Sept. 11, 2016
Jon Cooper | The Good Word –
Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of football coaches and what kinds of things they work on after they close the doors of their two-plus-hour practices?
Georgia Tech showed at least one of those things on Saturday afternoon. The play, a fake punt, may have saved the day.
The Yellow Jackets’ home opener turned out to be a 35-10 laugher but there was a moment when there was anything but levity at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Just inside of seven minutes remained in the third quarter with Tech leading, 21-10, but the Yellow Jackets defense had been unable to get the Bears offense off the field, allowing a 17-play drive that lasted 8:25 to open the second half.
The defense stiffened and held the Bears to a field goal but any relief was short-lived.
Preferring a time-consuming, ball-control drive to answer, Georgia Tech’s offense could gain only nine yards and appeared on the verge of going three-and-out.
Giving the ball right back to the Bears, who on the day gained 320 yards of total offense and ran more plays than the Jackets (68-62 — including the 17 they had just reeled off) would have been disastrous, even with the stout nature of the defense, which head coach Paul Johnson praised for its bend-but-don’t-break fortitude.
“We needed to get another possession,” said senior linebacker Chase Alford, who would turn out to be the focal point of the fake. “Coach said, `Run it.’ So we made some really good blocks and we were able to get a first down.”
On fourth-and-one at its own 31, the punt team lined up, but there was an option. It’s actually one that’s there quite frequently.
“The thing that I’ve always liked to do with that stuff, I always want to have one ‘live’ up,” Johnson said. “A lot of times,we will call it but if they don’t line up in the right alignment, we just check out of it. That was the call. It was a green punt. If it’s there, you do it. If it’s not there you ‘Omaha’ out. We thought it was going to be there, off the film, and it was.”
While senior punter Ryan Rodwell prepared for his first kick of the day, Alford, the left end of the second tier of three blockers in front of Aasen, got in position. Alford took the direct snap, ran right and, led by a crushing block by Mikell Lands-Davis, put his head down and bulled forward for 22 yards.
The play put the Jackets in business at the Mercer 48.
“We do punt almost every day. All the way back since fall camp, we’ve been doing it. So we’ve got a lot of reps in it,” Alford said. “I was in that position before, last year, on a rainy day. It was a lot better today, it was hot out there and the ball wasn’t going to be wet like the Clemson game last year, So it wasn’t too bad.”
As in the second quarter at Clemson last Oct. 10, when Alford gained nine yards on fourth-and-seven, the play worked to perfection. Also as at Clemson, the Jackets took advantage of the new life, taking the ball into the end zone.
That successful fake punt was a boost of adrenaline for quarter back Matthew Jordan, who admitted he and the entire offer were caught off-guard by the fake.
“I wanted to get in there because it didn’t go too good on the three-and-out,” he said. “I was like, `Yes! Let’s go. We’ve got another shot.'”
Seven plays later, Jordan took the ball the final yard to extend the Jackets’ lead to 27-10 and, for all intents and purposes, extinguish Mercer’s comeback bid.
“I think Coach made a good call,” said center Freddie Burden. “The offense was mad that we got stopped. [After the fake,] we just went down and handled business.”
So did the Jackets, who the rest of the way blocked a field goal, forced a three-and-out and, finally, allowed the Bears to get no closer than the Tech 42 on the game’s final drive.
“I would hope that we would have played better but we won, 35-10,” said Johnson. “We’ve got a lot of room to improve, we’ve got a lot of things to get better at and it’s a process. Hopefully, we’ll keep working and we’ll get better.”
A lot of that work will come behind closed doors at practice.