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The Future Begins Saturday

Oct. 14, 2011

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

A case could be made that Georgia Tech today is approaching what last year was the end of the line, the point where the Yellow Jackets collectively did what they needed to do only to then separate themselves from their senses routinely thereafter.

The Jackets whipped Middle Tennessee State 42-14 for their fifth win in seven games, and although there had been prior signs of loose glue, only over the final six games did all the gears and pistons go flying asunder. Tech lost five of those games.

Now 6-0 for the first time since 1966, this team has appeared more cohesive than its predecessor to where similar fate is unimaginable. This team has positioned itself to where players, coaches or fans ought not worry about collapse but rather lust over opportunities presented.

Namely, the 12th-ranked team in the nation has a real shot at playing in the ACC Championship and who knows what else. The road will be tough. The back half of Tech’s schedule is a march across the desert with minimal stores compared to the lush stroll through rain forest that was the first half. Next week: at Miami; then comes No. 8 Clemson. Virginia Tech, ranked No. 17, arrives after that, and after the Jackets travel to play one of the better Duke teams in years before the Dawgs come to Atlanta Thanksgiving weekend.

If you’re thinking BCS points, it sure looks like there will be some to be taken in coming weeks.

“Any conference game on the road is tough and then you come back after playing a Virginia team, you go to Miami, where we haven’t had a lot of success the last two years against them,” said head coach Paul Johnson. Then you’ve got Clemson and Virginia Tech. So that’s a pretty good string of games right there in a row. Then you have to go to Duke, who is playing much better. I just don’t look ahead. That’s the best way to do it.”

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves even if coach did for a moment or so.

Johnson, after all, said he is not into the predictive sciences, er, dart-throwing exercises.

We learned that this week when he was asked about the Jackets relative to preseason predictions, and certainly not predictive journalism.

“It’s like everybody’s got an opinion and they have short memories,” the coach said. “It’s like I tell our guys all the time, guys who are patting you on the back and telling you what a great job you’re doing, as soon as you lose a game are going to be telling you that you’re awful. It’s just the nature of it.”

Predictions matter less than the fact the Cavaliers (3-2) are coming off a bye.

The bristly Johnson, who surfaces quickly, is quick to dismiss the notion that opponents with an extra week to prepare for his unique offense have a disproportionate advantage.

“The extra time is probably an advantage preparing for any offense,” he said, splicing logic with emotion. “The more days you get, the better you should be prepared no matter what you do.”

Virginia coach Mike London wasn’t sad to have had the extra time.

“There’s no doubt it gives you an opportunity to have a couple practices, film sessions, walk thrus on your upcoming opponent,” the Hoos’ coach said. “Obviously this particular game, because of the option attack and also 3-4 defense, hopefully it provides a little bit of extra preparation for that.”

Reality may be somewhere in the middle.

Extra time surely benefits anyone who has it. For sake of cold numbers, Tech is 5-8 under Johnson when an FBS opponent has more than one week to prepare for the Jackets. That number is not comforting, nor is the fact that when Johnson’s team won in Charlottesville in 2009, it was the first time Tech won up there since 1990, when current Virginia wide receivers coach Shawn Moore (interesting bio here) was quarterbacking the top-ranked Cavs.

Virginia has interesting storylines.

The Cavs play two quarterbacks, sophomore Michael Rocco and freshman David Watford. They have a top-25 defense (modest schedule to date noted here). Eight starters returned from last year’s team on each side of the ball, 16 total. Tailback Perry Jones caught a career-high seven passes in a game recently, and wide receiver Kris Burd is averaging six receptions per game. Of his 30 receptions, 22 have gone for first downs. Kevin Parks is the eighth-leading freshman rusher in the nation, spelling Jones to the tune of 70.5 yards per game.

Plus, there’s this: the Virginia offensive line goes 6-6, 310; 6-7, 306; 6-4, 285; 6-6, 295; and 6-6,335 from left to right.

That’s enormity, and Jones and Parks will not be easy to see; they’re each 5-8. That’s like Pac Men behind ogres of the Armies of Mordor. Now, we delve into strategics . . .

London noted Maryland’s success slowing Tech’s offense last week, and everybody with a brain who witnessed that, seems to realize that forcing Tech’s quarterback into wrongful decisions is a good idea. Such a novel strategy.

“I think part of it is that rather than letting [Tech’s] slot backs and the running backs wreak havoc, if you’re going to gamble maybe as Maryland did a little . . . you gamble on letting the quarterback carry the ball,” the Virginia coach said.

Common sense says that Virginia wants Tevin Washington carrying the ball a lot again because, well, among other reasons (see below) even Johnson said last week that his quarterback should have carried it less (than 32 times).

The Cavs are second in the ACC and 14th in the nation in tackles for lost yardage per game (7.8). That hasn’t been a big problem this season for the Jackets, but Washington has been on the hook for 67 of the Jackets’ 108 lost yards.

Washington is averaging 3.3 yards per carry this season. All other Jackets have combined to average 7.8. London noted that, too, BTW, which is what made me look it up.

Virginia wants the ball in the hands of the Tech QB. Johnson wants it out, at least more often.

The Golden Tornado coach (old Tech history; look it up), says – like all coaches do — that he doesn’t read or pay attention to accounts of his team. Said he doesn’t know who predicts what but for the occasions when somebody points it out to him. Eh, whatever.

“I don’t want to make too big a deal out of [what’s written and said about his team ahead of time],” Johnson said. “I might have said in passing to the guys, `Nobody thinks we’re worth a crap.’ But it’s not like we go in and say, ‘Wow, Ken picked us to lose.’ ‘Matt picked us to win.’ We don’t get into all that stuff.”

I don’t know much, but I take that to mean the main man likes me better than Sugiura, whom I happen to think is doing a fine, fine job for the AJC. I’ve been wrong before, though, and I’m not going to tell you what part of the previous sentence I’m more likely to not be right about. Sometimes, you know, sometimes you don’t.

Who could have predicted that as Johnson left Tuesday press conference and tripped over a power cord nearly to fall before catching himself that he would seize the moment.

Oh, what a quick wit that man has. “Good thing that wasn’t [targeted Tech staff member of the day] or a lesser athlete,” the coach said. Bet that staff member was motivated some way or another by that comment.

Don’t kid yourself when it comes to the idea of motivation.

Matter of fact, Washington, who will be key today, might be amped more if Johnson hasn’t convinced him to ignore all that is written and said. Mike London, after all, repeatedly called him Kevin.

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