October 25, 2006
ATLANTA -- Georgia Tech learned many lessons in its first ACC loss, at Clemson.
Lesson 1: The Yellow Jackets would rather not face the Tigers, a team they clearly don't match up well against up front, if they make the ACC title game.
Lesson 2: Calvin Johnson must get chances to make plays, even in low-percentage situations.
Lesson 3: One humbling loss -- even 31-7 -- cannot lead to a slide toward another mediocre record and lower-tier bowl.
The Tigers were a nightmare for the Jackets. Clemson's massive offensive line pushed Tech around up front, and speedy tailbacks James Davis and C.J. Spiller combined for 332 yards.
The Tigers' defensive front had similar success, getting a strong pass rush on quarterback Reggie Ball and not giving him enough time to find Johnson.
The rest of the schedule favors the Jackets, though, and they still control their own destiny in terms of reaching the ACC title game.
Tech's Oct. 28 game against Miami holds much bigger ramifications in the Coastal Division race. Both teams have just one league loss, and a win by Tech essentially would give the Jackets a two-game lead in the division. Miami, Virginia Tech and Virginia all would have two losses, and Georgia Tech would own the head-to-head tiebreaker against all three.
After Miami, the Yellow Jackets will wrap up their ACC schedule on Tobacco Road. They play at N.C. State and North Carolina, then Duke at home in their league finale.
The keys will be to remain confident on offense and continue to avoid injury. The Clemson game no doubt bruised the offense's ego, with Johnson held without a catch for the first time in his career and the running backs limited to 2.4 yards per carry.
Clemson doubled Johnson on every snap but is probably the only team on Tech's schedule that can pressure Ball without blitzing, which allowed the Tigers' linebackers to focus on the short passes and the running game and left the safeties to bird-dog Johnson.
N.C. State might be able to take a similar approach with Tank Tyler and company up front, but offensive coordinator Patrick Nix likely will have found ways to counter Clemson's strategy by then.
"We have to continue to work to get (Johnson) the football," Tech coach Chan Gailey said. "That's what we have to do. We can't allow that to happen on a regular basis. And I don't believe we will."
The absence of injuries continues to be a blessing. Through six games, only two starters had missed games with injuries, and both safety Djay Jones and defensive end Darrell Robertson missed just one game each. Only one player on Tech's two-deep roster, backup guard Jacob Lonowski, is out with a serious injury. Ball is battling a leg problem yet continues to play.
Meanwhile, Gailey is not concerned with any psychological damage from the Clemson loss. He was impressed with the way the veteran team put the game in perspective immediately following the defeat.
"The attitude is: Let's learn from it," Gailey said, "and move on to the next one."
HOOPS: STAR ROOKIES FITTING IN
Georgia Tech's basketball team is a rare veteran unit that will count on a pair of freshmen to make it an ACC contender this season. Fortunately for the Yellow Jackets, Javaris Crittenton and Thaddeus Young have proven more mature than the typical freshmen thus far.
"They're asking questions, and that's something you don't find a lot, especially with guys coming in with all the hype that they're coming in with," fifth-year senior Mario West said. "They're ready and willing to learn from the veterans out there."
The Yellow Jackets' eight returning regulars have welcomed the questions and opened practice Oct. 14 intent on finding a new identity with the freshman phenoms. Crittenton will start at point guard -- he is the only true player at that position on the roster -- and Young will challenge for a frontcourt spot immediately.
The duo's addition to a roster that already included three players who averaged in double figures last year -- swingman Anthony Morrow, forward Jeremis Smith and center Ra'Sean Dickey -- plus guard Lewis Clinch, who scored 20-plus points in the final two regular-season games, has many in the national media expecting a resurgence.
Attitude clashes would seem a potential problem. Not so, say Tech's veterans, who were humbled by last year's 11-17 season and 10th-place ACC finish.
"We all know their attitudes are nothing like people who would put themselves on a pedestal," Morrow said. "They know what it takes to win. They approach the game the way it's supposed to be approached."
Added Clinch: "They're helping us. And if we're going to be more successful, we're going to need it."
Tech won't lack for depth this year, either. The backcourt will be cluttered by Crittenton, Morrow, Clinch, West and sophomores D'Andre Bell and Paco Diaw. Meanwhile, Young is not the only newcomer up front. Redshirt freshman Mouhammad Faye and true freshmen Zack Peacock and Brad Sheehan join Dickey, Smith and sophomore Alade Aminu inside.
That much depth could lead to sore feelings as well for players who don't receive as much playing time as they like. Tech coach Paul Hewitt already has addressed that with the team, though, and Morrow said the competition will have only an upside.
At least one veteran who figures to lose out on minutes, West, said he is fine with the situation.
"I feel like it's going to be a winning team, and whether I'm playing or not, I feel like I can have an impact," West said. "I just want to win. It's not about minutes for me, because I feel like I've had my time and my chance to do a lot of great things. I just want to go out as a winner."
Don't expect to see West only in blowouts, though.
The Jackets' depth will "untie my hands," Hewitt said, and allow Tech to play a more up-tempo style. The coach might even re-install the revolving door at the scorer's table end of the Tech bench, a la the 2003 and 2004 NCAA Tournament seasons. Hewitt made so many substitutions during those two years that play-by-play man Wes Durham dubbed the Tech bench "Hotel Hewitt."
"We'll definitely get back to playing a faster tempo," Hewitt said. "We have more depth, so we should be able to play at a faster pace."
Georgia Tech will open the season Nov. 10 against Elon and will get its first tests less than two weeks later, in the EA Sports Maui Invitational.