The last time Georgia Tech was coming off an outright ACC championship (in 1991), the Jackets lost their opener to Penn State, wallowed through the regular season (7-5) and finished the season in the Aloha Bowl (a low-level consolation prize, coast line and palm trees notwithstanding).
Program direction was difficult to gauge, particularly after Bobby Ross left to seek paradise with the San Diego Chargers.
If you were hoping for some hint about what to expect from Tech this season based on Saturday’s season opener, don’t. They played one of the lesser States (South Carolina’s, not Penn’s). These games are not season tone-setters. Opponents such as South Carolina State aren’t scheduled for answers, they’re scheduled for exercise.
In that sense, mission accomplished. The Jackets won easily, 41-10. There was no huge celebration. Players ran onto the field amid no reminders of their ACC championship hanging in Bobby Dodd Stadium, and they probably walked off of it without any tremendous sense of accomplishment.
But maybe that’s a good thing. It says something about an elevated expectation level.
“We won 41-10, so we’ve got to be a little bit happy,” coach Paul Johnson said. “But at the same time, you know you can play better, and it’s my job to point that out to them, and I did. They know. They’re not dumb. They’ll watch the tape. They’ll see. Some of those guys will be embarrassed.”
Paul Johnson won 20 games in his first two seasons, more than any Tech coach in history. Were you under the mistaken belief that would mellow him?
He is, by his own admission, “a cup half-empty guy.” That’s OK. If a coach buries an FCS (formerly Division I-AA) team and then declares, “And next, we look to take over the Baltics,” there’s probably something wrong.
The second game (at Kansas) will be more difficult than the first. The third game (at North Carolina) should be more difficult than the second.
The assumption is that neither Kansas nor North Carolina will open the game with an onside kick, as South Carolina State did. How’s that for desperation in a season opener? The strategy failed. Tech recovered the ball at the 42 and drove for a touchdown in four plays.
Johnson on the opponent’s strategy: “I thought it was great. It gave us a shorter field.”
There was a time, not long ago, on North Avenue when any lopsided win, even over an FCS team, would be celebrated with a parade. This one caused the head coach to crack on his team’s deficiencies.
We saw a Jackets’ offense that can still run (372 yards, six touchdowns) and can’t pass (1-for-6, 8 yards, one interception). We saw a 3-4 defense (now tutored by Al Groh) that more often than not was in the right position to make plays but missed too many tackles (the visitors rushed for 178 yards).
Johnson’s postgame analysis included words such as “mistakes” and sloppy” and “focus” (as in lost). When he was asked about the game’s “chippy” play, he responded: “We should’ve used some of that effort playing a little harder and not be so chippy.”
Quarterback Joshua Nesbitt now runs the triple-option with near perfection. South Carolina State was determined to take away the Jackets’ B-back, Anthony Allen. So Nesbitt often kept the ball. He carried 16 times for 130 yards and three touchdowns. Two of those scores came on fourth down, including a fourth-and-three from the Bulldogs’ 35 on that opening drive.
But throwing the ball, he struggled. When somebody asked Johnson about Nesbitt’s passing, he joked: “Oooh. Nice, wasn’t it?” Ouch.
Nesbitt’s interception was first a drop by receiver Tyler Melton (the ball bounced off his chest). But when a quarterback goes 1-for-6 for 8 yards, it’s not all bad luck. “We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Nesbitt said.
They all do. But dissatisfaction after a 41-10 win isn’t a bad thing.
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