Oct. 8, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
There may be no record of that Aesop was over-medicated when he wrote The Tortoise and the Hare, but some in Saturday’s crowd of 45,905 in Bobby Dodd Stadium may have had the sinking feeling that they were hallucinating as the ages-old fable came to life before their eyes.
Maybe prolonged exposure to Maryland’s Ray-o-Vac battery uniforms caused problems, but there’s no arguing the fact that the Terrapins had little business still being in the race after Tech took a 21-3 lead moments into the second half.
Yet as an oddly disjointed afternoon wore on, there was Testudo, Maryland’s mascot turtle, tight-walking the line between defeat and delirious joy.
Yellow Jacket fans were careening, too, after their team’s lead was cut to 21-16 on consecutive fourth-quarter touchdowns by Maryland, including a 77-yard touchdown run by Maryland backup quarterback C.J. Brown.
That would be the final score. It was no wonder, however, that frosty Tech head coach Paul Johnson would use the words, “crazy,” “myriad,” “whiff,” “ridiculous,” and, “fiasco,” in his post-game confab with the press corps after a game that left the Jackets 6-0 for the first time since 1966.
“Offensively, we struggled. We never got any continuity,” Johnson said, quite succinctly. “It was a myriad of things. We didn’t block the perimeter very well, we didn’t block inside very well, we didn’t read very well. It was like popcorn trying to get it fixed. We really made a struggle out of it. That just wasn’t a clean game.”
When it was over, the boss was frustrated, obviously.
For two-plus quarters, Tech strafed the Terps. The Jackets out-gained Maryland 249 yards to 89 by the time the score was 21-3 on Tevin Washington’s 3-yard scoring run just 2:09 into the second half. That was a third-down play, and it was the 10th time in 12 tries that Tech converted a third down into a first down or a touchdown.
The Jackets were literally running circles around their guests.
Maryland coach Randy Edsall had already benched his starting quarterback, although didn’t help much for a while as Brown threw incomplete passes on his first 10 attempts, sailing balls all over the place.
The tortoise was not plodding a persistent path; he was shell down, belly to the sky.
But the home team couldn’t land the knockout punch. In great measure, that was because the Jackets kept stepping on a metaphorical rake, and the thing kept snapping up and bopping Tech in the head.
So how did this happen?
“Second half, we get the big kickoff return, we put it in the end zone, and from that point on they just went on cruise control,” Johnson said. “It was a penalty, a missed read, turning somebody loose. It was just a fiasco.”
Want more details?
Tech intercepted each Maryland quarterback once, but earned nopoints after either. The Jackets missed a 34-yard field goal soonafter QuayshawnNealy’s pick gave Tech the ball at Maryland’s 28-yard line inthe second quarter. A false start by tackle TylerKidney made that possession more difficult, and that was atheme. Tech entered the game averaging four penalties per game. TheJackets hit with a season-high eight penalties Saturday, andMaryland declined at least one more. Six of those flags were drawnby an offensive line that had a rough day, especially in the secondhalf. Washington threw an end zone interception just before half,when a 14-3 lead could’ve been bigger.
How to explain the Jackets mustering a modest 89 rushing yards and eight first downs in the second half? This is not as difficult as you might think. To wit:
Tech could not block Maryland defensive tackle Joe Vellano (No.72). His career high in tackles before Saturday was 10, againstNavy last year. Six tackles in a game is a lot by a DT. Vellano had20 combined tackles and assists Saturday, which is insane. The guyclearly loves a PaulJohnson offense. Said the namesake, “[Vellano] whipped our tailpretty good.” The passing game was off for the second week in arow, a big change from the first four games of the season.Washington wasn’t super crisp, but his receivers’ slippery fingerswere a bigger problem. Washington rushed 32 times, which is nearlyas absurd as Vellano bagging a tackle every other play he was onthe field. Why? He missed a slew of “reads.” Why? Marylanddefensive end David Mackall (No. 11), that’s why. He baited theJackets repeatedly.
Time after time when Washington stuck the ball in the B-back’s gut and then went to read the DE, Mackall – unblocked on purpose most of the time — would appear to come crashing down on the B-back. That’s when Washington’s supposed to pull the ball out and run. He pulled the ball often.
Often, too, Mackall peeled off; he was faking. Said Washington: “The guy I was reading most of the day, he did a good job of making me miss reads. He would come down on the B-back and make me think [wrongly].”
Said Johnson: “[Washington] needs to learn to pitch it once in a while, or he needs to hand it off. I guarantee there wasn’t 32 plays where he should have had it. . . . It’s pretty simple; if the defensive end doesn’t tackle the B-back and Tevin gets tackled, then he missed the read.”
A shanked Tech punt, for 28 yards, made Maryland’s secondtouchdown drive easier, leaving the Terps just 53 yards from paydirt.
I wrote not long ago that the degree of success or failure in Tech’s season would be determined greatly by its defense.
Saturday, that was the case.
The Jackets gave up one prolonged drive in the first quarter, but held to allow a field goal. That was significant.
They were fooled badly on Brown’s 77-yard run when defensive end Chris Crenshaw, playing quite a bit in part because injuries to starting linebackers Jeremiah Attouchu and Daniel Drummond and would-be starting linebacker Brandon Watts, necessitated a great deal of personnel shuffling on that side of the ball, got caught inside. Also, the secondary bit up hard on Brown’s fake handoff. Plus, Brown’s fast.
Missing so many players, that’s a big deal.
Sports can be strange.
Tech struggled offensively Saturday even though Maryland had four freshman starters, one taking the post for the first time in his career.
But on the same day the Jackets’ young and erratic golf team surged to a 13-stroke lead in a tournament that includes two-time defending national champion and a stout Georgia squad, and two non-counting Tech golfers moved to fourth and fifth place overall in the same tournament (examples of strangeness in sport), Aesop’s ending was re-written.
After Maryland pulled within 21-16, the Tech offense ran 3:22 off the clock before punting, and then the defense did its thing for good. The Terps ran and passed for a first down on consecutive plays, just to build some tension, before the Jackets stalled the visitors on the next four plays. After that, Tech ran out the final 2:31, Washington converting a third-and-1 with a 2-yard run.
“When you hold somebody to 16 points, you got to win those games,” Johnson said. “That’s pretty good.”
The other heros? Laskey and Zenon of Tech’s beleaguered return teams. They left Tech with touchdown drives of just 33 and 17 yards.
Nevermind Aesop. Obviously, couldn’t have been pre-written.
Was that crazy, or what? Let’s hear it. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.