Sept. 7, 2010
By Matt Winkeljohn
If you didn’t know that Georgia Tech won its season opener Saturday and you attended coach Paul Johnson’s presser Tuesday you might have been left with a feeling that the Yellow Jackets lost 6-3 to a Division II team.
They beat South Carolina State 41-10 yet judging by all the moving parts, this team is a tad more in flux than Johnson anticipated it would be at this point.
He said before the season opener that he had a much better idea what to expect of his squad than he did entering the opener in 2008, but Johnson has found plenty of bugs in the systems even without honing in on a topic bothersome to some fans, the passing game.
There may be a change among starting A-backs for Saturday’s game at Kansas, Johnson has decreed that he wants to see more player substitutions on defense, there may be a change or changes at the safety position, freshman kicked Jeremy Moore is likely to replace Scott Blair on kickoffs, and . . . whoa, slow down.
No, wait. That, in fact, maybe the over-riding issue. Tech was considerably slower against S.C. State, apparently, than Johnson expected so they’re working this week to jack up tempo.
Joshua Nesbitt rushed 16 times for 130 yards and three touchdowns against the Bulldogs, but Johnson suggested that even his quarterback needs to move with a greater sense of alacrity.
For starters, some of whom will change this week, the first step is as straight forward as getting from the huddle to the line of scrimmage faster.
From there, in particular, he wants to see offensive lineman play more aggressively. “That’s part of it. [It’s] just playing fast, coming off the ball. Knowing exactly what you got to do and playing fast,” Johnson said. “Quit thinking you’re going to miss somebody and just hold on. It’s like I told the offensive line, `They need to think about getting in a sprinter’s stance and coming off the ball. If they miss, it’s on me.
“I’d much rather them do that then play patty cake. The tail motion’s gotta be faster, the quarterback’s gotta be faster, everybody just needs to play faster on both sides of the ball.”
Coincidentally, Johnson’s observations dovetail with those of several fans who posted on a Tech message board Monday night that it appeared that Navy ran the same offense as Tech faster in a loss to Maryland. That is, of course, the offense that Johnson left in Annapolis two-plus years ago.
This sluggishness is going to cost some players playing time, and sophomore Orwin Smith figures to be among those poised to step into the breech. Smith is, “probably going to start this week,” the head coach said. “I just think the plays a little harder than the other guys.”
Perhaps the defensive line will play more crisply at Kansas with more players in the rotation. Senior end Robert Hall, suspended for disciplinary reasons for the opener, will be back in the mix, and that figures to foster a more functional rotation – with starters Jason Peters and Izaan Cross – at the end spots.
In the interest of keeping players fresher, and by default faster, perhaps T.J. Barnes, perhaps backup utility man Ben Anderson and or others will see more action at nose tackle behind Logan Cross as well.
“Some kids can play more than others. It’s clear to me that some of those guys have got to get out of there,” Johnson said. “We talked about that. Guys can’t stay out there and play 70 snaps . . . We’ve got to get some more people out there.” The world’s well-being is not dependent upon any of this, of course, which might be hard to discern judging from the reaction of some fans.
Johnson has not dodged the reality that Nesbitt threw a few dreadful passes Saturday, yet also pointed out quite correctly that fans tend to be fanatical in their drop-dead assessments from time to time.
Nesbitt completed one of six passes. His best pass was intercepted when Tyler Melton bobbled it.
Of the passing game, coach said, “I’m just not as worried about it as everybody else. It is what it is. I think there’s going to be games where he’s going to throw it really well, as he has in the past, and there’s going to be games where he struggles. What you hope is that’s not in games where you need to throw it.” You cannot sum up the situation any better than that. If Nesbitt throws the ball that way in every game this season, Tech will be in trouble in some of those games. Period.
“Yeah, we want to be more efficient, but six attempts is a pretty small sample size to announce something dead, especially when one got dropped and one was pass interference,” Johnson said. “Would I like to see him throw a couple balls better? Yeah, but I’ve seen the kid; he can throw the ball.
“If you’re waiting for him to complete 70 percent of his passes, you’re going to be waiting a long time. But he’s very adequate throwing the ball to do what we need to do.”
So the passing game had better improve for those games – which hopefully will be rare – when it is truly needed.
In the mean time, the sky is not falling.
“It gives them something to talk about, I guess,” the coach said when asked why he thought fans are so insistent upon fretting Nesbitt’s throws (although in reality, it seems more the province of members of the media to stir this pot). “It would be the same thing if you were throwing the ball. [Then] people would be concerned you weren’t running the ball. Fans will be fans. That’s their right.
“They pay their money, come to a game, they can complain about whatever they want to complain about . . . if they can get in.”
Ah, the perspective of Paul, master of timing and a pregnant pause, which ended just . . . about . . . here . . . when he fought through a grin and leaned toward a microphone to say: “That was a joke. Just for the record, I had nothing to do with that.”
Judging from e-mails, somebody read Monday’s Sting Daily Monday in which I briefly addressed the topic of delays while trying to get into the stadium. Send thoughts on this or anything Tech-related (other than parking issues) to firstname.lastname@example.org.