By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
Georgia Tech will have no interest in seeing Bulls run (or pass) on Saturday when the Yellow Jackets step up in class for their first road game of the season, at USF.
They’ll try to slow the USF (1-0) in Raymond James Stadium, where the young men across the lines of scrimmage will be considerably stronger, faster and more skilled than the Alcorn State Braves, whom Tech (1-0) beat 41-0 last Saturday.
The Bulls went 10-2 last season, were nationally ranked by year’s end and are 17-3 over its past 20 games. Sure, they’ve had personnel changes since last season, yet they showed plenty of moxie in beating Elon, 34-14, last Saturday.
Yes, quarterback Quinton Flowers, who last season passed for 2,911 yards and 25 touchdowns and rushed for 1,078 yards and 11 more scores, graduated. Yet Alabama/Arizona State transfer Blake Barnett completed 24-of-34 passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns in his USF debut against Elon. He also rushed eight times for 31 yards and scored once on the ground – all in less than three quarters of action.
“This week’s the Super Bowl. We’ve got to push like it’s the Super Bowl,” said Georgia Tech linebacker David Curry said about a game that, coincidentally, will be played at Raymond James Stadium, a venue that has hosted two actual Super Bowls. “They are very good and we’re preparing that way. But it’s the same: you’ve got to fly around. It’s everything. The more consistent we can get every single week with all that effort.”
Tech was stout on defense vs. Alcorn State, but USF is a different deal altogether, and the 6-foot-5, 217-pound Barnett has help.
Redshirt freshman wide receiver Randall St. Felix (6-2, 205) set several school records while catching seven passes for 143 yards and a touchdown versus Elon and senior slot man Tyre McCants – who had 36 receptions and seven touchdowns last season – caught another six passes and scored a touchdown as well.
USF has several other big receivers in Stanley Cleveraux (6-3, 224), Darnell Saloman (6-3, 215), Ryeshene Bronson (6-3, 205) and DeVontres Dukes (6-4, 201).
Alcorn State barely tested Tech’s secondary, passing for 69 yards on 23 attempts. The Braves rarely threw downfield.
The Jackets’ youngish secondary, which features five first-time starters, including second-year cornerbacks Jaytlin Askew (5-11, 177) and Tre Swilling (6-0, 195) will be busier on a hot, humid day that may include rain. The Bulls of head coach Charlie Strong also like to push the pace on offense.
That’s OK. Swilling said USF will be a welcome challenge, especially for a secondary that may have senior cornerback Lamont Simmons back from a hamstring strain to assist.
“They have a good quarterback, nice, tall and athletic receivers. It will be a fun game, especially knowing they throw the ball . . . ” Swilling, a redshirt freshman, predicted. “We’ve been practicing really hard at communication and getting the calls across the board.”
Offensively, head coach Paul Johnson is hoping the Tech passing game picks up its pace.
Senior quarterback TaQuon Marshall played an erratic first half last week, completing just 4-of-12 passes with several serious misfires. He said after the game that he lost some confidence after a couple of those misses.
The second half was a different story, as he completed 5-of-6 throws, including a 24-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Brad Stewart.
“I think that sometimes everybody makes such a big deal out of it that it probably makes [Marshall] more antsy when he does it,” Johnson said. “My take on that? I’ve seen the kid in practice. He can throw it. We just need to play better.
“We need to help him with some fundamentals and he needs to throw the ball better. Just relax and believe in yourself, trust it and play. If he can do that, he’ll be fine.”
Marshall sounded fine during the week.
“A lot of things to work on, a lot of things I saw on film, so it wasn’t really the best I can play, but it’ll be better this week for sure . . . “ he said. “There were several where I missed of them where I just missed guys that were wide open, where the ball was just high or something like that.
“It’s frustrating when I know I can make the pass . . . “
Tech is stepping up for good and USF will offer windows into the Jackets. Next week, a trip to play Pitt. Then, No. 2 Clemson will visit Bobby Dodd Stadium.
“From here on out, it’s only up” Marshall surmises. “Playing on the road, first big road game . . . it’s always huge scoring on the first possession.”
Johnson would gladly take that from the Tech offense, and he’d like to see the defense of coordinator Nate Woody slow the Bulls from the jump so as to muffle their potentially explosive offense.
“If we don’t get better (from the Alcorn State game), we’ll be in trouble . . . ” the head coach said. “If they’re making first downs and moving the ball, doing that, then the tempo can get to you.
“If they’re not stringing first downs together, not moving the ball, the tempo is not going to help them at all. (It’s) going to hurt them because their guys are going to be on the field a lot defensively.”