Sept. 30, 2015
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
A frequent subject over the past two weeks, during Georgia Tech’s two-game losing streak, has been blocks — be it blocks missed or blocks opposing defenders have gotten around. But a different kind of blocks has come to the forefront for Georgia Tech’s offense.
Those are starting blocks and the Yellow Jackets’ seeming inability to get out of them.
While the Jackets have outscored their opponents 44-26 in the first stanza this season, since the 34-point outburst in the season-opener against Alcorn State, things have not started off so well. In the last two games Georgia Tech has been outscored 26-3 in the first quarter.
It’s an issue that Head Coach Paul Johnson is ready to address.
“We need to get off to a better start,” said Johnson. “The last two games in the first quarter the offense has been abysmal. Eight minutes into the [Duke] game it’s 19-3 and you’ve probably given up 100 yards.”
In the Jackets’ six first-quarter possessions they have had four three-and-outs (two in each game), while managing three first downs, and producing only a pair of field goals, one coming off a short field provided by the defense, the other aided by a shanked punt.
The slow starts hurt but the team’s spirit and its ability to battle back has been a point of pride.
“To their credit, these kids keep fighting and they don’t give up,” Johnson said. “But, they dig themselves such a hole. Seven minutes in (at Duke), we are 19-3 down. You dig yourself into a pretty good hole on the road against a good defense. That is not where you want to be.”
During Johnson’s Monday press conference he went over special teams issues and the need for players to better recognize situations as well as the coaches’ responsibility to help in that regard. He also suggested that the Jackets may be out-thinking themselves.
Yet shortly thereafter just about every time, he went back to the team’s never-say-die spirit.
He was especially passionate in the context of what could have been a back-breaking 100-yard kickoff return following Harrison Butker’s 48-yard field goal that cut the deficit to 19-13.
“Even then, they kept fighting, found a way to come back,” Johnson said. “Really, with six minutes to go, they got the ball at the 35 with a chance to win the game if we can go put it in the end zone.”
Johnson stated that last year’s team found ways to win and probably would have found a way to do so at Duke — a sentiment he retracted in the same breath, crediting Duke’s defense. He also talked about how last year’s team got better as the season went on and challenged this year’s team to do the same.
It’s not an outrageous request and certainly conceivable.
This year’s team lacks the experience of last year’s and has had to overcome much more adversity in the injury department, as four A-Backs, including explosive Qua Searcy, and the squad’s most experienced receiver, Micheal Summers have gone down — Searcy is finished for the season and Summers is out for the immediate future.
But they have that similar fighting spirit.
“One thing about us, we’re never going to give up. We’re always going to keep fighting, pick each other up and try to get a win for the team,” said wide receiver Ricky Jeune, following his career day Saturday at Duke, where he had four receptions for 91 yards and his first career touchdown reception. “We just need to block better and come out well and focus right away, so late in the game we can play like we’re capable of playing. We’re going to keep working harder and get better every day.”
“It’s something that as a team you have to play through. You win some games you lose some games. The biggest thing is, how do we respond to [a loss]?” added senior left guard Trey Braun. “I think the difference between those middle-of-the-road teams and those really good teams is how do they respond to a loss? We know that we can click as an offensive unit.”
Starting to click earlier in the game would key a turnaround similar to 2014 and would actually parallel that team.
Last season’s Jackets didn’t exactly start like the hare leaving the tortoise in the dust. Over the first five games, prior to the back-to-back losses to Duke and at North Carolina, the ‘14 Jackets hit double-figures in the first quarter one time (scoring 14 against Georgia Southern), while scoring seven points three times and three points in the other four. In their 6-1 finish following those two losses, including the Orange Bowl victory, Georgia Tech scored at least 14 points five times in the first 15 minutes, including a 28-point explosion at Pittsburgh, the game following their second loss.
That would make Saturday the explosion point if history is going to repeat.
“If you go back and you look, last year’s team got much better as they year went on. That is what this year’s team needs to do,” Johnson said. “They have to get better every week as we play. If they do, the rest of the stuff will take care of itself.”