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Jackets Hit Cavaliers With Knock-Out Punch

Sept. 15, 2012

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

Georgia Tech offered a view Saturday afternoon of what it can do when focused and on task. As a bonus for those interested in psychological subtexts, the Yellow Jackets demonstrated the benefits of working your way into a mad lather.

After Tech whipped Virginia 56-20 in Bobby Dodd Stadium, head coach Paul Johnson did not hesitate to mention the search for vengeance. The Jackets were 6-0 last year, ranked No. 12 in the nation, and lost 24-21 in Charlottesville after playing as if both full of themselves and not respectful enough of their opponent.

Tech’s season hit a wall that day as the Cavaliers beat the Jackets like punching bags. The score didn’t say it, but Tech was handled. Johnson’s been %!$$@d off about it since.

“I challenged our guys this week. I had a long memory from last year . . . and so did our guys,” the coach said. “I heard a long time ago that revenge is a great motivator for those who care. So, they cared. We were embarrassed with the way we played a year ago.”

In a word, the Jackets played soft at Virginia.

Saturday, they played like a hammer that wouldn’t stop swinging, much like Marvin Hagler fought on April 15, 1985, against Tommy Hearns.

That middleweight boxing match, known as “The War,” was epic on many levels. It didn’t last three rounds, but both fighters went at it as if their lives depended on it. Here it is.

Just imagine defensive coordinator Al Groh – the former Virginia head coach – showing that video to defenders.

No need to pretend. That happened Friday. Saturday, Virginia didn’t last three quarters.

The score was 42-7 after three periods, by which time Virginia had just 46 rushing yards. A season ago, the Cavs hit Tech for 272 on the ground, and held the ball for 11 of 15 minutes in the fourth quarter.

Saturday, the Jackets hit back. Repeatedly. Beyond the offense scoring touchdowns on six of its first seven possessions and out-gaining Virginia 411 yards to 115 in that span, there was a canyon-esque difference in body language.

And for good reason. In total, Tech rushed for 461 yards and passed for another 133.

Tevin Washington rushed for 93 yards and three touchdowns and passed for 125 yards and a score. Orwin Smith snapped to life with 137 yards and a touchdown on just six carries, and caught a pass. Backup QB Vad Lee rushed for 59 yards and two scores.

It was like a video game. No wonder Virginia defensive coordinator Jim Reid said, “It’s embarrassing to me, and I’m sure I embarrassed my players.”

Tech cornerback Louis Young boxes on the side for training and therapeutic purposes (seriously). He had a pretty good 24 hours or so because the day before his interception set up Tech’s final score of the first half, he had the chance to watch that fight. All the better to set to a boil the juices in which he and teammates were already stewing.

“For me personally, I had a bad taste in my mouth,” he said. “I wanted us to be the team to get the TKO punch. We watched [the fight]. That kind of got me real excited.”

The offense was jazzed, too, and inside the Cavs’ heads from the jump.

Tech scored on the first play from scrimmage , led 35-7 by halftime, and scored more points against Virginia than any Tech squad before.

At some point (it wasn’t clear to observers when), some Tech players – presumably on offense – watched a disconcerting mash-up of last year’s game. “We watched the two sidelines,” Washington said. “They were going crazy after that last play . . . and we looked like we had no life.”

How would this make you feel?

Tech snapped awake on its first play. B-back Zach Laskey ran a pass route across the middle. When the linebacker covering him snugged up, he turned upfield. Check.

Washington’s pass him in stride, and 70 yards later Laskey had the easiest of scores.

When the AJC’s Ken Sugiura asked if that play was the result of something coaches had seen in reviewing tape, Johnson said, “It was just luck,”

The coach smiled.

Of course Johnson and his staff saw something on tape. Check.

But it was nothing compared to the bile in the Jackets’ bellies. Checkmate.

Johnson has said on more than one occasion he’s not a big believer in rah-rah pep talks and the like, but for one day at least subtext became the story against the Cavaliers.

Anger won’t always win a ball game, it’s impossible to summon for 12 games per season, and too much angst can mangle a mission.

Channel it properly, however, mix solid game plans and video from Hagler-Hearns with a video sprinkle of Tech’s limp showing a year ago and you get a beat-down.

“That fight last night really had a big impact on the game,” said Tech linebacker Quayshawn Nealy, who had the Jackets’ other interception. “Guys really took it to heart, especially after a big loss last year. It was a burden on everybody’s heart the whole year.

“We really wanted to put an emphasis on . . . getting physical on blocks. They’re big guys, but still you want to be physical. Just like the fight, punch for punch be physical.”

That was a beating. A reminder, video of the Cavs’ sideline after last year’s game could be found in Sting Daily yesterday. Imagine that. You don’t have to. It happened.

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