Oct. 16, 2011
By Jon Cooper
– Something interesting happened Sunday morning, the day after Georgia Tech’s 24-21 loss in Virginia.
The sun came up, life went on, and the team went back to work.
Yeah, those three-plus hours in Charlottesville seemed like a bad dream and the Jackets suffering their first loss of the season on the weekend that the first BCS poll came out was certainly bad timing to say the least.
However, Head Coach Paul Johnson saw Saturday coming and had been issuing warnings about it for a while.
“We’ve gotten away with just going through the motions the last few weeks,” he said after the game. “You can see it in pregames. There’s no intensity. There’s no emotion. It’s hard to play this game without that. We’ve got to fix some things. That’s four weeks in a row that their backs have rushed for 100-plus yards. Offensively, we are less than ideal. We didn’t execute anywhere. We had chances on the perimeter. We got the ball pitched several times where it was two-on-two with blockers and we didn’t get it done. We had a hard time running.”
Quarterback Tevin Washington agreed that the team wasn’t there mentally.
“I felt our preparation was good, but I don’t think we were mentally prepared,” said Washington, who led Tech in rushing 115 yards on 26 carries, with two touchdowns, but managed only 24 yards on 2-for-8 passing with two interceptions. “I don’t think we were overconfident, we knew that it would be a fight to the end today. In the end, they won the fight today.”
The good news is that Johnson has the loudest voice in doing something about fixing what’s wrong. And now his warnings have some credibility.
Sure, Virginia had an extra week to prepare to stop the offense and already knew the nuances of Al Groh’s 3-4, but Johnson was more frustrated by what the Jackets did to stop themselves.
“The penalties killed us offensively in a game where we had a hard time getting them off of the field,” Johnson said. “We killed ourselves twice in the first half. When we came in for the half, we talked about taking a second half drive. I thought that was a heck of a drive. We converted some fourth downs, some big plays. Again things should have been over after the very first play but we got pinned by a penalty to call us back from a long touchdown run so we ended up eating the clock. If you play with fire for long enough, you get burned.
“I’m frustrated – just as frustrated as I am with the offense,” he added. “We are not good enough to have penalties and kill ourselves and they did exactly what they needed to do. That’s the way everyone is going to play us. They are going to run the ball and hold the ball. They were able to get ahead and in the end it worked. They were able to run the last six minutes off of the clock. It is what it is. You are not going to win too many games when you throw for 24 yards either.”
“They came at full speed, and what we saw today is what we had seen on film. We just couldn’t execute,” said corner Rod Sweeting, who scored on a 32-yard interception return that momentarily tied the game at 14 in the second quarter. “When a team can come out and run the ball like they did, it can be hard for us to win. They executed, they were well prepared, and they ran the ball down our throat all day.” So what happens now?
The schedule is daunting from here, as Tech visits Miami then hosts a devastating 1-2 punch in Clemson, the top dog in the Atlantic Division, and Virginia Tech, the defending champion in the Coastal in a game that could decide who goes to Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, for the ACC Championship Game.
But that’s looking too far ahead, and the Jackets now know they can’t afford to do that.
A good start will be simply going back to work and getting back to basics. It’s a safe bet they will be more grounded and more focused. Expect them to come out Saturday with a renewed sense of purpose this week as they prepare to go to Miami. Expect them to do all the things they said they needed to do while they were going to 6-0.
The Jackets knew they hadn’t played their best ball in rising to 6-0. They certainly haven’t at 6-1.
That game is still out there. That’s what they’ll strive for now, with renewed vigor. As Johnson has said on numerous occasions, effort has not been a problem with this team. They’ll bounce back.
Tech fans should simply hit the snooze bar, roll back over and take another five minutes to sleep Saturday off. It was coming and they’ll be better for it down the stretch.