Oct. 3, 2010
By Matt Winkeljohn
If Georgia Tech on Saturday night learned anything about itself that it did not already have a pretty strong hunch about, it might have been that the Yellow Jackets have within them the emotional components they need to be a good team.
Whether the Jackets have the physical wherewithal . . . that question is not yet answerable.
Tech’s 24-20 win at Wake Forest was not pretty on any level, but the Jackets battled their tails off and they would not have won if they did not.
“Wow. The best thing I can say is that our guys competed right until the end. The kept fighting and fighting,” coach Paul Johnson said after the game. “You have to be proud of the way that they fought and competed, but Lord knows we have a lot of work to do.”
Tech played its best defensive game yet against an FCS opponent, although Wake’s injury issues at quarterback and a general lack of acumen on that side of the ball didn’t help the Demon Deacons.
In some ways, this season is tracking an arc like that of last season.
After Tech lost badly at Miami, the defensive of former coordinator Dave Wommack cut out all the fancy stuff, and went back to basics.
After Tech lost badly at home a week earlier to N.C. State, giving up 45 points and 527 yards, the Jackets did the same thing under new defensive coordinator Al Groh. It helped the Jackets limit Wake to 269 total yards.
“We went back to the basics and coach simplified the defense a lot,” said cornerback Dominique Reese.
Joshua Nesbitt had his best passing day of the season, completing 11 of 21 passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns. He hit wide receiver Correy Earls for the game winner on a 9-yard slant with just 15 seconds left.
With that, Tech for the first time since 1998 rallied from a deficit of 11 or more points in the fourth quarter to win. Saturday night, the Jackets at one time trailed 17-6. Twelve years ago, they trailed 19-7 at Georgia before winning 21-19.
The fact that the passing game made some progress (even though there were again some onerous dropped balls), was good news. “I feel like this was my best game this year,” Nesbitt said. “I felt comfortable and like I wasn’t trying to do too much. I was just doing my job.”
The bad news was that the passing game had to be better because the running game is in a funk.
Tech rushed for 209 yards, the second game in a row under 250. That’s where the Jackets want to make hay. Right now, the grass beneath Tech’s feet seems long and wet.
No unit on the team is scuffling like the offensive line. For the second game in a row, the middle of the field was consistently being blown up in Tech’s faces.
“We never got anything consistent out of the running game,” Johnson said. “If we single-blocked the nose tackle, he made every tackle, and if we doubled him, the linebacker made it.”
Without improved execution on both sides of the ball, and much improved play on the offensive line the Jackets will be up against it in their final five games.
Circling back to the most important point, the Jackets battled. Effort may be enough to win the next two games, at home against Virginia and Middle Tennessee State.
It’s a start.
“The confidence of the defense is increased tremendously,” said linebacker Steven Sylvester. “We talk in practice about not cracking if our backs are against the wall.”
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