Oct. 28, 2015
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
Georgia Tech left a lasting impression the last time out, but the Yellow Jackets’ upset of Florida State is not going to automatically win Saturday at Virginia.
All the energy and focus that Tech hit the Seminoles with, particularly as the defense made life miserable for FSU, is not guaranteed to show up again simply because it oozed out of the Jackets’ pores last Saturday. On the plus side, players now know what they can be, the way they can play – in Bobby Dodd Stadium.
“When you win . . . you’re glad to win and appreciative, but at the same time you’ve got to be self-critical,” said defensive coordinator Ted Roof. “I just remember standing up [in the press box as Lance Austin returned a blocked field goal for the win], that place was shaking. Our fans were absolutely fantastic.”
That might not qualify as a bit of a rub, yet Tech has not yet remembered to pack everything for road trips.
The trick on Halloween for the Jackets (3-5, 1-4 ACC) will be to sustain the passion and attention to detail, and take all of it with them. Tech is 0-3 away from Bobby Dodd, allowing 35.6 points per game – albeit against Notre Dame, Duke and Clemson squads that are a combined 19-2 and ranked Nos. 9, 22/18 and 3/6.
Virginia (2-5, 1-2) is not the same caliber, and the Cavs’ offense has been one of the least impressive in the nation.
They’re ranked No. 96 nationally in total offense (356 yards per game), No. 65 in passing (230.6), No. 109 (out of 127) in rushing (125.4) and turnover prone.
With three-time NFL offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild calling the shots, however, Virginia makes an opposing defense think. Tech’s attention to detail will again be important, as big quarterback Matt Johns (6-feet-5, 210 pounds) tailback Taquan Mizzell and the Cavs are so multiple.
“They ran for over 200 yards [in last Saturday’s 26-13 loss at North Carolina], and they’re really good in the screen game,” Roof said of the Cavs. “There’s a lot of balance there. We’ve got to find ways to try take the ball away, or get stops in the red zone or on third downs. Start with how you take away the run game.
“With the motion and shifting, and personnel changes . . . it’s an NFL system. They’ve got guys all over the place. You never know where they’re going to be; it’s not where they start, it’s where they end up.”
Perhaps fortunately, the Cavs are among the most generous givers in the NCAA. They’re among the very worst teams in turnover margin (-11) with 13 interceptions thrown and four fumbles lost against just six takeaways.
Mizzell, a 5-10, 195-pound junior, can be a handful.
The former five-star recruit leads Virginia in rushing and receiving, and his numbers as a receiver are actually more impressive.
He’s caught 41 passes already, for 466 yards, and with 109 career receptions he was the third-fastest Virginia player in school history to 100 career catches.
Between his effectiveness in the screen game, and all the personnel changes, motion and formation shifts, Tech’s safeties are going to be busy.
Now seems like a good time to hyper-engage the back end.
Senior Jamal Golden was superb against FSU, not only because he led the Jackets with a game-high nine tackles and an end zone interception to receive the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week award along with the ACC Defensive Back of the Week honor, but because of the way he otherwise led.
Tech was wrecked by injuries, particularly in the secondary, and yet the Jackets kept knitting themselves together.
Golden was all the more vocal after cornerback D.J. White was injured in practice last week and did not play, backup Step Durham didn’t make it to game’s end, safety Chris Milton was injured, and his chief backup, A.J. Gray was as well.
“We had some guys in there who were in meetings but didn’t take practice reps,” Roof explained. “Helping get Shawn lined up, and [Golden] tackled better and made a big play in the red zone for us. Jamal will be the first one to tell you all those are team awards. That’s the kind of guy he is. He’s selfless, not selfish.”
White is likely to return to action this week, and Tech is hopeful for other injured players as well.
Regardless of who plays and who does not, the Jackets need to sustain and pack their mo-jo.
Head coach Paul Johnson told them as much in the locker room after the 22-16 win over Florida State. He was filmed by ACC Digital Network saying, “Now, what we’re going to do is we’re going to take it, we’re going to build on it, we’re going to run the table out.”
Roof’s on board, and that’s why he didn’t spend an abundance of time once the practice week began slapping the backs of players.
“Some guys, you never know when your number is going to be called. You’ve got to prepare like you’re going to play because when you’re number’s called . . . you’ve got to be ready to play,” he said. “The focus is on building off that, to get better, just like when the outcome is not what you want.
“It was good for us to play really well on a big stage, but that’s in the rear view.”