Sept. 5, 2010
By Jon Cooper
– The late coaching legend John McKay once was asked after a game what he thought of his Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ execution, and he replied, “I think it’s a good idea.”
Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson would never joke about that, obviously, but he might be able to understand McKay’s sentiment in being dissatisfied with the way his team executed the game plan. He said as much on several occasions following the game, but he also kept things in perspective and made light of it in his own way.
“I thought it was a very typical first game,” Johnson said. “It wasn’t always crisp and pretty, but we found a way to win the game. We made a lot of mistakes, missed a lot of tackles, got sloppy. But we have a lot of stuff to work on now.
“Hopefully, you make the most improvement from game one to game two, and that’s what we need to do,” he added. “I talked to the team afterward; they understand it and are pretty subdued. There is a fine line there. You only get to play 12 regular-season games, and when you win 41-10, you have to be a little bit happy. But at the same time, I think that we know that we can play better, and that’s my job to point that out to them and I did. We will come back and go to work on Monday and see if we can get better. They know, they aren’t dumb; they will watch the tape and see. Some of those guys will be embarrassed.”
Even if they’re not embarrassed, a proud competitor like Joshua Nesbitt knows he’s better than a 1-for-6 passer, even if there may be other games this year in which he has that few attempts. He actually showed his smarts on two of the incompletions, throwing one away because of good coverage and another to protect his receiver. The one fumble was a miscommunication, which isn’t likely to happen again with more familiarity.
“I think I did all right, but I can do a whole lot better,” said Nesbitt, who, by the way, rushed for three scores, two of them on fourth-down plays. “Just go out there and make sure everybody does the right thing and just do what I have to do to win. I did what the team needed me to do.”
He’ll continue to do that even more effectively as the team plays at a little more Johnson-like pace and with a little more focus, both of which were lacking at times on Saturday.
The defense wasn’t off the hook, but defensive coordinator Al Groh was more willing to see the half-full side of the cup.
“We’d like to do a lot of things better,” said Groh. “There needs to be more progress between this game and the next one, but by the same token, as I’ve said repeatedly, there is only one number that we look at and that is how many points the other team gets. That’s what our job is, to keep points down. We’d like to do a better job against the run. At the same time, this is a team that was a red-hot passing team that completed about 67 percent of its passes. The players stepped up and made some real good plays in those circumstances.”
Groh even tipped his hat to the Bulldogs’ offense.
“Those guys are allowed to make you miss a little bit, too,” he said. “Like, if you say to a hitter, those times you swung and missed, the pitcher’s allowed to throw a good pitch sometimes. We want to make every tackle at the line of scrimmage, but we are realistic in realizing that sometimes those guys make you miss, too.”
The offense, the defense and special teams — Johnson didn’t let them off the hook for kickoff length and a muffed snap that led to a missed PAT, ending Scott Blair’s streak at 41 — all will be under the gun this week to make the quantum leap to week two from week one. But at least they know they won’t have to answer questions about dropping a decision to a D-II school.
Tech’s opponent next week, Kansas University, won’t have that luxury.
As is obvious — or painfully obvious, depending on whether you’re in Atlanta or Lawrence, Kansas — the Jayhawks showed first-game sloppiness of their own, committing three turnovers and missing two field goals en route to a 6-3 loss to North Dakota State, a far lesser opponent than South Carolina State.
“It hurts,” said KU’s first-year Head Coach Turner Gill. “A team beat us that’s in a lower division, and I know that’s going to be the big talk. But a loss is a loss. The first ballgame of the year, particularly at home, but we’ve got to keep it in the right perspective. It’s one loss. You can turn your season around here if you move forward.”
Not getting caught up in the talk over how bad the Jayhawks might be will be key in Tech’s preparation this week. Johnson knows that.
Then again, his main focus will be on his team and on the practice field in Atlanta. Not on Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The goal is perfection, from a “cup is half-empty guy,” as he referred to himself on Saturday.