Sept. 20, 2017
Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
Say all you want about defensive backs and their short-term memories, add the suggestion that the past doesn’t necessarily influence the future, and throw it all in the trash because Georgia Tech (1-1) will carry painfully vivid recollections of the last two meetings with Pitt (1-2) into Saturday’s ACC opener against the Panthers.
Nobody can forget the Yellow Jackets’ dropping the past two games against these guys, last season on a 31-yard field goal as time expired and in 2015 on a record 56-yarder with 1:11 left on the clock at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Nobody in Old Gold and White will miss graduated Pitt kicker Chris Blewitt, for sure. Yet it’s virtually certain that the Jackets remember him. He alone has helped them dial in on their preparation.
“It definitely has an impact on us because we lost on a field goal the last two years,” explained defensive back Lance Austin. “One thing we’ve been harping on is just finish, make the little things happen. It’s definitely in the back of our minds but we can’t harp on it too much. We’ve got to think about this game.”
There, what he said: “It’s definitely in the back of our minds.”
Corey Griffin would have you believe he forgot.
“Short-term memory. I’m a DB,” he first said on Tuesday. “Move on to the next play.”
The senior safety’s prank won’t pass any litmus test.
Last season at Heinz Field, the Jackets were tightening the screws down on victory when the Panthers faced third-and-9 from their own 31-yard line with a little more than four minutes left when quarterback Nathan Peterman let fly over the middle.
The laser was aimed for grass, short of Pitt tight end Scott Orndorff on a crossing route.
Griffin didn’t quite know exactly how deep behind him Orndorff was, however, while scampering in zone coverage to where Peterman went with the ball.
So he did what defensive backs do and he went for it. Leaving his feet, he jumped and got fingers on the ball.
“I was staring down the quarterback the entire time so I saw where he was going with the ball but I kind of broke on it late and I couldn’t get both hands up,” Griffin recalled. “It came off my hand and . . . “
That tipped the ball up, deeper.
And into Orndorff’s hands.
He went 74 yards to score and Blewitt’s PAT tied the game.
Tech was soon stopped on a fourth-and-1 run and the Panthers drove to win.
The Jackets are saying the right things, that last year’s result doesn’t mean anything about Saturday’s game. But they remember. And that matters.
That this is Tech’s ACC opener matters more.
The Jackets are more focused on slowing Pitt’s offense, which loves to deploy multiple formation shifts, motion and the speedy and elusive Quadree Henderson.
They’re not looking at the Panthers’ scores. Pitt has beaten Youngstown State 28-21 in overtime and fallen at Penn State, 33-14, and at home to Oklahoma State, 59-21.
The latter two teams are ranked in the top 10, so it’s the last two GT-Pitt games that figure to say more about what the Jackets can expect from the Panthers on Saturday. However, Tech head coach Paul Johnson isn’t planning on his team playing off of the results of the last two contests against Pitt.
“You don’t know. I hope not . . . ” Johnson said. “It’s been those kinds of games. Could be . . . who knows? We’ve just got to cut out the mental mistakes and the errors and when we’ve got the chance to hit big plays, we’ve got to hit them.”
The Jackets will also seek to stop the Panthers’ big plays.
Senior Max Browne started Pitt’s first three games, but there is speculation that sophomore Ben DiNucci, who is more elusive, will get the nod Saturday.
Either way, Tech is focused on not letting the Panthers’ pre-snap commotions throw them off their game.
“We went as far back as the 2015 game and last year just to see some of the things they’ve done in the past, some of the plays that they’ve made,” said senior defensive end KeShun Freeman. “You just have to be disciplined in everything . . . and know that if you’re going to check something, check it.
“If not, play your keys and do what you have to do because they’re definitely going to throw a lot of eye candy.”
Johnson and players lament having already lost a game without playing. Last Saturday’s game at UCF was canceled in the wake of Hurricane Irma, and that left the Jackets with one less opportunity to win.
More critically, conference play is here. And Saturday’s Pitt game won’t be an extension of the last two.
“It’s a very important game,” Austin said, “but . . . we can’t look forward, we can’t look backward.”
Griffin’s not, he just about swears. This game’s big, but not because of the past.
“Any time you go into ACC play, it’s huge . . . You can’t really dwell on it. I know I said it was probably going to haunt me, but that was at the heat of the moment,” the senior safety said. “I totally forgot about it until you guys brought it up . . . Everything is still up for grabs right now in terms of our goals.”