October 23, 2007
ATLANTA Every offensive-minded football coach, aside from those who run the wishbone, fear one thing above all else: becoming one-dimensional.
Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey and offensive coordinator John Bond might soon embrace the concept, though.
Tech rushed for 292 yards in a recent win against Army, one week after tailback Tashard Choice gained 204 all by himself versus Miami. With a veteran line and perhaps the nation's best blocking fullback in front, the Yellow Jackets play best when they run.
Choice injured his knee early in the Army game and did not return. He claims the injury is not serious, and with a bye week on the schedule for Oct. 27, he could be fully recovered in time for a Thursday night showdown with Virginia Tech on Nov. 1.
But with or without Choice, Georgia Tech needs to run the football to finish the season strong after its 3-3 start.
"I still talk to Coach Bond about being balanced," Gailey said. "Now if something is working so good you can't stay away from it, you do that. Hopefully, our passing effectiveness goes up as we're able to run the football."
No Georgia Tech player appreciates the running game more than quarterback Taylor Bennett. He's still developing chemistry with an inexperienced group of wide receivers, hence a 51 percent completion rate and a 33 percent third-down conversion rate.
But when he can stay out of third-and-long a byproduct of a strong running game Bennett is much more efficient. Tech converted four of six third downs in the second half of the Miami win and seven of 13 versus Army.
"I've never been a part of a team that's been able to (run like Tech has in recent weeks)," Bennett said. "That's something that's comforting to me to know. We're going to find a way to run the ball. When you can do that, you're going to be all right."
Tech is looking for the right track. The Miami and Army victories gave the Yellow Jackets their first winning streak since the opening weeks of the season, when they beat Notre Dame and Samford. Win the Virginia Tech game, and they will have season-ending momentum. The Jackets' last two games are against the ACC's Coastal Division cellar dwellers, Duke and North Carolina, and the season finale against rival Georgia is in Atlanta.
Such a run also could get the Yellow Jackets back in the Coastal race. They have three league losses, but only one to a division rival. And Coastal frontrunners Virginia and Virginia Tech face tough stretch runs. The 4-0 Cavaliers have Wake Forest, Miami and Virginia Tech still to play. The 3-0 Hokies have Boston College, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Miami and Virginia ahead.
Virginia beat Georgia Tech earlier this season and must lose at least three games and finish in a three-way tie with the Yellow Jackets and one other team for the Jackets to have a chance to get to Jacksonville.
The ACC's first tiebreaker is head-to-head. The second is division record. In the case of a three-way tie where the head-to-head doesn't break the tie (i.e. Virginia beat Georgia Tech, Georgia Tech beat Virginia Tech, Virginia Tech beat Virginia), division record would decide the championship game participant. Georgia Tech would be 4-1 against the Coastal Division if it won out. Virginia and Virginia Tech would have two losses or more in the division if they were to finish in a tie with the Yellow Jackets at 5-3 and bring the tiebreaker into play.
As unlikely as that scenario sounds, defensive tackle Darryl Richard can see it happening.
"I'm one of those eternal optimists who believes until we're mathematically eliminated, Georgia Tech has a chance," Richard said. "That's our approach every day. We're getting ready to play for a championship."
NO PRESSURE ON HOOPS TEAM
Basketball coach Paul Hewitt's team opened practice Oct. 12 with a veteran roster but without the pressure of outside expectations.
The Yellow Jackets' two best players from last season, freshmen Javaris Crittenton and Thaddeus Young, left early for the NBA and went in the first round of the league's draft. Last year's team leader and defensive stopper, guard Mario West, graduated.
There's little buzz about the Yellow Jackets as a result. No NCAA Tournament predictions. No preseason Top 25 projections. No ACC title talk.
It's much like October 2003. Chris Bosh had left early for the NBA. The Yellow Jackets were coming off a 16-15 season. No expectations.
Five months later, the Jackets were in the Final Four.
National title appearances are too much to hope for right now at Tech. That 2003-04 team had Jarrett Jack at point guard and defensive stoppers inside (7-0 center Luke Schenscher and forwards Anthony McHenry and Clarence Moore) and outside (West and Isma'il Muhammad).
This season's team will feature an inexperienced point guard and no proven lock-down defensive player.
With no members of the Final Four team remaining, this season reminds the veterans just as much of 2005-06. Then sophomores and freshmen, they were expected to carry on the program's success despite their inexperience. They went 11-17 instead, finishing in a tie for last in the ACC.
But don't count on a repeat flop, senior forward Jeremis Smith said.
"We followed behind some great players who really paved a straight and narrow path for us that we failed to stay on two years ago," Smith said. "But we're older now and much more motivated. And way more experienced."
They're deeper, too. Smith is among four talented post players, and a fifth, senior Ra'Sean Dickey, will rejoin the team at midseason provided that he regains his academic eligibility.
Scorers Lewis Clinch and Anthony Morrow will lead Tech on the perimeter, with defensive specialists D'Andre Bell and Mouhammad Faye ready off the bench.
Point guard is the only position where the Yellow Jackets lack experience, although senior Matt Causey, a transfer who began his college career at Georgetown, and freshman Maurice Miller give Hewitt options at the spot.
Neither player will remind fans of Crittenton.
"But mentally and point guard-wise, I think they'll be able to lead this team as well as Javaris did," Hewitt said.
That could make the Jackets a contender after all. But until then, they'll enjoy the absence of expectations.