Sept. 6, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
We’re here today to consider Georgia Tech’s version of football not-so-subliminal destiny, where that which is too often referenced seems to become reality.
Warning: this entry is heavy on theory.
There was plenty of chatter last season, and in the offseason, about Tech’s fumbling problems. Those problems were not erased in last Thursday’s opener, in which the Yellow Jackets lost two of six fumbles — according to the stat sheet.
Similarly, head coach Paul Johnson has spoken frequently about the need to improve special teams play. It’s not likely you can find a Tech fan to argue.
So, is spending too much time – and too many words – dwelling on fumbling and special teams impeding progress? Are the Jackets obsessing about these matters to the point where attempts to improve end in a short-circuit of the systems?
Special teams play really wasn’t that bad in the 63-21 win over Western Carolina, although there was no debating the blocked field goal that WCU returned for a touchdown. That was a bad play on multiple levels.
Yet Zach Laskey averaged 15.5 yards per punt return, which is admirable. Orwin Smith averaged 25.2 yards on kickoff returns, although his sample size (two) was small. There were no over-arching issues with the coverage teams.
When Euclid Cummings touched a Tech punt and allowed WCU to recover at the 4-yard-line, that was bad. But that wasn’t special teams. Tech had its defense on the field at the time, not its punt return team.
And while the blocking was problematic when Justin Moore had that field goal blocked at the end of the first half, the greater problem was trajectory. The ball was too low. You could see it then, and the Jackets certainly saw it on film.
Yet because Johnson has said that he’s involving himself more in special teams because Tech needs to improve them, perspective is skewed; we’re all looking for perfection now.
“I think sometimes when I come in and say something, maybe we make a bigger deal [out of it],” Johnson said Tuesday. “I’ve got to be careful what I say . . . really, the big snafu on special teams was getting the kick blocked.
“We’ve got to kick the ball higher. I don’t care how you block it, if you kick that thing head-high and somebody sticks their hand up they’re going to hit it.”
There’s a twist on popular theory here. Many fans believe that the media makes problems worse by writing or talking about them. There’s probably a kernel of truth to that. It’s the opposite of out-of-sight-out-of-mind.
To that end, let’s look in greater detail at those fumbles.
One of the six was the Cummings play, which was less fumble than poor decision.
“We fumbled one handoff. The other fumbles were quarterback-center exchanges,” Johnson said. “It’s frustrating to me that you have exchange problems. We work on it every day . . . and make it a big deal, and hope those go away. All of it is fundamental issues.
“Of course, there is always a story; the ball’s always slipping or something happened, but it’s unacceptable. We can’t allow it.”
Indeed, but perhaps we shouldn’t obsess, either. The more something is spoken and written about, the more jaded the prism through which it is viewed.