Positive Early Returns for the Jackets
By Paul Myerberg // Sep 15, 2011
Georgia Tech was 1-1 through two games last fall, thanks to an ugly loss to Kansas. Ugly pretty much sums it up: K.U. was terrible, not just in September but all season, and the then-No. 15 Yellow Jackets shouldn’t have lost that game nor several others in October and November. It’s clear that the bitter taste last season left in Georgia Tech’s mouth led to a winter, spring and summer of meaningful soul searching. The result? Through two games, you’ve seen a more polished, explosive and potent offense from Georgia Tech — a development few expected following another substantial roster overhaul after last season.
It’s a small sample size, and it’s not against premier competition, to put it lightly. Western Carolina’s an F.C.S. team, Middle Tennessee State isn’t good, but the Jackets have tried out a few new wrinkles to remarkable results. One new wrinkle: the forward pass.
Western Carolina 297 yards rushing, 365 passing
Middle Tennessee 382 yards rushing, 214 passing
The 214 yards passing against the Blue Raiders is the program’s fourth-highest output under Paul Johnson. It is more than the Jackets had in any one game in 2010 but a fairly large margin: add up the two best passing games, 130 yards against Wake Forest and 116 against N.C. State, and you only slightly pass Tech’s total against Middle Tennessee State.
Western Carolina? That was a thrashing. Those 365 yards through the air would have constituted a third of Tech’s total passing yardage in all of 2010; add up the top three performances — Wake, N.C. State and Kansas — and you’re still three yards shy of the Jackets’ single-game total.
Starting quarterback Tevin Washington and backup Synjyn Days threw for 260 yards — in the first half. That alone would be the second-most by a Tech quarterback under Johnson, trailing a 266-yard game in a win over Mississippi State in 2008.
Overall, Georgia Tech has put together games with 662 and 596 yards of total offense. That’s good for third nationally. The Jackets are third in rushing, which was expected. The Jackets are 23rd in passing, which was unexpected — Georgia is down there at 47th. What’s up is down, down is up, and I don’t know what to think anymore.
What gives? Well, let’s slow things down a bit. These were two bad teams. The Jackets were pedestrian offensively last fall, so expecting this sort of one-year jump is ridiculous — right? Consider this:
Johnson might be just trying things out, gauging his offense’s capabilities against the also-rans in September. That’s true. On the other hand, even if Johnson was just throwing darts at the wall he can’t help but be impressed by the way Washington, Days and his corps of receivers have excelled in the passing game. Even if Johnson hadn’t considered making the passing game a big part of the offense before, he is now.
Washington took his lumps in a major way down the stretch in 2010. He took over early in Tech’s Nov. 4 loss to Virginia Tech and started the rest of the way, losing two of his three starts, with the lone win coming over Duke. Clearly in over his head last fall, Washington’s painful starting experience has come in handy in 2011.
As noted, Tech was embarrassed by last year’s 6-7 finish. I don’t think that’s too strong a word: these were your defending A.C.C. champs, and while there were some holes along the offensive line and at receiver there was little reason to think the Jackets would take such a significant step back.
If there was a bit of complacency following 19 wins over two years, the 6-7 finish has jolted Tech back to life. The offense has become less predictable — no one expects the pass. Year two in the 3-4 under Al Groh has found the defense playing a little better, not dominating but doing well where it counts: 3.9 yards per play against Western Carolina, 5.3 against Middle Tennessee. Through two weeks, Tech is tied for 34th nationally in this category; it finished 69th in 2010.
The numbers don’t mean all that much when taking into account the competition, but they’re heartwarming signs for a team and program looking for a bounce-back campaign. The year really kicks into gear against Kansas: Tech can send a clear message by easily dispatching a confident team coming off a win over Northern Illinois. The year begins in earnest, however, on Sept. 24: North Carolina, followed by N.C. State, followed by Maryland and so on.
There’s still a lot of year to be played, in other words. And Tech hasn’t really proven anything, though they’ve looked good doing so. All we have to work of are two weeks: thus far, the returns for Tech have been overwhelmingly positive.
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