LAWRENCE, Kan. – In the final game before opening the defense of its ACC championship, Georgia Tech missed tackles, missed assignments, dropped passes, roughed the kicker, roughed the quarterback, certainly roughed its own fan base, shanked a punt 13 yards, seem to float in and out of consciousness against a team that a week ago was dropped by North Dakota State and looked so bad on defense that one was tempted to ask, “So, anybody have Dave Wommack’s phone number?”
Forget the question of whether the Yellow Jackets are ready for next Saturday’s ACC opener against North Carolina. They’re not. The only question is: How deep is the hole?
“There’s nothing magic I can say, like, ‘Abracadabra, kazaam,’ and it’s going to be fixed,” coach Paul Johnson said. “You just have to get better.”
The Jackets just suffered the worst loss of the Johnson era. Projected to win by two touchdowns, they lost 28-25 on Saturday to a Kansas team that a week before was dropped by North Dakota State 6-3.
Fortunately, North Dakota State isn’t also on Tech’s schedule.
Humiliation was well represented on both sides of the ball. Even Johnson’s vaunted offense struggled. The Jackets scored one touchdown in their last nine possessions.
But the problems really start with the one area on Tech’s team that figured to improve this season, and the one area that absolutely had to: defense.
When Johnson fired Wommack and hired Al Groh, he had no illusions that Tech suddenly would morph into Alabama. He just figured the Jackets would be better than Alabama-Birmingham. Hasn’t happened.
Tech continues to miss tackles and blow assignments. The middle of the defense looks soft against the run, even going back to last week’s game against South Carolina State (178 yards rushing) . When Kansas went to a no-huddle early in the game, watching Tech’s players was like looking at a kicked fire ant hill.
The Jayhawks scored touchdowns on two of their first three possessions. They converted four of their first five third-down situations. It would have been five out of six, if not for a dropped pass. They had a freshman running back, James Sims, rush for 101 yards. They had a receiver, Daymond Patterson, with seven catches for 85 yards and a touchdown.
So much for the Groh effect.
To what extent this can be attributed to a slow transition to Groh’s 3-4 and how much of it is simply bad play can’t be certain.
“You’ve got to get off blocks,” Johnson said. “Sooner or later, it can’t all be the scheme.”
True enough. But who takes the fall for players coming out flat (linebacker Kyle Jackson: “We didn’t look like we were ready to play. We came out kind of dull.”)? Or failing in basics like making a tackle?
“I’m in charge of it,” Groh said. “If there’s any finger to be pointed, it’s at me.”
Groh said the Jackets have practiced enough against the no-huddle, so “to say that was the issue would be a cop-out.”
He said of the 3-4 scheme: “It is what it is. We’ve made the transition. We’re playing the defense. We just have to play it well enough. You’re not going to be competitively tough if you just start making excuses.”
When asked if Kansas — who managed only a field goal in 12 possessions against North Dakota State — is a team that should score four touchdowns against the Jackets, Groh got a little testy.
“That’s fantasy football. I just deal with what happened today,” he said.
But it’s not fantasy — Kansas really did score only three points.
Groh: “That was then. This is now. That’s not the game coaches play. Coaches play the game that’s played today. The rest is talk radio, those guys who have all the answers.”
If Groh has the answers, it doesn’t show. The Jackets go to Chapel Hill next week to start things for real, and as Jackson said when asked if he felt like the team was ready: “You know — I feel like we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
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