Oct. 27, 2015
It’s amazing what a win can do.
For Georgia Tech, the invigorating 22-16 win over No. 9 Florida State Saturday night could be a season-changer.
It’s the difference between the Jackets being 2-6, limping into Scott Stadium, a house of horrors — on Halloween, no less — to play Virginia, and 3-5 marching into, admittedly, a tough place to play but with confidence, a realistic goal of pulling to within a game of .500, and even going bowling, followed by the reward of a week off to lick their wounds.
“Like I said after [Saturday night’s] game, I felt like it was our turn to kind of catch a break. So we finally got one instead of them working the other way,” said head coach Paul Johnson at his weekly press conference. “Now hopefully we can take that and try to get some momentum and build on it. We’ve still got a deep hole to dig out of, but we’re in better shape than we were a week ago.”
“It always feels better to come off a win,” said quarterback Justin Thomas following Monday’s practice.
Tech knows it has a big date Saturday in Charlottesville, where the Jackets have won two of the last three meetings, but still are only 4-10-1 all-time. Plus, the game means as much to the Cavaliers, who have lost three of four and sit at 2-5.
Johnson feels his team should still feel the need to come out with the same sense of urgency they did against the Seminoles.
“They’ve got a bunch of guys that are pretty talented, and they’ve played a pretty good schedule as well and have been in most of the games,” Johnson said. “They’re a better team than people think.
“I sure hope there’s a sense of urgency. I hope we never lost it,” he added. “Their backs are to the wall too. This is probably a “draw a line in the sand” game for them. You’ve got to get ready for their best shot up there.”
The Jackets’ ability to take a shot yet keep charging has been astounding. Even on on Saturday, as the injuries kept on coming, the fife-and-drum corps simply kept coming back.
“The fourth corner was the star of the game,” said Johnson, referring to Lance Austin, whose 78-yard touchdown return of FSU kicker Roberto Aguyao’s blocked 56-yard field goal as time expired set off a wild celebration on Grant Field and entered the phrase “Miracle on Techwood Drive” into the Georgia Tech lexicon. Austin was rewarded by being named ACC Special Teams Player of the Week, while corner Jamal Golden took home ACC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
“Guys stepped up and they just kept playing,” Johnson added. “You know our guys have been pretty good about that, and I think it’s because we haven’t complained. I try not to dwell on it. If somebody asks me, I say all the time, ‘You’ve got guys hurt, nobody cares.’ And it’s an opportunity for somebody else to come in and play. Whoever went in just played.”
One player who would like to step up his play is quarterback Justin Thomas. Thomas, whose decision-making was called out by Johnson Monday morning, started off 1-for-5 against the Seminoles, with two interceptions, leading to 10 Florida State points as the ‘Noles led 13-3 in the second quarter.
But the picks fired Thomas up and inspired him to help turn the tide with 4:08 left in the half. On second-and-13 at his own three, he rolled out, sidestepped a rush in the end zone, stepped up and fired downfield to Ricky Jeune, who pulled in the pass for a 33-yard gain. Two plays later, on the option, Thomas rolled right, got the corner, and outran everyone down the sideline. It was 13-10 and the Jackets had life.
“I didn’t play that well,” said Thomas, who finished 4-for-10 for 67 yards, with the two picks, but also completed a huge 36-yard pass on fourth-and-six at the Jackets 41 to freshman Brad Stewart, which set up Harrison Butker’s game-tying field goal. “I didn’t play up to my own potential. We didn’t have to be in that situation at the end of the game.”
You know the rest.
Thomas, who also ran for 88 yards on 13 carries, would prefer not to have to do that again. He’d prefer the Jackets get out of the gate quickly and play downhill.
That preparation began Monday.
“We have to continue to do what we’re doing. You can’t let up,” said Thomas. “It was a big win but at the same time, we’re not where we need to be, not where we want to be. So we still have to go out there and play with the same intensity that we played with last week. We have to go out there and find a way.”
At the end of the rainbow — or at least the game Saturday — is a much-needed week off, coming after a grueling nine consecutive games to start to the season, a stretch Johnson hinted is simply too long.
But the Jackets realize that first they need to put in a week of work comparable to last week.
“It’s not this week,” said Thomas, with a laugh. “We have to prepare. We don’t want to go into the bye week on a bad note, so we have to come out prepared this weekend.”
For the Jackets, the magic number is four. With a win they will be 4-5, with three games to play, two wins from bowl eligibility.
“My message to the team will be, ‘Hey, we’ve got to try get number four,’” said Johnson. “We’ve got a bye week, and we know that, and I can promise you, you don’t want to have to sit on losing for two weeks because you don’t get to play for two weeks. So we’ve got to get a good plan and go up there and play.”