Archive for November, 2012

On the shifty Jacquizz Rodgers and the shifting Mike Smith

"Sometimes I go for it, Greg, and sometimes I don't." (AP photo)

"Sometimes I go for it, Greg, and sometimes I don't." (AP photo)

This post is an adjunct to the game column, which can be found here.

1. Jacquizz Rodgers injected some needed sizzle. Owing to his size (5-foot-6, 196 pounds), he’s often dismissed as a change-of-pace back, but his 49 yards on 10 rushes made him the star of a slightly upgraded ground game. Michael Turner had another in a series of indifferent games — 13 carries for 17 yards. On this day, however, the Falcons didn’t go as Turner goes (or doesn’t go). Rodgers gave them speed on the flanks and made the Buccaneers’ defense honor at least the concept of the run. He nearly outgained the heralded Tampa Bay tailback Doug Martin, who carried 21 times for his 50 yards. Could the Falcons have found their new feature back? It’s too early to make that leap, but this game was an indication that options exist beyond Turner.

2. Mike Smith got conservative at the end of the first half. The Falcons’ coach had his offense had his …

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The Falcons win the kind of game they’ll play in January

Jacquizz Rodgers shows that the Falcons can so run the football. (AP photo)

Jacquizz Rodgers, shown gaining actual rushing yards. (AP photo)

Tampa – The 8-0 start was nice, but we all know the Atlanta Falcons won’t be judged on what they did in September, or November. Heck, even Mike Smith, the buttoned-up coach, spoke these words in August: “When we get there (meaning the playoffs), we’ve got to play better football.”

We can’t know how these Falcons — or those Packers or Patriots or any team — will fare in the playoffs until 2013 arrives, but we have a bit better feel about the local franchise today. The Falcons just left here having won a game that wouldn’t have seemed out of place if you stuck it in January. They played a hot team. They fell behind three times. They won 24-23.

They won with a sprinkling of flash — the 80-yard pass to Julio Jones that overrode a Tampa Bay lead in 11 seconds — but mostly they won with force, and that was a heartening sign. This team had risen to 8-0 and then 9-1 without doing much in the way of running the ball or …

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Live from Tampa Bay: The Falcons seek to Buc(k) a trend

I'm not exactly sure what this evocative photo evokes, except that I could use some Gatorade. (AP photo)

I'm not exactly sure what this evocative image evokes, except a thirst for Gatorade. (AP photo)

Tampa — The Falcons are 9-1, but by my reckoning they’ve played one really good game in their past seven. (The one: At Philadelphia ahead of Hurricane Sandy.) Then again, they’ve won five of those six not-really-good games, so what’s the problem?

This: A team wants to be playing well in December, so as to keep playing well into January/February. The Falcons know this better than anyone, having seen consecutive seasons ended by teams that weren’t, as of Thanksgiving, anywhere near locks to qualify for postseason fun and frolic. We know already that these Falcons will make the playoffs. What we don’t know is if they’ll fare any better once there.

Today marks Game 1 of a loaded (and shortened) week. They play the Buccaneers, who’ve won four in a row, and then they play the Saints, who’ve won five of six, on Thursday night. Sweep the week and we won’t be quibbling, at least not so much. …

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On Paul Johnson’s poor early choice and Tech’s lack of fans

This was not the happiest of days for the men of Tech. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

OK, so this was not the happiest of days for the men of Georgia Tech. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

This post is an adjunct to the Georgia Tech column off today’s game, which can be found here.

1. Paul Johnson’s first tactical error came before the game began. Georgia Tech won the coin toss and chose to defer its choice until the second half. This is, we must note, standard coaching procedure. But this was not a standard game. The Yellow Jackets’ only hope rested on their offense and its capacity to steal an early lead and then play keep-away. Instead Johnson chose to put his special teams and his defense on the field first. Malcolm Mitchell returned the kickoff past midfield. Georgia led 7-0 after 63 seconds. When finally Tech exercised its option at the start of the third quarter, it trailed 28-3. Asked about his decision to defer, Johnson said: “Pick your half. They’re going to get it sometime.”

2. Time of possession can be the world’s most misleading statistic. The Jackets …

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His Jackets pull a no-show, and Paul Johnson is not pleased

This one picture is worth a hundred thousand words. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

This one picture is worth a couple of hundred thousand words, give or take. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Athens – There were two snippets of good news for Georgia Tech on an otherwise wretched Saturday: The Jackets still get to play for the ACC Championship, and the Georgia Bulldogs will be occupied elsewhere.

Other than that, this was a wipeout of epic dimensions. It wasn’t quite as bad as the 51-7 loss here in 2002, but at least that drubbing came in Year 1 under a new coach. This one arrived in Year 5 under Paul Johnson, who seemed the anti-Chan Gailey. Meaning: A man who could hold his own against the hated mutts. (Gailey went for 0-for-6.) But now Johnson, after stunning the Bulldogs on his first try, has lost four in a row to Georgia, and the series has again gone lopsided.

And Johnson, who on taking this job ordered that the slogan “Beat Georgia” be displayed on Tech’s practice field, was not pleased. Afterward his voice could be heard — at great volume and great …

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Richt was right: UGA is ‘knocking on the door’ of greatness

Mark Richt: Two games to go, two thumbs up? (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Noted critic Mark Richt gave Georgia's clinching of the SEC East two thumbs up. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Mark Richt called this shot. Speaking in Tampa on the first day of 2012, he said of his Georgia Bulldogs: ““We’re going to be knocking on the door of the greatest success you can have in college football, and if you knock long enough, you’ll eventually break through.”

Some folks tittered, noting that Georgia had just lost the SEC championship game by 32 points. A day later, when the Bulldogs (and Richt, too) messed up every which way in blowing the Outback Bowl to Michigan State, the tee-hees became hardy-har-hars. A team that had gone 0-4 against ranked opponents would go on to achieve “the greatest success you can have in college football”? Dream on, brother.

Eleven months later, the dreamer awakes and smells a heady blend of coffee. If the Bulldogs beat Georgia Tech on Saturday, they will stand on the cusp of the BCS title game. Granted, they’ll face a massive …

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Can Georgia Tech ruin UGA’s season? (Video added)

The dynamics changed Monday morning. With Miami’s decision to exclude itself from postseason play, Georgia Tech claimed the ACC Coastal Division title. So now, for the first time, Tech and Georgia will meet with both having, to borrow Paul Johnson’s pithy phrase, bigger fish to fry. Win or lose Saturday, both will play for conference championships a week later.

But these two division titlists are not equal. The Jackets are 6-5, and the best they can do is to play in the Orange Bowl. (Not that the Orange Bowl, given that Tech just nosed above .500, would be a bad deal.) The Bulldogs are 10-1, and with two more victories they will play for the BCS crown. Georgia has much more to lose. The Jackets are 14-point road underdogs against an opponent they’ve beaten once since George Godsey ran through Jim Donnan’s crew of NFL-caliber defenders in 2000.

If these teams met 10 times, Georgia would win nine. But the Jackets have only to beat Georgia once to make their season and …

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A long, strange trip: Tech is headed for the ACC title game

"Really? Seriously? We're going to the ACC championshp game?" (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

"Really? We're going to the ACC championship game? How'd that happen?" (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Updated 9:55 a.m.

A team that wasn’t sure until Saturday night that it could play in a bowl is now bound for the ACC championship game. Georgia Tech learned this morning that Miami has decided to forgo postseason play, thereby handing the Coastal Division to the Yellow Jackets, who started 1-3 in league play and who still might finish the regular season 6-6.

It’s a stunning turn for a program that was reeling only six weeks ago. The Jackets had lost two ACC games in overtime after blowing late leads and been hammered at home by Middle Tennessee of the middling Sun Belt. Two days after his team lost at Clemson to slide to 2-4,  Paul Johnson moved to fire Al Groh, his defensive coordinator of 2 1/2 years.

At that point the season seemed all but lost, but the Jackets steadied — well, after another home thrashing, this at the hands of BYU — and the schedule eased and events …

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Heat Check: Hot ‘Dogs face a warm swarm of Yellow Jackets

This was the one time the Richt-coached Bulldogs didn't beat Tech. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

This was the one time the Mark Richt-coached Bulldogs didn't beat Tech. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Given that this is Thanksgiving week, our Heat Check begins about where you’d expect.

GEORGIA: Will play for the SEC title. Could play for the BCS title. First, however, the Bulldogs must win the state title. This hasn’t been much of an issue for Mark Richt — he’s 10-1 against the North Avenue crew — but the one blip (in 2008, in case you’ve forgotten) was monumental. Barometric reading: Remember when we wondered if things would ever again get really good for this coach at this school? Richt’s team has a chance to finish all drills.

GEORGIA TECH: Will play for the ACC title, thanks to Miami’s decision to remove itself from postseason play. For a team that wasn’t sure it could wangle even a trip to Shreveport, that’s a nice bit of rallying. Barometric reading: Chances are, Tech will be an underdog — the opening line for this weekend favors Georgia by 14 points — in every …

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Tevin says farewell, Tech plays D and Johnson warns Miami

Georgia Tech actually plays defense! Who knew? (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets actually play defense! Who knew? (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

This post is an adjunct to the Georgia Tech-Duke game column, which can be found here.

1. Tevin Washington gave himself a shining home sendoff. The Jackets’ No. 1 quarterback, who’d been outplayed by backup Vad Lee in the wild victory over North Carolina a week earlier, had one of his finest days in his final game at Bobby Dodd Stadium, rushing 19 times for 62 yards and completing six of 10 passes for 102 yards. Washington threw for three touchdowns and ran for a fourth, and even more impressive was his capacity to sustain a series of long Georgia Tech drives. In order, he presided over possessions yielding 72, 75, 75, 75 and 43 yards — all of which ended in touchdowns. Lee didn’t play in the second half.

2. The Jackets’ defense held Duke to seven second-half points. The first half seemed an extension of the 68-50 victory over North Carolina, with neither side stopping the other. …

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