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Okay, I was wrong.
I was one of the multitude of sportswriters and commentators who predicted last week that Georgia Tech had no chance to beat either the generous point spread or Miami straight up. I miscalled that one entirely and I take all of the responsibility, if not the blame. I blew it.
I'm also one of many who have criticized Chan Gailey's coaching style in his four seasons at the Flats, most particularly his maddening tendency to have Tech well-prepared and motivated to the point that they can beat Auburn (twice) and Miami on the road – but can also come out so poorly prepared and ill-motivated that they lose winnable games against Duke and N.C. State and twice get blown out by 51-7 margins.
I don't retract any of those criticisms but I also will give the man his props when he deserves them, and he obviously deserves them for the Jackets' tremendous performance against the Hurricanes. This was easily Tech's biggest victory since their defeat of Virginia in 1990. Gailey made all the right calls on offense – I can't really think of one I would have disagreed with. Tech's players were exactly in the frame of mind they needed to be in for this game – which is an amazing accomplishment when you look back at how traumatic the preceding week had been.
Defensive Coordinator Jon Tenuta called maybe the best defense game that a coordinator has ever called. Sometimes defense schemes work and sometimes they don't, but Tenuta really had Miami's number Saturday night. Every time he called a blitz it seemed the players were right on the spot to sack Kyle Wright or knock running back Charlie Jones for a loss. The most incredible statistic I've seen in a long time was Miami's conversion of exactly one of 14 third-down conversions. It has been a long time since a Hurricane offense has been so completely stymied. And on their own field, at that.
There are so many heroes to call out for this great victory . . . Ben Arndt for kicking a 78-yard punt late in the fourth quarter from deep in Tech's territory that put Miami back on their own 10-yard line, and also for tackling Miami returner Darnell Jenkins and cutting off a possible score . . . Dennis Davis, who ended Miami's last scoring hope with a huge interception . . . KaMichael Hall for his sacks of Wright and his stuff of Jones on a crucial fourth-down play in the last quarter . . . Linebackers Philip Wheeler and Gerris Wilkinson for all of their big hits . . . Eric Henderson for smacking Wright down on a first-half pass attempt . . . Calvin Johnson for making not just one but several of his typically unbelievable receptions . . . Reggie Ball for avoiding interceptions and using the quarterback draw play to score the go-ahead touchdown and squeeze out some important first downs late in the game . . . Tashard Choice for those hard-earned yards he gained while subbing for P. J. Daniels . . . the entire offensive line for holding off Miami's pass rush just enough to limit them to one sack of Reggie Ball . . . The entire defense for holding Miami to just one touchdown and 30 yards rushing on 30 attempts, and for registering seven sacks.
I only hope that Tech doesn't revert to its old pattern and follow up the big victory over a strong team (Miami) with a loss to a weaker team (Georgia).
The Miami upset was obviously a big victory, made even bigger by the fact that it came at the end of one of the worst weeks in the history of the Georgia Tech athletic program.
Most of the people reading this article are very familiar with what happened last week, so I won't recount each and every detail. I'll just make a few comments:
1. Georgia Tech broke the rules and the school deserved to be punished. I happen to think that Tech is being punished more severely by the NCAA than other programs, like Georgia's, that have committed far worse offenses and gotten off with lighter punishments. Is that fair? No. But when you join a private organization like the NCAA, you agree to play by their rules and abide by their judgments, for better or worse. Just another illustration that life is not fair.
2. These rules infractions happened on the watch of athletic director Dave Braine and president Wayne Clough. They are ultimately responsible for what happened on their watch, and I believe that both of them should be required to step down and start their planned retirements immediately. The fact that this is not going to happen reflects poorly on Georgia Tech.
3. There has been a lot of angry talk about Braine's comment that you can't expect a school with the academic standards of Tech to field a football team that wins nine or 10 games every year. From a public relations standpoint, yes, he probably should have kept his mouth shut. But really, I don't think what he said was that far out of line. The fact is, no school, not even one with lower academic standards than Tech, is going to win nine or 10 games every year. Let's consider the records of a few teams this year: Florida State is 7-3 and could be 7-4 after it plays Florida. Michigan, the most hallowed of all Division I-A schools, finished 7-4. Nebraska is 6-4 and will probably be 6-5 after it plays Colorado this weekend. Oklahoma is 6-4. Tennessee is 4-6 and won't go to a bowl game for the first time since 1988. These are all power programs that aren't going to come close to nine or 10 wins this season. There are many things you can justifiably criticize Braine for, but I think this one is a little unfair.
4. When the Fulton County judge ordered that Reuben Houston be reinstated to the football team, Tech had no choice, legally, but to comply. But I disagree that Gailey should have allowed Houston to play against Miami, considering the serious nature of the federal charges on which he was indicted. Just because you're told to put a player back on the active roster doesn't mean you're required to play him on game day. This was, morally and ethically speaking, the wrong thing to do.
5. Should Chan Gailey have been given a contract extension two days after Tech played so abominably against Virginia? Well, I'm one of those who thought Gailey should have been fired after that 51-7 loss to Georgia in 2002. I still feel that way, in fact. If Tech follows up its victory over Miami with another underachieving loss to Georgia, then it will be just another example of the inconsistency that Gailey has displayed throughout his tenure here. On the other hand, if Gailey does the unexpected and Tech actually beats Georgia, then I won't criticize him anymore. At least until next season.
Gailey earned a measure of redemption by beating Miami. Another coach who earned some redemption this season was George O'Leary of Central Florida, who coached the Golden Knights to an 8-3 record (after an 0-11 finish last year) and a spot in the Conference USA championship game. He did all of this without Ralph Friedgen coming anywhere within 500 miles of Orlando. I think it's only fair to give O'Leary credit for achieving this turnaround without Friedgen's help. He proved that his success as a coach doesn't necessarily depend upon Ralph.
Now for a couple of questions –
Q. Although what you said about Ball not throwing deep against UVA makes sense from a theoretical standpoint, you seem to be ignoring the fact that Ball consistently misses his receiver whenever he throws deep. I'd be interested to know what his completion percentage is when the ball more than 20 yards past the line of scrimmage. I'd be surprised if it's over 20%. Usually on long pass plays he either misses the receiver, gets intercepted, or comes close to getting intercepted. He also doesn't seem to complete too many passes once he throws after being flushed out of the pocket.
A. One of the more interesting aspects of the Miami game was the complete change in passing strategy from the Virginia game. Against the Cavaliers, most of Reggie Ball's passes were short throws to the running backs that were either dropped or completed for minimal yardage. Against Miami, however, 10 of Ball's 11 completions went to his wide receivers for 153 yards – an average of 15.3 yards per completion. Instead of throwing short to the running backs, Ball (and I presume Gailey, who made the play calls) stretched the field by throwing long- and medium-range passes to the wide receivers. Calvin Johnson caught four passes against Virginia for 41 yards – an average of just 10.3 yards a completion. He caught six passes against Miami for 89 yards, a 14.8-yard average. That's a big difference right there, and it helped Tech score just enough points to beat Miami. What I still don't understand is why Gailey didn't pursue this same strategy of throwing deeper against Virginia, which was without both of its starting safeties.
Q. You're one of the most aggravating people I know, but I read you anyway. Do you plan to write this column next season?
A. Yes. Dave Braine just called and said he's giving me a five-year extension.
Here are this week's picks:
Georgia at Georgia Tech. My common sense tells me that Tech can't follow up its superb effort against Miami with another winning game against Georgia. After all, Chan Gailey is just too inconsistent a coach to lead a team to successive victories against ranked opponents. But I'm going to ignore my head and go with my heart on this one. The Jacket seniors will provide the leadership that inspires Tech to beat the three-point spread and win straight up.
North Carolina at Virginia Tech. Thanks to Georgia Tech, the Hokies are now back on track to win the ACC championship. Watch them celebrate by taking down the Heels and covering the 22 points.
Maryland at N.C. State (-2). Whichever team loses is out of the bowl picture for the second year in a row. I'll pick the Terps to win this one straight up.
Virginia at Miami. The Hurricanes will be so pissed off after losing to Tech that they'll destroy Virginia and cover the 18. It won't get them to the ACC championship game, however.
Pittsburgh at West Virginia. The Mountaineers are 8-1 and in line to finish an excellent season at 10-1. Pittsburgh has recovered from a disastrous start to pull itself back to a 5-5 record. West Virginia can hold them off, but taking the Pittsburgh and the 13 points might be a good play.
Texas at Texas A&M. This is the year Mack Brown and Texas finally put it all together, setting up a titanic struggle with Southern Cal for the national championship. The Longhorns may even cover that 26-point spread.
Ole Miss at Mississippi State. Here is stark evidence that low academic standards don't guarantee that your football game will win nine or 10 games every year. Is there a worse game being played this weekend? I don't think so.
Florida State at Florida. Both these teams are 7-3 and both have underachieved tremendously this year. Florida probably wins outright, but take FSU and the six points.
Tennessee at Kentucky. While we're on the subject of underachieving teams, how about those Vols? You don't often see a team lose six games after being ranked in the pre-season Top 5, but somehow Phil Fulmer and Tennessee did it. If Tennessee can hold on and beat Kentucky, will you promise me I won't ever have to listen to Rick Clausen whine again about not starting?
Dr Football's Old Fashioned Hate Week Column
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