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#STINGDAILY: Mental Toughness

Sept. 28, 2013

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

Hopefully, enough time has passed that Georgia Tech football fans have snapped back to their senses to realize that all is not lost.

The Yellow Jackets lost to Virginia Tech Thursday night at home, and yes, that put the good Tech behind the pace in the Coastal division race, but there is so much football left to be played that it is ridiculous to despair past a point.

Georgia Tech’s defense is demonstrably more stout this season than in several, and does anyone really think the Jackets will continue to struggle on offense to the degree they did against the Hokies? Head coach Paul Johnson’s track record suggests an obvious answer to that.

The Jackets were anything but crisp with the ball Thursday, and it says here that the Virginia Tech defense was the best Georgia Tech will face. That was an awful combination, but it is not likely to run on a loop.

A good story appeared in USA Today. At first, the suggestion by writer Dan Wolken that this is probably not one of head coach Frank Beamer’s better teams may have discouraged Georgia Tech fans.

Apply a little more thought, and read the rest of the story, and perhaps a different spin emerges.

That’s a very good defense, and the story points out that the Hokies won Thursday with the combination of that and their collective toughness, especially that of senior quarterback Logan Thomas – who was about all the Hokies had on offense.

And it wasn’t just blood and guts toughness, either.

Beamer confirmed it after the game when he said, “I think we have a mentally tough football team, a physically tough football team. I thought it was excellent … [Thomas’] leadership, his throwing, his decision-making, being in control.

“He’s a quality, quality quarterback, and he’s tough. He’s mentally tough, and he’s physically tough the way he runs around and bangs into people. I’m proud of that.”

The Jackets have the same components, but didn’t tap enough of it against the Hokies. Their offensive chutzpah ebbed Thursday at a very bad time.

This Georgia Tech offense may not be staffed with the big play potential of some of its predecessors, and that will make grinding more important. Third downs are going to be even more important. Attention to the finer details will be more important. Flat-out execution will be more important.

These are all mental functions as much as physical. The Jackets cannot afford to have six false starts and a delay of game against a really, really good defense and EVERY ONE of those miscues can be attributed at least partially if not entirely to, what Johnson described as, “a total lack of concentration.”

Translation: mental toughness.

If the Jackets are not going to overwhelm with their skill, they’re going to need to compensate. They can. They’re bright. They just didn’t show it the other night.

“In all honesty, it came down to us not executing properly,” B-back Zach Laskey said.

There was more to it than that, but Laskey touched on the biggest problem.

The Hokies’ schedule appears favorable other than trips to Miami and Virginia, and yet in recent years Virginia Tech has shown a tendency to falter in some games where you would have thought it wasn’t likely.

They in fact were unimpressive in three games prior to playing Georgia Tech before bringing their A game – at least in terms of toughness – to Atlanta.

Georgia Tech players shouldn’t give much thought to any of this, of course, and are better advised to handle their own business better. Perhaps fans can use it to maintain sanity.

There is so much left. Leave it to a defender to swing everything back into focus.

“It’s frustrating but it’s just one game in a big season,” said senior defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu. “We can’t let it bring us down. We’ve got a lot of things in front of us that we can accomplish, and that includes an ACC Championship. As a leader, I can’t be too down about one loss.

“We have to look to Miami and get back to work and encourage the guys to be upbeat. Football is a game of ups and downs and week-to-week situations can change. We’re going to go into next week ready to beat Miami.”

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