VIDEO: Yellow Jackets' head coach speaks with media prior to home opener vs. USF
“Obviously a lot of time has passed since last Thursday night. The three things that we talked about with the guys going into the game: we’re a culture built on effort, so we wanted to see them play really, really hard. Competition is King around this program, we wanted to see them compete at a high level against the No. 1 team in the country. And then whatever bad things or bad circumstances that might happen to us, stay together and keep playing hard and playing for each other. And I thought the three of those things they did at a really high level. I was proud of them. I know there was a lot of talk afterwards about me interacting with the guys afterwards, but that was just a spontaneous, genuine appreciation of all the hard work they’ve been through transforming this culture. Going from 11 years of a triple option offense to running a spread based attack against a really good defense … I was just really proud of them. Obviously, we don’t want to be satisfied with not winning football games because that’s what we’re trying to do every single week, but the effort, the competitiveness, and them playing together and for each other was there throughout.
We had a lot of young guys play. We only have 11 seniors on the roster. I know that’s small, but those guys have done a great job buying into the culture. Making sure they’re reinforcing the things we believe in this program in the locker room and on the practice field every single day. Twenty-two freshmen played in the game. I think we had 60 snaps at wide receiver from true freshmen. So, it was good to see the young guys out there playing, out there competing, and doing those kinds of things.
Players of the week, some of the things that we talk about and we incentivize. Our developmental squad players of the week were Jamal Camp at offensive line. He’ll make the travel team this week. Jeremiah Smith at safety for defensive developmental player of the week. And then Wesley Walker is special teams [developmental] player of the week. Just really proud of the way they’ve developed. We do not do cards in this program and apparently that’s a unique thing. It’s just something that we’ve done for a long time. We think development matters in a program.
And then some of the guys that stood out offensively, defensively and on special teams – Nathan Cottrell on special teams. He was the gunner on punt, he was the enforcer on the kickoff team. He did a great job on [Josh] Blancato’s big pass down the seam to the left. Nathan had a huge block playing running back. They blitzed a linebacker and he comes across and makes a huge block to get that pass completed. Mikey Minihan at the offensive line position just battled the entire game. And then Tre Swilling. I think it was obvious, even the casual observer could tell Tre played really well. But the thing I want to impress upon everybody is how much special teams matters to us. He was the left tackle on kickoff return, every single one he’s out there battling, even though the guy was booming it out of the end zone, Tre was out there competing. He was one of our gunners on punt, and every single rep he’s taking that role just as seriously as being an elite corner against an elite offense. So, proud of those guys and how they worked.
Obviously, we’ve got a really good opponent coming in on Saturday. We’ve played them the last two years [at Temple]. We have a lot of respect for them. A lot of offensive talent coming back, I think they have nine starters coming back. A lot of speed. A quarterback with a big, strong, powerful arm. They do a lot of good things offensively, schematically, so we understand we’ve got our work cut out for us. And defensively, they’re very multiple but still very sound. I think the same thing on both sides of the ball, they’ve got really good team speed and they play really hard.
A little sad news within the organization. Dr. Aaron King, our team dentist, passed. So, obviously we’re heartbroken internally. I just shared the news with the team and I think we’re going to release something here. Lifelong Georgia Tech fan, 55 years with the Athletic Association. But he’s made the mouthpieces here for the last 55-60 years. The first mouthpiece he made was for coach Bill Curry. That’s pretty cool. And then the last one he made, and I don’t know if anybody noticed these, but Dr. King had the molds and had these [gold mouthpieces] made for our guys for the game and for the season. He means a lot to this program, means a lot to this Georgia Tech Athletics Association family, and so obviously our hearts go out to him. He’ll be greatly missed and revered around here. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004, so, obviously with heavy hearts we wanted to let you guys know because he means so much to us internally.”
On Georgia Tech’s run-heavy offense vs. Clemson:
“Every single day we’re trying to make sure we’re installing the things that we do, but Coach [Brent] Key’s done a great job with the offensive line and they’re working really, really hard. And every single day, [with] the multitude of protections that we have, the multitude of cumulative reps at pass protection fundamentals … we’re going to play to our strengths as we continue to develop. So it was, this is what we do well, these are the things that we need to do to compete at a very high level. We took some shots later in the game downfield and so that’s part of the nature of what we do. But just going into it, that’s what we felt was the best thing to do to move the ball and to do some good things.”
On takeaways from watching tape of last year’s Georgia Tech-USF game:
“So, obviously team speed. Last year, I think they started off the season 7-0, they were rolling. It’s a good team, they’ve got really good players, so it’s no surprise that they’re competitive in all the games. But I think the two keys from that game were the two big kickoff returns, and we’ve made a huge emphasis on special teams ever since we got here. The kickoff coverage unit, I thought we made two really nice plays on [at Clemson]. Kaleb Oliver made two huge tackles inside the 25 on kickoff coverage, so that is an emphasis for us going forward. And their team speed and remembering what happened to us last year obviously increases and heightens the focus whenever we do the kickoff coverage units, and really any special teams period for this team, because they have so many good athletes and team speed.”
On if true freshmen who played at Clemson will play beyond the four-game redshirt limit:
“We chart it but we don’t have that kind of thought process. Every single week is a new week for us. Later in the season, if there’s been some runs where they’re not playing, we might calculate that, but right now it’s every week, who can work to be above the line, who can work to contribute. A young man that stands out is Kenan Johnson. He got reps during the game and did so well, even on some special-teams plays. You might see him playing even more on special teams, even more on defense and elevating his status. Demetrius Knight and Chico Bennett are two others that pop off that really did a nice job when they got the opportunity to play, to contribute, to do a really nice job for us. Dylan Leonard, Dylan Deveney, Kalani Norris, Jamious Griffin [are] some other names, I’m sure there’s more, that were out there playing, competing and earning more playing time. I know we released basically a repeat of last week’s ATL sheet. So what we do is, we don’t make those decisions until Thursday. So we give them a full week of practice to determine how well they practice, how well they know the gameplan, because everything we do in this program, practice is everything. How you practice is how you play. So we’ll set that chart on Thursday and I guess we’ll release it Thursday afternoon. Just how we see going into the game the reps that they’ll play and all those kinds of things. It’ll be an ongoing weekly discussion. So, every Thursday we practice in the morning, we have our noon time tradition as a coaching staff right afterwards, which is pretty good, and then we have a huge meeting and we call the meeting ‘playing the players’. So, how we’re going to play the players, who’s earned their reps, how we see each guy, what series they’ll go in, those kinds of things going forward to get ready for the game.”
On Georgia Tech’s quarterbacks:
“I thought Tobias [Oliver] ran the ball really well. I thought James [Graham] threw the ball really well. And then just trying to find creative things. Lucas [Johnson] had a really good two days of practice, and what a great teammate that he is, just to come in there. He played the last two-minute drill of the first half and didn’t really get some looks to show the things that he can do and he had been doing in practice, but it’s fair to say all three will play [against USF] and they’ve got a good complement. There’s a good mojo in the room together. They work really well together. They’re highly competitive, which I love about all three of them, but they’re still team-oriented guys and I want what’s best for the team and they understand the multiplicity of the attack that we can have with all three of them is a differentiating factor moving forward.”
On his emotions going into Saturday’s home opener:
“I was excited going into [the Clemson] game. I’m excited any time you can be a part of intercollegiate football and intercollegiate athletics and play at a high level in this league, in this stadium, [it] is special. But the thing that I took away from last Thursday night is just being with our guys, competing with our guys that I’ve grown to know and love and respect. And to go out there and compete against another team, I think those things are special. When I was a little guy, our Thanksgiving tradition was to come watch the Georgia Tech vs. Georgia Thanksgiving JV game. That’s how we would start our day Thanksgiving day. I’d sit up there in the top of those bleachers and watch the game, then we’d go have Thanksgiving dinner. I remember junior and senior year in high school coming here for unofficial visits to watch games as a recruit. And then as a GA and a tight ends coach and director of player personnel, being involved in games at Bobby Dodd. So it’s going to be special. But the thing that makes it the most special is just the guys that I’ve gotten to be so close with. Having them have an opportunity to compete, play together and represent this great institution at a high level, that’s the thing that really matters to me the most.”
On if watching USF’s opener against Wisconsin changed Georgia Tech’s defensive gameplan for Saturday:
“As you’re scouting an opponent, you look for similarities between what you do schematically on defense and what the teams that have done well do schematically on defense, so you try to take some things away from it. But you still have to maintain what is relative to how you prepare, relative to the schemes that you use, the pressure packages that you use. But I do think Wisconsin did a nice job. They have really good players, really good coaches. The scheme isn’t entirely what we run, but you still try to take things way, third down package-wise, that guys can see themselves doing in being able to play Saturday.”
On Georgia Tech’s nickel backs:
“I was really proud of Ajani [Kerr against Clemson]. So Ajani and Kaleb [Oliver] both have a huge special teams role as well. I thought they were able to sub each other out, and we had 28 guys playing significant snaps on defense on Thursday night, that’s a lot. They handled it the right way, we had a sub pattern going, and the guys kept communicating and playing at a high level. And in this day and age of modern football we’re in, and modern offenses and modern defenses that we’re going up against and we’re playing, the multitude of things and guys that you can roll in and still not miss a beat regardless of who’s playing and who’s in there together, is really special. And I think at that position, at the nickel position, they can both play safety, they can both play nickel, they play a lot of things on special teams for us. But I was really proud of Ajani and Kaleb. And we wear catapult system that tracks their effort, tracks their player load, and they both were in the top 10 in the organization in their overall output. Now a lot of that is the nature of the position they play, because the nickel positon every day is at the top of player load and distance, but they were both competing and playing at a high level. I was excited about that for Ajani. He showed it in real life and the whole team saw it. So, whenever he’s in, there is confidence throughout for the entire organization.”
VIDEO: Offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude (pre-USF)
VIDEO: Defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker (pre-USF)