In football parlance, it was a short week. In reality, it was a week — six days, actually — of excruciating length. Georgia Tech returned from its overtime Labor Day loss in Blacksburg, Va., at 4 a.m. Tuesday, and then the Jackets had to wait until 7 p.m. Saturday for toe again to meet leather.
Saturday night’s foe was rather less imposing than Virginia Tech. In the Presbyterian Blue Hose’s’ most recent dances with ACC opposition, they’d lost 58-21 (to Clemson in 2010) and 53-13 (to Wake Forest, same year). There was no way in this or any other world that Georgia Tech was going to lose this game. At issue was whether it could shake off its post-Hokie blues and look like a team capable of making something from a season that started with a wrenching defeat.
Speaking of blues: The Jackets, whose official colors are old gold and white, wore blue jerseys with the white honeycomb helmets they’d sported in Blacksburg, and the effect was, shall we say, underwhelming. Nothing about those uniforms made you think, “Georgia Tech.” So much for building the ol’ brand.
The game itself was more representative of the program Paul Johnson has built. The Jackets rushed for 282 yards in the first half. (They’d managed only 288 yards total in four quarters plus OT against Virginia Tech.) Zach Laskey broke a tackle and popped a 56-yard touchdown run on Tech’s first series, and that was encouraging. The Jackets’ longest gain from scrimmage on Labor Day had been a 22-yard Tevin Washington scramble.
Same week, different opponent: Against Presbyterian the Jackets had eight plays of 39 or more yards. Afterward Tech coach Paul Johnson said: “When you’re playing someone who’s physically overmatched, you’re going to hit some big plays.”
Overall, Johnson was pleased with the victory — the final score was 59-3, and the Jackets gained 712 yards — but not ecstatic. “It was OK in spots,” he said of his offensive. “We were sloppy.”
But then, a bit later: “I don’t care who you play — if you’re getting that many big plays you’re doing something right.”
Laskey finished the night with 116 yards, which was likewise newsworthy. Only once last season did a B-back have a 100-yard game, this after three seasons in which Jonathan Dwyer and Anthony Allen routinely did the deed. As David Sims, last year’s B-back, said last month: “This offense works best when the B-back is having big games, like Jonathan and Anthony did.”
Other good signs: A Tech wide receiver caught a pass — that hadn’t happened against Virginia Tech — and Tevin Washington hit wideout Jeremy Moore on a deep ball. Less good: Two of the three quarterbacks Tech deployed (Washington and Synjyn Days) lost fumbles, and the heralded redshirt freshman Vad Lee’s first collegiate series was blighted by two dropped passes.
It was 24-0 at the half, and it should have been worse. Days’ fumble might easily have been ruled a Tech touchdown — he appeared to break the plane before losing his grip — instead of a Presbyterian recovery and a subsequent 91-yard return. No big deal, though. The Tech defense held the Blue Hose (who actually do wear blue hose) on fourth-and-goal. For the second time in six days, Al Groh’s men looked rather stout.
By the third quarter, nearly everything Tech did looked good. The Jackets scored three touchdowns in the period, the first on Washington’s pass to Robert Godhigh, the second on a Lee sneak, the third on Lee’s 82-yard throw to receiver Jeff Greene. On the quarter’s final snap, Lee nearly broke an 85-yard touchdown run but was tripped at Hose 6. (As it was, the 79-yard gain was the longest non-scoring rush in Institute annals.) Tech fans have waited long to see if Lee was equal to his hype, and on this night he didn’t disappoint.
Said Lee: “I’m happy to have had the opportunity to make big plays and show my ability.”
Then again, this was only Presbyterian, which has the smallest enrollment (1,200) of any Division 1 program. The schedule toughens next week. Tech plays Virginia, and the Cavaliers dealt the 2011 Jackets their first loss. Then comes Miami, which beat Tech last year, too. By the close of business Sept. 22, the Jackets will already have played three of their five in-division games.
Winning the Coastal Division would have been much easier had Tech held its lead in Blacksburg, but that chance was wasted. Now the Jackets must buckle down and give themselves a chance should Virginia Tech mess up and lose twice to ACC opponents. The schedule isn’t terrible, and much can happen over these next 10 weeks.
Lest Tech doubt, it can find verification 75 miles to the East. This time a year ago, Georgia was 0-2 and had lost at home to South Carolina. But the Bulldogs steadied themselves and ran the regular-season table and watched as the Gamecocks tripped twice. Come December, the Bulldogs were playing for the SEC title. As much as it might pain the Jackets to draw strength from the hated mutts, there are worse role models to be found.
By Mark Bradley