Miami — Georgia Tech has messed up its season, and not in the way you’d think. The losses these past two weeks haven’t been examples of a gifted team losing to its inferiors; they’ve been cases of a team that, on talent, shouldn’t have been 6-0.
Yet 6-0 Tech was, ranked No. 12 the land as late as eight days ago. Now it’s 6-2 and perhaps bound for 7-5 and another holiday in Shreveport. Which is another way of saying: Water seeks its own level.
We see now that Tech isn’t very good, and the schedule, which seemed to have done it a favor, might not have been so favorable after all. Had Tech lost a couple of games early, it might have had cause to deploy Vad Lee, the freshman quarterback who might be the most talented player on this roster, as opposed to letting him sit out as a redshirt.
Who makes major changes when a team’s 6-0 and climbing in the polls? Nobody. But now, his team climbing no more, Paul Johnson was asked Saturday if there was a chance Lee would play this season. “Probably not,” Johnson said.
What happened here Saturday wasn’t a failure of effort, as had been partially the case at Virginia the week before. The inspired Cavaliers hit Tech hard at the start and held on. Miami didn’t seem long on either inspiration or execution, managing just 262 yards and two offensive touchdowns, both of those on mini-drives of 46 yards. But Tech, which gained 768 yards against Kansas in Week 3, was held to 211 in Week 8 — by a team that entered with the nation’s 81st-ranked defense.
“I think our kids played hard,” Johnson said. “It’s just frustrating we couldn’t find anything to do on offense.”
What worked earlier this season against lesser opposition — the pitchouts to the A-backs, the downfield throws off play-action — works no longer. The plays are the same; it’s the size and speed of the opponent that has changed. Where’d the wide stuff go? Said Johnson: “We can’t get to the perimeter.”
Does that mean quarterback Tevin Washington, whose efficiency has diminished in recent weeks, is making the wrong reads and keeping or handing to the B-back when he should pitch? Johnson: “He’s making the right reads. We’ve got five blocking four, and the four are winning.”
That’s not scheme. That’s talent, or the lack thereof. And it’s a huge deal. In 2008 B-back Jonathan Dwyer had nine 100-yard games; in 2009 he had seven; last season Anthony Allen, Dwyer’s successor, had six. Know how many 100-yard games David Sims, the new B-back, has had this season? None.
The much-lampooned defense hasn’t been so laughable. It yielded no second-half points last week, three this time. But a Johnson-designed team can’t win if it doesn’t score, and over the past two second halves the Jackets, in comeback mode both times, have managed one touchdown.
“We can’t overcome bad plays,” Johnson said, “because we’re not hitting big plays.”
Yet again, gaffes in the kicking game undid Tech. Freshman Zach Laskey waved teammates away from a bouncing punt, then tried to field it himself and saw Miami wind up with the ball in the end zone. And then, with a minute left before halftime and Tech having just gone 92 yards in 20 plays to halve Miami’s lead, a squib kick spawned a crushing Hurricanes touchdown. And get this: “It was supposed to be a deep kickoff,” Johnson said.
Not for the first time, we need ask: Why does a man as clever as Johnson not hire a special-teams coordinator? Instead, the kicking game is left to various Tech coaches to oversee piecemeal, and the result has been an ongoing farce. “We couldn’t overcome the special teams today,” Johnson said, “and that’s a reflection on me. Something we’re doing ain’t right.”
And now you wonder: Is there time — with a schedule that includes Clemson, Virginia Tech and Georgia — for Tech not to finish with five losses in the final six games? Is there any way to salvage a season that got so far ahead of itself?
Said Johnson, speaking of Washington: “We just have to find something he can do.”
At this late date, all the stuff Tech can’t do outnumbers the things it can. This is a team of limited means. Limited means, and not much time.
By Mark Bradley