Notre Dame walk-on Dan “Rudy” Ruettiger getting into the game for one play in his career and sacking former Tech quarterback Rudy Allen on the final play of the Irish’ 24-3 win over the Jackets.
That was 40 years ago this fall, and for all the great moments in Irish history, very, very much has been made of this over the years.
Really, though, it was just another play, just another game, in just another stadium. The same will be true today.
As Gotsis said of the movie, “I watched like half of it . . . I fell asleep.”