Nov. 30, 2012
By Matt Winkeljohn
– The idea going in last week was that Georgia Tech was going to have to score a bunch of points, and hope for a few stops at Georgia.
It may be a little different tonight in Charlotte when the Yellow Jackets play Florida State for the ACC Championship (8 p.m., ESPN). The Seminoles (10-2) have one of the top defenses in the nation, statistically, despite being gouged last Saturday by Florida.
FSU’s offense is a little more limited than Georgia’s, so the Jackets may not need 40-plus points – although head coach Paul Johnson will take ’em if his guys can get ’em.
Here’s a new idea: the Jackets will be properly amped to play this time – on both sides of the ball, and on special teams. They didn’t look that part in Athens.
Wes Durham asked sophomore inside linebacker Quayshawn Nealy about that the other day. You can see the interview here, where Wes phrased the question in a roundabout way by asking what the Jackets could take from the Georgia game and apply tonight.
“I just take that right off the bat we need to start better. We came out flat … [Georgia] played with that swagger that we had the previous couple games,” Nealy said. “We need to get better as a whole this week as far as coming out and fighting.”
As Johnson said earlier this week, on offense the Jackets are going to do what they do – run the ball first and foremost. The ‘Noles are just about equally effective slowing the run and the pass (statistically), but their pass rush might make throwing the ball that much more daunting than usual.
On defense, where Nealy works as the Jackets’ third-leading tackler (with 68 combined tackles and assists to trail safety Isaiah Johnson’s 82 and Jemea Thomas’ 74), Tech simply has to be more physical than last week.
There were examples of that as the Jackets won their final four ACC games, especially in the second half against Duke.
Durham, though, asked Nealy if getting amped up so many weeks in a row – as the Jackets had to in order to win their final four ACC games – takes a toll and makes it difficult to summon that buzz again. Was that part of what happened in Athens?
“It wears and tears on your body,” Nealy told Wes. “It definitely is a struggle on your mind, too.”
Interim defensive coordinator Charles Kelly and the defensive staff and players have their work cut out.
The ‘Noles have plenty of athletes on the offensive side of the ball, too, and they’re a bit more multiple than Georgia. Senior quarterback E.J. Manuel runs the ball just enough (235 yards, three touchdowns) to keep a defense like Tech from pinning its ears back and boat-racing him on passing downs.
Manuel has completed 67.4 percent of his passes for just a smidgen under 3,000 yards with 22 touchdown passes and nine interceptions. He has a good idea what he’s doing, and he has six receivers with 21 or more receptions. Manuel spreads it around, and FSU uses a tight end.
“They probably mix more personnel groupings than Georgia does,” Kelly said. “We’ve got to find ways to get pressure on the quarterback. We can’t let him sit back there and have his way.”
Tech will not have failed if they don’t sack Manuel a bunch of times, but if the Jackets cannot “affect” him, as Kelly likes to say, there will be problems.
Scheme aside, Nealy knows there is a baseline to all of this that is at least as important as any game plan. You can use several words: emotion, focus, passion, resilience.
The Jackets have to get after it. They did not last week.
“Just go out there and play hard, play with your all,” Nealy said when Durham asked how to do what needs to be done. “Know that your teammate has your back. Whatever you’re going through, he’s going through as well.
“You don’t want to let down your teammates. You don’t want to come in here Monday and look at film and know that he’s battling his butt off and you let him down. It builds that power that we had the last three games. I don’t know what happened last week.”
Nevermind last week. Just play like banshees. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.