The Most Important Game on the Schedule

Nov. 26, 2010

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

– The Georgia game is, over time, the most important on Georgia Tech’s schedule, and I think that will be clear tonight in Athens.

That said, I don’t think it was the most important game on Tech’s schedule last year because the Yellow Jackets’ season up to that point was so good it landed them in the ACC title game. I think that was, unfortunately, clear last year.

Some may think it peculiar to bring this up a year after it was an actual topic of conversation, and it is, but this is a peculiar game.

Beyond pride for fans and players alike – and that’s a big point – the greatest thing at stake tonight in Athens will be the possibility that Tech, with a win, can end Georgia’s bowl streak at 13 years (after having stretched its own bowl eligibility streak to 14 years, by the way).

Tech is 6-5, and Georgia is 5-6. This is the first time since 1996 that these teams have met without at least one being ranked.

This is not the time for distractions, but Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson, his staff and seniors have not been able maintain energy nor focus in this frustrating season.

Johnson’s take is interesting.

“If there is one thing that I look back on [this season], probably the most frustrating thing is not being able to find the “hot” button for our team,” he said Tuesday. “That is frustrating to me because, ultimately, I am the one responsible for trying to find it.”

No matter how much control a coach has over his program, there can be elements beyond his control; chemistry, leadership among players, intensity, injuries . . .

Johnson is aware of the theory that the Jackets last year did not take the then-6-5 Bulldogs seriously enough with the ACC championship game falling one week later on the calendar.

“You’re going to try to win every game. That’s the biggest misnomer, that we didn’t think the game was important,” he said. “We knew the game was important. Trust me, we tried to win last year . . . just like [in 2008], I’m sure they tried to win.

“In a game like that, I don’t think either team catches the other sleep-walking, or thinking it’s not that important.”

Johnson has not reacted to last year’s Georgia game by over-hyping this year’s contest.

The Jackets have already had a couple games for which the risk of over-amping was great: Virginia Tech and Miami. They lost both, playing very hard at Virginia Tech, and erratically vs. Miami.

“I think you’ve got to try and approach it the way that you approach the other games in preparation. That is the only way that I know how to do it,” Johnson said. “Certainly, people want to beat Georgia; that’s part of it.

“It’s 364 days until you play again, and whichever side wins the other side is going to hear [about it]. It’s an important game, and we understand that.”

Junior defensive end Jason Peters was not willing to talk about specifics when the topic of run defense came up; last year, the Dogs won by gouging Tech for 339 yards on the ground.

Peters, though, sounded like he had a solid base for tonight.

“We need to limit our mistakes, and make sure we have the passion and energy it takes to win a game like this,” he said, perhaps in a roundabout way indicating that last year the Jackets did not bring the requisite passion and energy – whether that was justifiable or not. “It’s a huge game for us to prove a point. We need to really show ourselves as a team that can make a full team effort.”

That hasn’t happened often this season.

Senior middle linebacker Brad Jefferson and his classmates have a chance to leave the program 2-0 in Athens. Think that’s lost on him?

Losing is bad enough, getting run over by your chief rival is another category of misery.

“There’s a big difference,” he said. “Just getting run through, that’s basically just means they’re kicking your [butt] up front, kicking you all around. As players we remember what happened last year. We couldn’t stop the run. We definitely got that in our head this year.”

Might the memory of last year be the best method of preparation for this year?

“Some guys are better at [blocking out distractions and dialing in] than others,” Johnson said. “Sometimes there are guys that can seize the moment and play better in certain instances and high-pressure stuff than other guys.”

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