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Like many other Tech fans, I thought the Yellow Jackets had a shot at upsetting Auburn simply because the Tigers were going with a new guy at quarterback and would have to develop a ground game to make up for the departure of two of the school's best running backs ever. And that's exactly what happened last Saturday night on the Plains.
Even with the tremendous victory, I still had a lot of nervous moments during the game. When Auburn's Brandon Cox finally settled down and started hitting his short passes, he was able to move the Tigers up and down the field at will in the first half. This was giving me some bad flashbacks to earlier periods of Tech football history, most especially the 1995-96 era when Tech's defensive backs gave every wide receiver a 10-yard cushion and allowed opposing quarterbacks to rack up 35 to 40 completions a game.
Tech's sloppy tackling reminded me too much of the 1999 team that surrendered more than 300 points on defense. On Auburn's first two scores, Dawan Landry and Kenny Scott both missed tackles that allowed their receiver to take it in. This was looking bad. The soft coverage and the inability to wrap up a wide receiver had me dreading the second half. Surely, Auburn would come out throwing and bury the Jackets once and for all.
Fortunately, I was wrong. Since Tech couldn't cover Auburn's receivers, they did the next best thing – they jumped on Cox's erratic passes and intercepted them. Despite Auburn's alleged edge in depth that the TV announcers kept harping upon, the Jackets had just enough gas left in the tank at the end of the fourth quarter to smack down Cox, force a fumble, and put the game away.
While I'm concerned about the defensive shortcomings I saw, it would be wrong not to take note of the many things that went right for the Jackets. The offensive line was blocking much better than I had hoped they would. They opened some nice holes for the running backs and Reggie Ball was only sacked once, by my count. Mike Cox did an awesome job of blocking from the fullback slot – he looked every bit as effective as his predecessors, Ed Wilder and Jimmy Dixon. Jamal Lewis executed some sharp open-field tackles and showed a lot of fire at defensive back. I think he has earned himself a lot more playing time. Ben Arndt's punting is greatly, greatly improved from last year. KaMichael Hall has evidently resolved his "issues" with Chan Gailey and was back in there making some big plays at linebacker. Eric Henderson looked a little lost in the first half, but he settled down and played a strong second half at defensive end. P. J. Daniels exploited Auburn's speed by cutting back and ripping off several long gains at running back.
As for the two key players on offense: Reggie Ball appears to have settled down at quarterback and made much better decisions in the heat of combat. Calvin Johnson was merely spectacular, as he always is, and he got some help at wide receiver from Damarius Bilbo, Pat Clark, James Johnson and Chris Dunlap. My only criticism here is that Tech has probably gone to the well once too often with those "fade" routes to Calvin. My gripe with fade passes is that they exploit one of Calvin's great talents, his leaping ability, while, at the same time, negating one of his biggest advantages on pass routes: his straight-ahead speed. On top of that, fade passes tend to hang up there and give the defensive back time to recover and make an interception. I wish Tech would just unleash Calvin and let him burn a few long routes rather than turn every pass into a jump ball.
Finally, I want to give credit to Coach Chan Gailey, who has been a target of criticism by me (and others) for his play-calling in past seasons. I would argue with a few of the decisions he made Saturday night, but on the whole Gailey called a good game for Reggie Ball and the Tech offense. You won't see me take any more cheap shots at him – unless Tech loses to North Carolina.
In any event, Gailey was demonstrably the superior coach to Tommy Tuberville down on the Plains. I guess it's time for Bobby Lowder to fly to Louisville and make another job offer to Bobby Petrino.
While things were going well for Georgia Tech last weekend, the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina caused quite a few football games along the Gulf Coast to be called off: LSU vs. North Texas, Tulane vs. Southern Mississippi, McNeese St. vs. Southern.
The problems with the hurricane began a few days before it actually hit the coast when President Bush received a security briefing at the Crawford ranch that was titled: "Hurricane Katrina determined to strike in U.S." Unfortunately, the president didn't have time to read the briefing because of previous plans to go biking with Lance Armstrong, so an opportunity was lost to get federal personnel down to New Orleans ahead of time.
Bush did try to get back on top of the situation by delivering a rousing speech that rightly equated the hurricane to the terrorist forces that have hit America before.
"This hurricane came to our shores with a surprise attack that killed thousands in cold blood," Bush said. "Once again, we find ourselves threatened by murderous weather events that despise everything America stands for. Hurricane Katrina, like all tropical storms, is a climatological terrorist. They hate our freedom and our dryness. They hate our prize-winnin' videos of ‘Girls Gone Wild' and all the other bead-tossin' and boob-showin' down in the French Quarter. But we cannot surrender to these terrorist forces of nature. We must stay the course if we are to realize our dream of bringing American-style democracy to the Mississippi Delta. To pull out now would only give aid to these elements. We have discovered the true breeding ground for these terrorists, which is the Atlantic Ocean. I will send American forces to do battle with this ocean so that it does not send these terroristic storms to our shores ever again. We will teach the Atlantic Ocean to fear the wrath of a righteous America . . ."
Meanwhile, back in an alternate reality, things are turning around. Tech's players from the Gulf Coast area – Eric Henderson, Ace Eziemefe, Damarius Bilbo, Dawan Landry – have accounted for all of their family members. Tulane will play out its football schedule, even with its campus underwater. Most of the postponed games will be made up.
Before moving on from hurricanes and related topics, I have to take note of a couple of pundits who blew big time with their amazingly wrong predictions about the Auburn game. Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated wrote, "A prominent Atlanta columnist predicted this week that Georgia Tech not only would win at Jordan-Hare on opening night but that the two teams would finish with the same record: 7-5. Apparently no one's bothered to tell him how good Auburn's defense is. The Tigers might not score much, but there's a distinct possibility stadium workers will need to scrape Jackets QB Reggie Ball off the turf afterward."
I may be completely misinformed, Stewart, but I could swear I saw Reggie Ball walking off on his own two legs after Tech's victory.
There was also some nonsense from talk radio commentator Chuck Oliver, a former Auburn player who said, "It's very simple – Tech can't block Auburn." Uh, Chuck, you may want to reconsider that statement.
Of course, we can always rely on the Hive poster known as "20ozBulldog" to really get things going. This guy is hilarious. Not since the days when Bass'n Dawg was writing about how Joe Hamilton had a "weak, below-average arm" has there been a troller from the Chihuahua Nation who was so wrong in so many delightful ways. After reading his Auburn prediction, I am convinced he should change his Hive handle to "20percentBraincells."
Let's look at some of the Bulldog's predictions:
"That Auburn run defense will not let the Jackets run the ball. Not gonna happen." (Yep, Auburn sure was shutting down P. J. Daniels – they held him to a measly 111 yards.)
"Mark this down --- Calvin will not have a great game. When it is over you will see many posts asking why GT did not throw to him more and what was wrong with him." (Auburn's defensive backs might disagree with that one.)
"GT will start off slow in this game. The running game will be unable to move." (Tech scored on its first two possessions with the help of a marvelous running game before Auburn even made a first down.)
"I am afraid that GT will not be able to handle the speed and strength of Auburn. Have brought this up before. It is key." (On that last fumble by Brandon Cox, it was Auburn who couldn't handle Tech's speed and strength.)
"In the end, Auburn wins by between 7-16 points." (Right range, wrong team.)
What would a football season be without our own brain-damaged Bulldog?
Let's take a couple of questions.
Q. Should Tech have been ranked higher in the polls after beating Auburn as badly as they did?
A. I think they're about where they belong (No. 17 in the AP poll and No. 21 in the USA Today poll). They are also ranked ahead of Auburn in both polls, which they should be. The tricky part will be whether Tech can beat North Carolina this weekend and stay in the Top 25. Chan Gailey teams traditionally stumble at least once each season against a team they should beat. That could easily be the Tar Heels (as it was last year). We'll know that this is a special year for Tech if they're able to go out and put up good performances in two consecutive games.
TCU fans, on the other hand, have good reason to complain. They outplayed an overrated Oklahoma team but are still ranked behind the Sooners in both polls. Where is the justice?
Q. Who was the worst player you saw last weekend?
A. No contest – it would have to be Jared Zabransky of Boise State. Not since Quincy Carter went in the tank and threw five interceptions against South Carolina have I seen a quarterback turn the ball over so many times. Even Brandon Cox did a better job of hanging on to the ball. You'd almost have to ask if Zabransky had money riding on Georgia.
Here are my picks for the upcoming weekend:
Notre Dame at Michigan. The Irish upset the Wolverines last year thanks largely to an Atlanta-area running back, Darius Walker, who wasn't even offered a scholarship by UGA. I don't think Notre Dame can do it again, but Walker will continue to prove how dumb Mark Richt was not to give him a look.
Virginia Tech at Duke. It's not looking good for Blue Devils Coach Ted Roof. It won't look any better after the Hokies thrash him.
Mississippi State at Auburn. Even with all the mistakes he made against Tech, I don't think Brandon Cox is that bad a quarterback. Hopefully, he'll do much better against M-State and start building up his confidence for the Nov. 12 matchup in Athens.
Army at Boston College. Boss Ross has made some strides at West Point, but not enough for a win over the Eagles.
South Carolina at Georgia. Chihuahua Nation is trembling in anticipation of finally getting a win over Steve Spurrier. Once again, Spurrier has shown that with his offensive system, he can take a slow white guy and turn him into a productive dropback passer (Blake Mitchell put up 330 yards against Central Florida). That may at least make the game entertaining for awhile. Visor Boy will take his lumps this year – but start getting his payback next year.
Citadel at Florida State. Come on, Bobby. This isn't even funny.
Southern Mississippi at Alabama. As the old joke goes, you know your team sucks when you're reduced to worshipping an old, dead drunk. The Tide will probably roll, but does anyone really care anymore?
Texas at Ohio State. Longhorns' Coach Mack Brown has the chance to prove that's he no longer a whiny, overrated choker who can't win the big games. But I don't think he'll win this one either.
Clemson at Maryland. Both teams pulled out close wins last weekend. Ralph Friedgen will show that he may have recovered some of that magic from his first three seasons as head coach.
Idaho State at Kentucky. Rich Brooks may be the least-inspiring coach of all time in the SEC, but even he should be able to win this one.
Wake Forest at Nebraska. I've been bragging for years that the Deacons' Jim Grobe is one of the most underrated coaches in Division I-A and what does he do? Goes out and blows one to Vanderbilt. Forget it, Jim. I'm no longer on your bandwagon.
Alabama-Birmingham at Troy. If you're married to an Alabama cheerleader and you later divorce her, are you still legally brother and sister? This game may provide some answers.
Dr Football - One Down, 10 to go
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