Oct. 3, 2015
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
For all the chatter about Georgia Tech’s suddenly sluggish offense and the special teams mistakes that anchored last week’s loss at Duke, the Yellow Jackets’ defense had a hand in matters as well. Their slow start was critical.
They better have all oars in the water from the jump today against North Carolina. Last season, the Tar Heels racked up 579 yards against Tech, and converted 12-of-17 third and fourth downs.
Quarterback Marquise Williams passed for 390 yards and four scores and ran for 73 and one in a 49-43 win over the Jackets.
He’s back, and if Tech (2-2, 0-1 ACC) is going to climb back into the ACC Coastal division race, the Jackets probably can’t afford to hit the snooze button when the starting bell rings in Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Tech trailed 19-3 at Duke and never caught up.
“Once we kind of got our eyes set on what we were looking at, and kind of got a better understanding of what we were doing . . . we started to get on a roll,” said senior cornerback and co-captain D.J. White. “I think if we can start games like that instead of just finishing them it will be a huge help for our team.”
There’s no arguing that.
The defense has tried but not quite succeeded in carrying the entire team the last couple weeks as the Jackets continue integrating a slew of inexperienced players at the running back and wide receiver spots and the offensive line struggles.
They’re not playing poorly. They’re just not playing well from start to finish.
The Tar Heels (3-1, 0-0), meanwhile, have been busy.
Carolina is converting 55.1 percent of its third downs, averaging 485.5 yards and 38.8 points per game. Beyond Williams and fellow quarterback Mitch Trubisky, senior wide receiver Quinshad Davis is 14 receptions shy of the school record and has a school-record 22 career touchdowns. Guard Landon Turner is one of the best in the nation.
Tech put the clamps on the Blue Devils over the final three quarters with the exception of one very late fourth down play where the Jackets had little choice but to sell out only to have Duke running back Shaquille Powell bust a clincher.
Allowing a modest 129 total yards of offense over the final three periods was not enough to save the game. The 150 yards Tech surrendered in the first quarter as Duke built a 19-3 lead left too big a hole for the Jackets to climb out of – no thanks to the special teams and inconsistent offense.
Sure, Tech recovered a Duke fumble soon after the game began, but after the Jackets took a 3-0 lead the Blue Devils scored three consecutive touchdowns – although the offense and special teams made life tough on the defense. Duke went 75 yards in 12 plays to take the lead for good. They had to go 48 yards for a second touchdown after a snap sailed over punter Ryan Rodwell’s head, and then just one yard after Duke returned a punt 69 yards.
“We got the turnover on the first drive, but then the second drive they had a long drive, and we made some mistakes on the third drive with a shorter field,” said Tech defensive coordinator Ted Roof. “Those are the things that when you don’t have margin for error you’ve got to execute.
“I was proud of the way we responded and played the last three quarters . . . We’ve got to play better and we’re capable. We’ll build off the positives. We’re just not a football team that can give up a big play here and there and survive.”
The Jackets will be short staffed against this week.
Senior defensive tackle/end Pat Gamble, a starter, will miss his second consecutive game with a head injury. On offense, head coach Paul Johnson will be without starting wide receiver Micheal Summers, starting A-back Broderick Snoddy, and key reserve A-back Qua Searcy.
On paper, that leaves the offense shorter than the defense, and does nothing to alter the suggestion that the defense needs to carry its weight and perhaps more.
The Jackets may have spent more time than usual looking at tape of last year’s game against UNC, the last before Tech made schematic changes that favored more aggressive defense – and six wins over the final seven games.
“Something we’ve been emphasizing is being more physical on the perimeter,” White said. “Last year, they were more physical than us when blocking the perimeter and that’s why some of those screens and bubble plays broke loose.
“We know we’re going to try to throw the ball out there with the quick game, and they’re going to take deep shots.”