Georgia Tech is no longer untested, but it’s still undefeated

Roddy Jones wheels down the sideline on the game's biggest play. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

The biggest play: Roddy Jones down the sideline. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Georgia Tech hadn’t been tested, so it decided to test itself. It watched North Carolina score three second-half touchdowns and override a 14-point deficit, and suddenly serious stuff had arisen. The nation’s No. 25 team was tied at home, 7:22 to play.

“We thought we’d try to make a game a little more exciting,” Paul Johnson would say afterward, half-smiling but not nearly laughing. That said …

Johnson mightn’t have enjoyed every detail of this game — the two turnovers, the missed field-goal attempt, the never-ending run of lousy special-teams play, the dropped touchdown pass by the otherwise ascendant Stephen Hill, even his own loss of  fourth-and-1 nerve — but he had to be tickled by its outcome. A coach can’t know about his team until it’s forced to make plays for the express purpose of game-winning, and Johnson’s Jackets aced that exam.

Tied with 7:22 remaining, Tech led with 5:20 to go. Nice kickoff return, long Roddy Jones run down the sideline — shades of Sanford Stadium, November 2008 — and a Tevin Washington duck-in touchdown. No poor pitchouts or muffed catches here. Just two minutes of precision at the moment precision was required.

“I’m kind of glad it happened this way,” Hill said. “It shows the team it’s not going to be easy.”

Tech’s first three games had been varying degrees of days at the beach. It hadn’t trailed since the Independence Bowl. It hadn’t failed to lead 7-0 after its first snap. It was amassing silly numbers even by Johnson’s standards, but you knew full well that September wouldn’t pass without silliness yielding to cold reality. Reality arrived Saturday wearing powder blue.

North Carolina isn’t a great team, but it takes football seriously enough to have committed so many indiscretions it was impelled to vacate two years’ worth of victories. The Tar Heels seized the lead here, forcing Tech to react, and sure enough Tech scored 28 of the next 35 points. But then Al Groh’s defense, which had limited Carolina to 30 yards over the final 27 minutes of the first half, started to perform like the Tech D we’ve come to know and bemoan, and the usually roaring Tech offense wasn’t quite at high tide.

Which sounds strange, given that the Jackets finished with 35 points and 496 yards. But when you enter averaging 59.3 points and 675.3 yards, you’ve set an impossible standard. Matched finally against an opponent capable of punching back, Tech missed just enough chances to keep this close.

Said Johnson: “We’ll have to look at the tape and clean up the stuff we didn’t do great, and there’s a bunch of it.”

A bunch? Not really. But enough to render this the Jackets’ first close game of 2011. And even after the go-ahead-to-stay surge, Tech couldn’t run out the clock. Carolina got the ball and one final chance. Would Groh’s defenders go belly-up?

Nope. Tech halted the Heels before they could draw close enough to throw into the end zone. The defense incapable of making any plays last season made several this time — linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu had three sacks, including one on the game’s final snap — and that’s an upgrade.

“Thirty-five [points] is better than 28,” said Johnson, voicing a familiar and incontrovertible theme. “That’s what I was pleased with.”

There was, however, a single greater point: We’d seen how sleek Tech could look against token opposition, but against the Heels we saw it being forced to make plays — and then making them. No team scores 66 every given Saturday, and the rest of the schedule will resemble more of what we saw in Week 4 than in Weeks 1-3. This outcome should give the Jackets even deeper faith in themselves.

And there’s hay to be made in this conference. Nobody looks impregnable. The Jackets don’t play Florida State, and they’ll get Clemson and Virginia Tech here.

“Our goal is always to win the ACC championship,” Washington said, and a month ago those words might have sounded fanciful. Four victories later, this season bears the look of a real opportunity. Tech has positioned itself to do something, and that’s all you can reap from any September.

By Mark Bradley

368 comments Add your comment

GT Trumpet

September 24th, 2011
4:54 pm

First! I hope Alex said hi to you for me!

Ol'JacketFan

September 24th, 2011
4:55 pm

MB, very nice writeup, I was pleased at how the D finally made plays. Offense is fine and they will clean up their errors.

Go Jackets!

DS_CE91

September 24th, 2011
4:56 pm

Great win by the Jackets!

elviskl

September 24th, 2011
4:57 pm

elviskl

September 24th, 2011
4:58 pm

damn, i read the article first and it cost me first place, lol

buzz

September 24th, 2011
4:58 pm

frank

September 24th, 2011
4:58 pm

Any word on Hill’s hamstring?

buzz

September 24th, 2011
4:59 pm

me too elviskl

Ol'JacketFan

September 24th, 2011
4:59 pm

MB how was CPJ’s demeanor after the game?

GT Trumpet

September 24th, 2011
4:59 pm

And a good game for the Jackets! We left a lot of points on the field so I am not so concerned about the close game.

yearofthedawg

September 24th, 2011
5:00 pm

What a joke. Positioned itself to do something? Because they beat a bad North Carolina team and the Three Stooges?

Question: what do UGA and Georgia Tech have in common?
Answer: They are both undefeated against cupcakes, and they both have defeated the same number of good teams.

GT Fan

September 24th, 2011
5:00 pm

Good grief Mr. Bradley. Do you not have spell check or grammar check software? The story is OK but the proofreading leaves a bit to be desired. Regarding the game, if a team has an effective passing attack, it will be a long afternoon for Tech.

dominobeer

September 24th, 2011
5:01 pm

Good game, but not great. GT looked like the better team all day. It shouldn’t have been as close as the final score.

At least it the victory helps balance the sting out of watching Carlos Marmol hand the Cardinals a free win.

Greg

September 24th, 2011
5:01 pm

UNC definitely provided a better test, but I think Tech gave them too many opportunities to make this a close game. I hope this provides grounding for this team so they can better execute against tougher teams

Ol'JacketFan

September 24th, 2011
5:04 pm

By no means was it a picture perfect win but it was a win :-) There isn’t anything I saw today that can’t be corrected!

BeesKnees

September 24th, 2011
5:04 pm

Mark, Thank you for an accurate description of todays game and Techs season chances!

Charleston Jacket

September 24th, 2011
5:06 pm

Glad we did not choke. D is still a major concern. Too many offensive mistakes and questionable play calling a few times – but all in all good effort and a good win. Go Jackets! THWG

ramblingbuzz

September 24th, 2011
5:08 pm

GT outplayed UNC but made too many mistakes. Still nice to win even when you don’t play well. D make crucial stops at the end, it’s a Jeckyll and Hyde unit. What’s up with that?

Matt the Brave

September 24th, 2011
5:08 pm

I’m sorry, UNC is not much of a test for this Tech team. They have multiple suspensions still, and are not working at full speed. I’ll believe in this Tech team once they beat Clemson, VT, and UGA.

Beast from the East

September 24th, 2011
5:08 pm

Great win, Jackets!
Congrats!!

huh?

September 24th, 2011
5:08 pm

So beating a team that beat Rutgers by 2 and beat James Madison and Virginia is a test? And at home? Hmmm…guess that’s ACC football for ya. Tech has played 4 straight puddin’s. NC State next week will make it 5. ACC- All Crappy Conference

Ol'JacketFan

September 24th, 2011
5:10 pm

I kept reading all week just how tough UNC’s front line was, how it would show up Tech’s “high school” offense. Hmmmmmmmm wonder how that turned out ;-)

ramblingbuzz

September 24th, 2011
5:11 pm

Yearof….another delusional doggie. The mutts have defeated exactly 0 good teams. I’ll take 4-0 over 2-2 any day.

BG

September 24th, 2011
5:13 pm

Tech sucks!!!!

ramblingbuzz

September 24th, 2011
5:14 pm

Before you UGA homers get on here talking about your excruciatingly tough schedule, let me point out…..Coatal Carolina, New Mexico State, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss. Need I say more?

Tech Old Timer

September 24th, 2011
5:14 pm

Mark – We left 18 points on the field today – by getting stopped on our first drive and having to stettle for a field goal – next, missing a field goal when we hould have gone in for a TD and third – Hill missing on a wide open deep pass. Our defense played some better but not great and it looked for awhile that the defense was goingto have to save us today because the offense wasn’t clicking. I think Coach Johnson has a lot to harp about to the players. We were fortunate to win today. I give Coach an “A” for play calling and managing the game – the players however get a “C”. I still think we have a lot of room to grow and threre are those verry teams you mentioned – Clemson and Virginia Tech – as well as others who will handle Tech if we don’t play better in all phases of the game.

Ol'JacketFan

September 24th, 2011
5:16 pm

BG such an original insult LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!

vcki

September 24th, 2011
5:16 pm

I was there – great win, Tech!!

Ol'JacketFan

September 24th, 2011
5:17 pm

and here comes Dig with his gems LOL!!!!!!!!!!

vince

September 24th, 2011
5:18 pm

I finally have figured out a good analogy! Tech football is sort of like Buford football. Their fans rave about how great they are and how they could beat anybody…but the truth is, they play a minor league schedule. Whenever they do play a big college team, they lose, usually embarrassingly so, and they forget about it. That is, until they win a few games in a row against nobodies…..and then you hear the championship talk start up again.

Jason Jacket

September 24th, 2011
5:18 pm

What’s the word on Hill? How is his hammy? If we make that FG and hill doesn’t drop that pass, we win by 14-17

Really?

September 24th, 2011
5:18 pm

Yeah, but when you talk about schedules, let talk about Auburn, Florida, South Carolina, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Boise State. Don’t mention the couple of patsy teams on our schedule like Coastal Carolina and Georgia Tech. They are always Easy wins.

BobbyDodd21/20

September 24th, 2011
5:18 pm

Darn, I is proud, Bobby, Bud, Varsity, ROTC, KA, Techwood parties…and my deploma related mostly always kept me ahead of the pack…congrats to Coaches and all players…you make us really proud…living large in Fla…

vince

September 24th, 2011
5:19 pm

@vcki…Wow! That’s pretty good. Makes you one of about 27,000, right?

Really?

September 24th, 2011
5:19 pm

Did Tech sell out that HS stadium today?

Ol'JacketFan

September 24th, 2011
5:19 pm

Okay vince, thanks for your wonderful insight. Are you sure you don’t need to be over at Schultz’s blog?

Ol'JacketFan

September 24th, 2011
5:20 pm

and of course, size envious Really LOL!!!!!!!!! All the trolls are here!

Jackets are used to losing to UGA,,,, but it still hurts!

September 24th, 2011
5:20 pm

ramblingbuzz…… you’ll take another loss the Saturday after Thanksgiving, like you always do. i hope you are undefeated and ranked top 10…that will be SWEEEEEETTTTT!!!

Really?

September 24th, 2011
5:21 pm

46,000 at the Tech game today? Seriously, only 46,000? Sad

Jason Jacket

September 24th, 2011
5:21 pm

Nice column mark. Enjoyed reading today except for the crap comments form uga losers

Ol'JacketFan

September 24th, 2011
5:21 pm

and, of course, all the prognosticators!

Ol'JacketFan

September 24th, 2011
5:22 pm

Dig, I’m sure your mother is so proud of you!

huh?

September 24th, 2011
5:23 pm

Before you tech fans get excited…western carolina (7th best team in North Carolina) middle tenn state (4th best team in tennesee), kansas (2nd best team in kansas), UNC (maybe the best team in NC, which isn’t saying a whole lot for a basketball state), NC State (haha no comment), Duke (same as NC State), Maryland (yawn), Virginia (forgot they still played football). So that’s 8 absolutely pathetic teams compared to UGA’s 4 or 5. No case for Tech having a stronger schedule. Inferior team in an inferior conference. It must suck!

RICH

September 24th, 2011
5:23 pm

DIGDAWGER GET A LIFE BUM. YOUR THUGS R 2-2 LETS SEE OH IF THE THUGS R LUCKY,THEY MAY WIN 5 GAMES……….THE THUGS BEAT A AWFUL OLE MISS TEAM.THE NEXT THING RICHT WILL JUMP OFF OF WONT BE A DIVIN BOARD IT WILL BE A BUILDING.

Really?

September 24th, 2011
5:24 pm

Tested? Really tested? Seriously you call North Carolina a test? For what? To see which team is the weak link? That’s funny. A test is North Carolina, after playing 3 HS teams. Sad

Ol'JacketFan

September 24th, 2011
5:25 pm

Oh Dig, you are so witty!!!!!!!!!!! LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!

Really?

September 24th, 2011
5:26 pm

Rich, even when UGA went 6-6 last year, guess who was one of the 6? TECH. Same will go for this year. BTW, by the time the two teams meet at the end of the year, UGA will have a better record than Tech. UGA will be at worst 8-3. Tech at best 7-4

Really?

September 24th, 2011
5:27 pm

Rich one thing that is guaranteed, if UGA wins 5 one of the wins will be against Tech.

jacket fan in wisconsin

September 24th, 2011
5:27 pm

Well put, Mark. Over the years of watching a lot a college football , it seems like every team will have these types of games, usually after 2-3 really good games. The overall season can turn on the outcome of these “ugly games”. Is North Carolina a great team ? Certainly not. But they’ve got talent and they played hard and had a chance to win the game. You think they’re not kicking themselves for failing to stop Tech when the game was tied ? Overall, it was a good college game between conference rivals that were both undefeated. As a Tech fan, what’s not to like ? We got a QB who can run the offense with precision, including throwing the ball. We got all kinds of running backs. We got a big play WR. We got a young defense that plays hard and will continue to get better. We got a coach who hates to lose almost as much as us fans( or maybe even more). Does anyone remember the Gailey years ?? Opposing teams prepare for our offense all year, and we still hang 35 points and 500 yards of offense on them. Have they figured it out ?? When we can pass even a little, this offense is tough to stop. Those are all the good things I see from way up here in Wisconsin.

question

September 24th, 2011
5:28 pm

Tech passed one test…so far.
Dogs have failed both of their test.
4-0>2-2