Dec. 7, 2016
Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
Georgia Tech didn’t exactly start from scratch on Tuesday when the Yellow Jackets returned to the business of football for their first practice ahead of the Dec. 31 TaxSlayer Bowl, yet there was rust as a cool, gray afternoon crept into dusk.
The Jackets (8-4) were still juiced by their last outing, a gloriously exhilarating 28-27 last-minute win at Georgia on Nov. 26. They’ve been out of the mix since, however, and studying for finals that begin Thursday.
So, as Tech began preparing to play Kentucky (7-5) for the first time in more than half a century (1960) there were times coaches felt like they were herding Wildcats.
“They were energized today. It wasn’t necessarily a productive energy,” said quarterbacks/B-backs coach Bryan Cook. “Getting them to do it right and concentrate and do it consistently over the course of a two-hour practice is another thing.”
The Jackets will practice again Wednesday and then have several days to concentrate on finals before returning to the practice field next week.
Some of Tuesday’s work was basic and young players got more action than during the regular season. Tech also spent time working on Kentucky, although not going so far as to fine tune.
“It was a good start. That’s what it was; [it] seems like it’s been forever since we were out there, so it was good to get back out there,” said head coach Paul Johnson, whose team won five of its final six regular-season games. “We just started right back into everyday drills.
“We didn’t really dial in a specific gameplan . . . [but] we were running Kentucky stuff today as far as defenses they run.”
Quarterback Justin Thomas said practice “could have been better,” and the Jackets should sharpen up when they return to a more regular schedule next week.
In between, the team will have its annual banquet Friday night and this will also be a big weekend for recruits to visit campus.
“There was a little bit of bounce in their step but they played high,” Sewak said.
Cook did some juggling the wake of sophomore B-back Marcus Marshall announcing last week that he will transfer after leading the Jackets with 624 rushing yards in 11 games, six of them starts.
Freshman Dedrick Mills, who leads Tech with 11 touchdowns and is the team’s second-leading rusher with 602 yards in eight games (six starts), is in line to return to the starting lineup. Senior Marcus Allen (36 yards on nine carries in eight games) figures to back him up.
After Mills and Allen, redshirt freshmen Quaide Weimerskirch and KirVonte Benson are competing. Weimerskirch fumbled his only carry during the season and Benson did not carry the ball. He played special teams in six games, as did Weimerskirch in seven.
“We spent 10 minutes just going back to the basics with day one installation for those young kids,” Cook explained. “Let those guys get the ball in their hands, refresh them and coach them . . . We’ve got enough bodies there. We were rusty today. We haven’t taken the field in 10 days and they kind of looked like it.
“They need a bunch of reps. Dedrick and Marcus Allen have both played a lot so those would be the first two. Then, the other guys we’ll kind of see . . . We’ll let them practice, and probably figure that out in Jacksonville.”
Johnson said the Jackets have no injury issues that will carry over from the Georgia game as Tech prepares to play Kentucky for the first time since beating the Blanton Collier-coached Wildcats 13-3 in 1960 for an 11-7-1 series edge.
Kentucky is 8-7 all-time in bowl games (Tech is 24-19) and this will be the Wildcats’ first postseason appearance since falling to Pittsburgh, 27-10, in the 2010 BBVA Compass Bowl.
In one of Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops’ last games before taking the job in Lexington for the 2013 season, he was defensive coordinator at Florida State when the Seminoles beat the Jackets, 21-15, in the ’12 ACC Championship Game.
“He played four different defenses in the game, so I’m sure he’ll pick one of those,” Sewak said. “There was awful good talent on that team and we had two good guards in [Omoregie] Uzzi and Shaq [Mason] at the time, so that was a pretty good mix.”