Oct. 30, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
It was about 20 minutes after the delirium had subsided, and although all of his teammates were out of their gear, Tevin Washington was still wearing his – minus his helmet – and he was just about as deliriously excited as he gets.
It’s hard to tell with Georgia Tech’s quarterback. He grins a little more when he’s amped, but other than that . . . there’s not much change in tone or inflection. This is an even-keel young man we’re talking about, and on Saturday that critical personality trait was central to the Yellow Jackets’ biggest regular-season win in years.
Washington had played poorly recently relative to the way he played early in the season, and if he’d let go to his head all the bull feathers that were dumped on him because of it, then there’s NO WAY that the Yellow Jackets would’ve beaten No. 6 Clemson, 31-17, Saturday night in sold-out Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Yet after they lowered the goal posts at the north end of the field, with athletic director Dan Radakovich on the field trying to do his part to make sure that nobody got hurt, after students stormed the pasture, after all of his teammates had taken off most or all of their gear, Washington still wore all of his.
Cornered in a stairwell just off the area where head coach Paul Johnson, Washington and other players had done their post-game interviews, he tried to convince a few of us that nothing had changed. He was the same ol’, same ol’.
Come on, Tevin!
You don’t have to act. Tell us you were a little amped. Tell us you meditated this week. Don’t be afraid to let us know you had a come-to-papa talk with . . . somebody. Maybe you did a séance?
How does a guy go out and set a school record for rushing yards by a quarterback (176), and rip off the two longest runs of his career (56 and 46 yards) – against the No. 6 team in the country without, you know, summoning something extra?
Nope. Tevin wasn’t biting.
“My confidence never changed,” he said.
Save one play – where Washington underthrew a potential touchdown pass only to have it picked – the Tech quarterback was superb.
Tech was, too, and the fact that Jackets (7-2, 4-2 ACC) looked like a very different squad than the one that flailed the past two weeks at Miami and Virginia had plenty to do with Washington.
But not everything.
Johnson was right in the post-game to suggest that it wasn’t just his quarterback who’d spit the bit. But so often, the game starts with the quarterback, especially – of course – with the team has the ball.
No matter how hard we – this being a crowd of AJC columnist Jeff Schultz, ESPN.com blogger Heather Dinich and myself – tried to get Washington to admit that he’d changed something, he wouldn’t play.
Washington claimed he just kept going about his business.
Maybe he drank more Muscle Milk this week or something, but the Tech QB ran the offense far more authoritatively Saturday night.
I’ll say this: Tech banged the middle against Clemson repeatedly both with B-backs David Sims and Preston Lyons (who alternated possessions for the first time this season) and Washington, and the Tigers did little if anything to adjust.
Frequently, Clemson’s defensive tackles were split outside the Tech guards and the middle linebacker was six yards or so off the line of scrimmage. So, Johnson kept dialing up the gut plays.
They worked. Tech rushed for 383 yards, and partly because the rest of the Clemson defense got in the habit of crashing the middle to plug the dam, the Jackets’ perimeter game was the best it’s been in weeks.
Orwin Smith scored two short touchdowns on sweeps, a slew of Jackets made critical cut blocks on the perimeter, and save a few possessions here and there, Al Groh’s defense again looked like a group that has figured out what’s what.
Clemson’s offense, injured running back or not, is sick.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd is really good, and those wide receivers – especially Sammy Watkins – are fabulous.
But Washington and his mates – on both sides of the ball and even on special teams – were of a different mind Saturday.
There were plenty of examples.
Defensive back Jemea Thomas, who had a fumble recovery, a huge interception, a forced fumble and several other large plays, was sublime on defense. And while the Jackets had trouble slowing the Clemson passing game in the second half, they stole the ball often enough (four times) to blunt one of the nation’s top offenses.
It was clear to Washington early and often that something was different, even if (he said) he wasn’t. Guard Omoregie Uzzi was not quite going berserk in the huddle, but was . . . different. A team that needed some spark, somebody to step up, speak up and jack up . . . had several willing volunteers.
“Everybody stepped up their game, and everyone wanted to be more accountable for their job,” Washington said. “I know Uzzi took a different approach. We were at home. We lost the last two. He was more vocal for one. Two, he was talking up the other guys. He made sure everybody was on the same page.”
Johnson spoke of his team playing with more emotion, more intensity.
Folks, even though the Tech coach has said that rah-rah speeches are over-rated, emotion and energy will always be a big part of football regardless of where the energy comes from.
Tech found energy. Radakovich succeeded, sort of, in keeping anyone from being injured as the goal post came down by design (although an official got absolutely trucked by a fan just a moment before the metal folded).
And the Jackets succeeded in re-discovering their mojo.
Number 13 said he was just being 13, and this time it happened to be lucky.
The Jackets won, and they’re still very much alive in the ACC Coastal Division race. As Johnson said, “It makes the next game that much bigger.”
The coach told his team that in the locker room before meeting with media types. He also told them they have Monday off.
Washington, like his teammates, loved that news.
But you would hardly know it to hear him talk. He just doesn’t get real excited, and ego does not appear to be part of his equation.
The young man was, after all, patient enough even after the stairwell interrogation to trudge to another part of the building to tape an interview with Dinich.
If Washington were one swung by emotion and vitriol, that never would’ve happened.
And, if he were easily swayed by emotion or a disappointment here and there, he might’ve run Tech’s offense in panicked fashion Saturday.
He didn’t, and the Jackets won – somewhat easily, in fact.
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