Nov. 11, 2011
By Jon Cooper
Emotion is such a big part of football.
So is controlling that emotion.
The bigger the game, the more emotion is involved and the importance of staying in control.
The ability, or inability, to harness emotion can make the difference between winning and losing. It can happen suddenly, on one play and undo everything that came before it and drastically alter what comes after.
In Thursday night’s 37-26 loss to Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu learned how quickly an adrenaline rush and inability to stay in control can turn things topsy turvy.
It all happened in one play.
“I thought we had some really good momentum and then we got the big penalty that I think really changed the game,” said Georgia Tech head football coach Paul Johnson. “If you could point to one thing, we were going to be up five and they were punting from their 10-12 yard line, and we had a chance to get the ball back. Instead they got the first down and went and scored a touchdown and took the lead. It’s disappointing.”
The play came late in the third quarter. Georgia Tech, which at one point had trailed 21-10, had stormed out of the locker room at halftime, scored on its opening drive then forced a turnover and turned that into an 84-yard scoring drive to take a 26-21 lead.
With all the momentum and the whited out crowd at Bobby Dodd Stadium whipped into a frenzy, they forced an incompletion by Hokies QB Logan Thomas on first down, then trapped running back David Wilson for a nine-yard loss. With a third-and-19 on the Virginia Tech 17, Thomas dropped back to pass. But the pocket quickly collapsed, as Attaochu, who had 10 tackles, 2 1/2 tackles for loss and a sack, busted in. He swarmed all over Thomas. But the 6-3, 223-pound linebacker couldn’t corral Thomas, who, at 6-6, 254, actually had a three-inch, 31-pound advantage.
Then the adrenaline took over.
“I just had an overdose of adrenaline,” Attaochu said. “I’m not going to lie, I’m not going to sit here and tell you no, I knew I was going too hard. I’m a high-energy player. When I made contact with him, he wasn’t going down.
“We do that in practice when someone is standing up by hacking for the ball when I was behind him,” he added. “My body kind of moved to his front so I kept hacking for the ball and then the flag was thrown. I’m not dumb I knew it was the reason for the flag.”
One of those hacks had hit Logan in the head and Attaochu was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. His sack, good for minus-two yards turned out to be a 13-yard gain and a first down. Five plays later, Thomas bulldozed his way into the end zone on a quarterback sneak and Georgia Tech was behind for good.
“[The penalty] was huge and it compounded with the fact that they drove it down and scored,” said Johnson. “Like I said, we might have gotten the ball back somewhere around midfield up five and had the momentum to possibly have a two score lead, and in that game we needed to be up two scores. It changed. I couldn’t see what happened. The play was dead for what seemed like forever, they never blew the whistle and Logan Thomas kept trying to move, we couldn’t get him down anyway. He was a big, strong guy.”
“He’s a load,” agreed Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer. “He’s a hard guy to bring down.”
Beamer also could agree on the danger of adrenaline.
Ironically, until Attaochu’s play, an adrenaline-fueled lack of judgment by one of his players actually helped get the Yellow Jackets back in the game. It came on an Embry Peeples run on the first play of the second half, when Hokies linebacker Jack Tyler bumped Peeples well out of bounds. That turned a six-yard run into a 21-yard gain. Seven plays later Georgia Tech hit pay dirt.
“That was just a bonehead play,” Tyler admitted. “Right afterward I knew it was dumb but you have to move on and keep on playing. Right after that I just said, ‘Calm down.’ I can’t be down on myself for the rest of the game.’ I just kind of put it in the back of my head for the rest of the game.”
While the Yellow Jackets scored on the drive, the Hokies overcame the miscue, thanks to the similar adrenaline-based move.
It’s what can happen in the heat of a game, especially one with as much on the line as there was Thursday night. It’s also the worst possible time.
It’s a cautionary tale and something Attaochu will not forget. It’s unfortunate but sometimes so are life’s most important lessons.