When Georgia Tech played its spring game Saturday, it didn’t quite attract the fanfare, attention or turnstile count that Georgia did a week ago. The Jackets even limited the usual celebrity element on campus.
Shocking. After the way the baseball team embraced Charlie Sheen at batting practice the other day, you would have thought Lindsay Lohan would be singing the national anthem at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Maybe Mel Gibson leading the pregame prayer. Paris Hilton preaching to sorority girls on ambition and the meaning life.
Fortunately, coach Paul Johnson kept this one low-key. Just football, no sleaze. In the process, he also may have learned something about one of his quarterbacks.
Synjyn Days was not the best quarterback through most of spring drills, but he easily was the best one in the spring game. He rushed for 112 yards and a touchdown. He threw for another score. His overall passing statistics (2-for-7, 46 yards) were not glowing, but some of that can be attributed to being a young, athletic guy whose first instinct is to make plays with his legs. Because he can.
Most impressive about Days is what he did not do: melt down. While Tevin Washington committed five turnovers (three interceptions, two fumbles), Days, a redshirt freshman, did not lose the ball even once. This is key for a team that had 20 fumbles lost last season (most in the nation) and 27 turnovers (20th).
Johnson says judgments will be determined by “the body of work,” not just Saturday.
But this is key: “We’re going to play the guy who gives us the best chance to win. Sometimes winning the game is not losing it, being able to manage and do those kind of things. For most of the spring Tevin has been able to do that. Today he did some questionable things. I think he got rattled a little bit and got out of his element.”
The Jackets need a positive sign. After two strong seasons under Johnson, they finished 6-7 in 2010. They went 5-2 in the first seven games but only 1-5 in the last six, including a 14-7 loss to Air Force in the Independence Bowl.
They should have taken it as a sign when lightning forced the cancellation of the second half of last year’s spring game.
It wasn’t the way Johnson wanted or expected his team to follow up an ACC championship. He even acknowledged before spring drills opened, “I think there was a sense of complacency to a degree. Not with everybody. But when you win nine games the first year and then you win 11 games, I think some guys just think, ‘Well, this is going to happen again.’ It doesn’t work like that.”
There are three keys to a turnaround: 1) improvement on defense; 2) improvement on the offensive line; 3) finding a strong replacement for Joshua Nesbitt to run the option offense. Washington tops the depth chart, but not by much. Then comes Days. There’s a possibility that touted incoming freshman Vad Lee, who was in attendance at the T-Day game, will beat out both. But that would mean picking up the offense very quickly.
Days threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to B.J. Bostic in the first quarter. He ran 1 yard for another score in the third. He also had runs of 20 and 16 yards on a first-half drive. He dazzled with his athletic ability. He turned one scramble into a near first down when he leaped over defensive back Jemea Thomas.
“I saw the first-down marker,” Days said, explaining the leap. “Jemea asked me, ‘Why did you do that?’ I said, ‘I was just trying to make a play.’”
Washington acknowledges he is still laboring a bit from a previously undisclosed knee injury. He suffered a torn MCL in the Independence Bowl. He didn’t have surgery, but he is wearing a knee brace until the strength returns. It wasn’t all about the knee, however.
“I think I had a moment where I probably got a little rattled,” he said.
It all goes into a file until drills resume before the season. But Days has given Johnson something good to think about, and good news is what the program needed.
By Jeff Schultz