#STINGDAILY: Hurricane Prep

Sept. 18, 2012

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

Georgia Tech may not, on the surface at least, carry into Saturday’s game the exact same kind of angst that pushed the Yellow Jackets to maul Virginia 56-20 last week.

But it doesn’t look too much different even if the early sounds were tame.

Head coach Paul Johnson mentioned the importance of the Miami game Tuesday in his weekly get-together with the media, but he didn’t over sell. He said the Hurricanes are 1-0 in ACC action, they’re in the Coastal Division with Tech (1-1), and the Jackets are therefore looking up at them. Who knew?

The Hurricanes (2-1) cannot claim to have derailed the Jackets’ undefeated season in 2011, as the Cavaliers did, so . . . how about working up a dose of irritation based on the fact that Miami has beaten Tech (2-1) three years running – and not gently?

After the Jackets whipped the ‘Canes 41-23 in 2008, Miami countered with a thorough 33-17 win down there in ’09, the only ACC blemish on Tech’s season. A year later, in Atlanta, Miami wounded Tech 35-10, and last season the Jackets never got un-tracked in Miami in a 24-7 loss – their second straight defeat after six wins to open the season.

It stands to reason that if Johnson and his players had a long memory working for them heading into the Virginia game, the same ought to be true with Miami, right?

The head coach wasn’t biting on that logic Tuesday, not in public anyway.

“We got off to a good start [Monday]. I saw nothing to make me think they are full of themselves from the last game,” he said. “How we do Saturday or the rest of the week in practice remains to be seen, but it’s our job to keep them grounded.

“I don’t know why they wouldn’t be grounded. We haven’t done anything. We’re 1-1 in the league. There is nothing to not be grounded about. They can look at the tape and see that we can play better than we played Saturday.”

So there’s that.

Should players, or fans, be inclined to look at Miami and chuckle over the Hurricanes’ 52-13 loss at Kansas State in week two, a reminder: the Virginia Tech team that beat Georgia Tech in overtime to begin the season was thumped last weekend by winless Pitt.

The point is that one week rarely has much to do with the next, although Tech’s two-week slump last season at Virginia and Miami in back-to-back weeks ought not be forgotten.

Miami has thrown the ball more than it has run, and junior quarterback Stephen Morris is completing almost two-thirds of his passes.

The ‘Canes are again quite big across their offensive front, and while they’re not at all big at most skill positions, they’re at times absurdly quick.

Keep an eye on Duke Johnson. The freshman running back is listed as 5-feet-9, 188 pounds, but he’s packing a punch already. Senior Mike James is the starter, but Johnson leads the ‘Canes in rushing with 253 yards and a 9.4-yard average per carry and four touchdowns.

He’s caught eight passes as well, and scored that way. Oh, and he’s returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, and he’s averaging 33.9 yards a pop at that.

“I think Miami is talented as always,” Johnson said. “They always have guys who can run. They are very athletic, and have a mix of returners and some younger guys.”

The Jackets are pretty healthy. Reserve B-Back Charles Perkins will remain out for a while; Johnson said he has an injury to, “an upper extremity.” B-Back David Sims is likely to return to action, although even if he does there seems to be no guarantee that he’ll start. Zach Laskey’s not doing too poorly, you know. Laskey, by the way, is expected to play after being nicked last Saturday.

Would-be starting safety Fred Holton may miss his fourth straight game with a confounding foot injury, although he’s hoping like mad to get medical clearance this week.

Johnson suggested that Synjyn Days may have earned more playing time at A-Back and he had solid praise for several defenders.

“[Inside linebacker] Quayshawn Nealy has played well. He kind of tells everybody where they need to go. Jemea Thomas has played really solid,” the coach said. “T.J. Barnes has played well. He’s played a lot of snaps. For the most part, take away the fourth quarter at Virginia Tech, they’ve played really well.”

So if you’re looking for pre-game hype from Johnson, sorry; he seems likely to hold a middle ground this week.

Perhaps you can motivate yourselves?

Just a hunch: bet the message is different this week behind closed doors. Comments to stingdaily@gmail.com. Twitter @mwinkeljohn

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