Oct. 23, 2015
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
If it’s possible to go back in time, Georgia Tech won’t have to fiddle much with the way-back machine dial before greeting No. 9 Florida State in Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Saturday, the Yellow Jackets would like to go back exactly one year – to when they began to play like thieves.
In the eighth game of 2014, Tech recovered six fumbles at Pitt on the way to a 56-28 win that launched a 6-1 season closeout. The Jackets stole the ball 19 times in that stretch, scoring four defensive touchdowns to boot.
Crimes like those sure would help against the Seminoles (6-0, 4-0 ACC), whose only turnover this entire season came in a season-opening win over Texas State. They haven’t coughed up the ball in five games since.
There may be no better way to slow FSU running back Dalvin Cook – who is second in the nation with 159.2 rushing yards per game – than to steal his ball.
Tech defensive coordinator Ted Roof wasn’t kidding when he said, “That’ll be a big factor in the football game. We haven’t gotten the numbers that we had last year and that’s something we’ve got to do a better job of.”
The Jackets this time a year ago wrenched their defensive philosophy, blitzing and pressing up more frequently in covering receivers.
That’s always a risk-reward method where mistakes may open the door for big plays by an opposing offense, but may payoff when the extra pressure forces offensive miscues.
FSU’s offense hasn’t made any of those mistakes – not one — this season in 394 plays. The Noles’ only turnover was a fumbled punt.
Quarterback Everett Golson has thrown 177 passes without a pick, and obviously he nor Cook or any other offensive player has lost a fumble.
Cook’s numbers – he’s averaging 8.7 yards per carry, and has rushed for 955 yards and 10 touchdowns on 40 fewer carries than the nation’s leading rusher, LSU sophomore Leonard Fournette – are borderline mind-boggling.
That stingy ball control is uncanny.
“That’s pretty amazing,” Roof said. “They spread it around; they’re not turning the ball over . . . so we’ve got our work cut out for us. That’s why we practice.”
As the Jackets (2-5, 0-5) seek to upset the Noles’ and their cart, they’d like to break not only FSU’s stingy streak, but also burn at least two footnotes.
Tech’s only loss in the second half of last season came when the Seminoles – then defending national champions – broke the Jackets’ takeaway trend in a 37-35 win in the ACC Championship Game. That was the only game all season in which FSU did not suffer a turnover. That’s what it took to beat Tech.
The Seminoles also beat Tech this week 20 years ago, 42-10 in Tallahassee on Oct. 21, 1995, to win their ACC-record 29th consecutive conference game. A win in Bobby Dodd Stadium would tie that mark for FSU.
As Roof says, the Jackets have work.
Cook is slippery, slithery, shifty and fast, yet the 5-foot-11, 202-pounder from Miami is more than a sports car in uniform. He’s using his pads and power to lead the nation in average yards after contact, ripping off 4.5 per after first being hit. That’s much better than any other back in the nation (Baylor’s Shock Linwood, 3.53) and even better than the bigger Fournette (3.05).
Golson has clicked beyond imagination after transferring from Notre Dame, where, ironically, turnovers triggered his decline in status with the Irish.
As good as Cook was last week against Louisville when he ran for 163 yards, Golson was the general out in front while completing 26-of-38 for 372 yards and three touchdowns as FSU overcame a 7-6 halftime deficit by scoring touchdowns on their first five second-half possessions to win 42-21.
Like his predecessor, former Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, he tends to wake up at halftime. Golson’s thrown nine of his 11 touchdown passes after intermission, completing 69.6 percent of his passes in the final two quarters.
He has a new favorite target.
Junior wide receiver Kermit Whitfield in the past two games, against Miami and Louisville, caught 16 passes for 267 yards and a score. He has 29 receptions for the season despite starting just once (while setting FSU records for kickoff returns).
The Jackets actually have more takeaways through seven games this season (13) than through seven last (10), but haven’t been changing games with them. Their only defensive score came when Adam Gotsis plopped upon a fumble at Clemson.
Saturday would be a great time to go back in time, and reverse another trend to avoid getting Cook-ed again. The FSU back rushed for 177 yards and caught five passes for 43 yards against the Jackets in the ACC Championship Game.
The Jackets know him well, and they want to take his ball away.
“There’s a very fine line between winning losing. We’re on the wrong side, and we’ve got to find a way to get to the other side,” Roof said. “[Cook] is a great running back, one of the best in the country. It’s not just him, either . . . They’re really good, but we’re excited about the opportunity.”