Until Saturday, Georgia Tech could take inspiration from the faint hope of an ACC title. Following the Yellow Jackets’ 47-31 loss to Clemson, they’re still not mathematically eliminated, but it might be wise to start looking for other sources of motivation.
“You’d rather be winning going into a bye, but clearly, the first half of the season’s not what we hoped for, not what we wanted,” coach Paul Johnson said. “So we’ve got to try to atone for that, reset some goals, reset some things and see if we can’t come back and do a little better.”
If the Jackets are looking for suggestions for objectives, they could pursue the following, some more measurable, some less so.
Improve pass defense. Weak pass rush, soft coverage, poor pursuit angles and broken tackles have tacked on dozens of yards to Tech’s total defense, which now stands 90th out of 120 BCS teams at 431.0 yards per game. The Jackets’ pass rush was more forceful Saturday, but Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd was still able to escape pressure or scramble downfield for drive-extending runs, not to mention throw for a career-high 397 yards.
One metric that needs improving is third-down conversion percentage, an area Johnson wanted results from before the season started. Opponents are extending drives on 47.8 percent of third downs, 103rd in the country. Even becoming average – Rutgers is 60th at 37.7 percent – would be a giant improvement. Tech’s rate the past three games has been 67.4 percent.
Restore confidence. Given Tech’s repeated failures with its third-down defense and its misfires at crucial times on offense and on special teams, something is amiss.
“We’ve just got to find a way to get the guys to believe in themselves and keep going hard,” A-back Orwin Smith said. “It’s not over.”
While hardly a given at this point, beating Boston College on Oct. 20 would end Tech’s three-game losing streak and return some confidence. For that game, Tech will be at home, with two weeks’ rest against a team that could well be 1-5.
The Jackets might do well to remember that they’re still doing some things well. Tech is averaging 331.0 rushing yards, which is third in the country and above the school-record average.
Win in the fourth quarter. Last season, Tech was outscored 117-73 in the fourth quarter, including 48-14 in the final six games. This season, the Jackets have been outscored 71-48 in the fourth, including 17-3 Saturday. Of Tech’s 48, 28 were scored against Presbyterian and Virginia, when the Jackets had already secured victories. In both seasons, it’s the only quarter Tech has been outscored.
The Jackets have played well enough to hold fourth-quarter leads against Virginia Tech, Miami and Clemson, but somehow constrained enough on both sides to have not protected them.
“I consider it bad luck when you’re doing the right things,” Smith said of breaks going against Tech. “But we’re still making mistakes. It’s self-inflicted, the reason we’re losing.”
Get Vad Lee more playing time. Johnson has planned to play the backup quarterback more, plans that have gotten scuttled the past two games when Johnson has found it necessary to keep Tevin Washington in the game to have a chance to win.
Tech may not play as hot an offense for the rest of the season, which should give the Jackets’ offense more breathing room to accommodate snaps for Lee.
Qualify for a bowl game, win bowl game. One of the most concrete ways that this season can still be re-claimed would be to end the seven-game bowl losing streak. At this point, it most likely won’t be a dream ending for the 2012 season, but a win is a win.
Beat Georgia. The ultimate season-saver.