Sept. 21, 2015
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
As Georgia Tech begins preparing for league play ahead of a Saturday game at Duke as the first of eight straight ACC contests, head coach Paul Johnson, his staff and the Yellow Jackets will look back – but only for a bit – at a non-league game.
After losing 30-22 at Notre Dame two days earlier, Johnson was less bothered Monday by the effort the Jackets invested than by how they spent that energy.
In a word, Tech was rattled, particularly on offense. The Jackets need to re-direct their energy with focus and attention to detail.
Johnson cited a few players who held their own, including center Freddie Burden, left guard Trey Braun and wide receiver Micheal Summers, but was limited in their praise with little positive to say about the Jackets’ first road trip.
He singled out just about everything else, including coaching, as problematic.
“We’re looking forward to get into conference play. We’re clearly disappointed in the way we played [at Notre Dame],” he said. “I think that having the chance to open up conference play is a good way to put last week behind us . . .
“We’ll flush it. You put it behind you, and move forward.”
Last Saturday’s first symptom presented quickly.
Tech entered the game with only two three-and-out possessions. The first of four against the Irish came on their game opener as the Jackets called timeout after second down. Then, A-back Qua Searcy was tackled for a 4-yard-loss.
“The blocking was poor [all game], but we had triple the missed assignments I think we’ve had since think I’ve been a part of it,” Johnson recalled. “It was a terrible way to start, and we got rattled a little bit.
“We had a lot of guys get wide-eyed, including some of the older guys, too. Give [Notre Dame] credit . . . but we couldn’t have played worse.”
Tech began the second half poorly when on the second play quarterback Justin Thomas fumbled as two teammates missed blocking assignments.
The head coach felt that eventually even the Jackets’ most dependable offensive player, Thomas, began trying too hard and playing out of sync.
“Yeah, sometimes too much,” he said. “Sometimes, you’ve just got to let it come to you. I’m sure he wasn’t playing like he wanted to. You start pressing, and usually it’s worse. We’ve got to help him more. He can’t win by himself.”
Junior Harrison Butker missed field goals of 30 and 43 yards in the first half, the punting game was poor, and Tech rarely looked level-headed.
“They did exactly what we practiced [against] . . . we just didn’t play,” Johnson said. “When you play a good team, you can’t have 70-plus missed assignments. Third-and-1, you go the wrong way, wrong pass protection, pitch off the wrong guy. Anything you could do wrong, we tried it . . .
“Effort wasn’t an issue. I think what happened was . . . first time on the road for a lot of guys in a pretty hostile environment, some guys thought, ‘Man, I’m playing at Notre Dame.’ “
Johnson said the defense played well, “in spots,” but tackling was sub-standard in the secondary, and he said linebacker play was, “atrocious.”
Notre Dame converted a modest 4-of-11 third downs, yet made up for that with a 41-yard touchdown pass from DeShone Kizer to Will Fuller in the first quarter, and a 91-yard scoring run by tailback C.J. Prosise in the fourth.
There isn’t much time to dwell, nor retreat to home for bearings.
While the Blue Devils lost their grip in the second half at home last Saturday in falling 19-10 to No. 23 Northwestern, they look better defensively than in years.
They opened the season somewhat like the Jackets, whipping overmatched opponents (at Tulane, 37-7, and North Carolina Central, 55-0). Opponents are converting just about 1-in-10 third downs against Duke.
Duke had a handle on Tech last season, beating the Jackets 31-25, or, “worse than the score,” Johnson said, in a game delayed 77 minutes by lightning strikes.
Tech attempted a season-high 26 passes in that game, with backup quarterback Tim Byerly completing 7-of-10 for 125 yards. He also rushed for two scores.
Byerly won’t play in this one. He has a knee injury.
Searcy will be unavailable with what Johnson termed a, “lower extremity” injury of his own. Some other Jackets are banged up, with status to be determined.
Bodies are sore and egos are bruised.
It’s worth remembering that last season, the Jackets were out of sync in losing consecutive games at home to Duke and 49-43 at North Carolina.
They pulled themselves together to win six of their final seven games, beating three ranked teams and losing only to defending national champion Florida State, 37-35 in the ACC Championship Game.
There will be a similar goal here.
Johnson is more concerned that the Jackets get their minds right.
“We’ve got to coach better. I’ve got to do better. If we can’t do it, it’s a bad plan,” he said. “We’re so accustomed to if we don’t score 35-plus, the roof fell in. That’s a good standard to have . . .
“The more they play, the more they’ll relax. They’ve got to figure it out that nobody’s going to be dead perfect and just go play. Know your assignments, and go play, and not get so hyped up that it’s impossible.”
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