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Sometimes you can get too optimistic.
I went into the Notre Dame game expecting (hoping?) to see Georgia Tech make some improvements in several vital areas. Did I actually see that improvement on the field? Not so much, unfortunately.
Take the offensive line, for example. I thought that with another year's experience and the move of Mansfield Wrotto from defense, the O-Line would make some strides forward. They did okay in the first half, but seemed to run out of steam completely after halftime. Tashard Choice ran the ball 10 times for 44 yards in the first half and looked to me like he would have a shot at a 100-yard game. But he ran the ball only four times for 10 yards in the second half because the holes weren't there. Add to that a bad snap to Reggie Ball that caused a five-yard loss the last time Tech had the ball in the fourth quarter, followed by a play where the floodgates opened and the Notre Dame pass rush buried Ball for a final, ignominious sack. A disappointing performance by the big uglies. The good news is that they've got the Samford and Troy games to try to find their groove.
I also expected a rejuvenated offense this year and was anticipating some new wrinkles in play calling by Patrick Nix, especially in throwing the ball more often to Calvin Johnson. That kinda-sorta happened, as Johnson caught seven passes for triple-figure yardage and a touchdown - nothing to complain about there.
But Nix whiffed badly in the first half when Tech was on its second scoring drive and had a first-and-10 at Notre Dame's 12 yard line. That close in, you would think, Nix would surely call for at least one pass to Johnson where he would have the opportunity to outleap the shorter Irish defenders for another score. Didn't happen. Tech ran the ball twice and threw incomplete to James Johnson before settling for a field goal and their last score of the game.
The Jackets are in a scoring slump that now extends several games back into last season. Tech scored 17 points in a loss to Virginia, 14 points in the win over Miami, 7 points in the loss to Georgia, 10 points in the Emerald Bowl disaster, and 10 points against Notre Dame. That means the Tech offense has not been able to score more than two touchdowns for five games in a row, and that isn't good.
Special teams? Again, it looked in pre-season practice that a new coach and a renewed emphasis on special teams play would show up in improvements on the field, but kick coverage was very poor for most of the game.
To me, the ultimate difference in the game can be summed up by the decisions that the head coaches made in identical situations.
Late in the third quarter, when Notre Dame had gone up 14-10 and grabbed the momentum, Tech mounted its best drive of the second half and crossed midfield to the Irish 49. The Jackets faced a fourth-and-one situation, and this seemed to be the time when it really made sense to go for a first down. The Jackets needed to do something dramatic to break the Irish momentum and try to swing it back to their side - why not go for it and try to keep the drive alive? Even if you fail, it's not a bad gamble that Tech's defense would be able to keep Notre Dame out of the end zone (which the defense did, in fact, do for the rest of the game). But no. Chan Gailey, as cautious as always, kicked the ball away and in the process kicked away Tech's last good chance to get an offensive drive going.
Notre Dame faced its own fourth-and-one situation with less than two minutes to go in the game when it was trying to keep the ball away from Tech. Charlie Weis made the aggressive move to go for the first down, Brady Quinn picked up the necessary yardage, and Tech never got its hands on the football again.
Chan Gailey played not to lose - and lost anyway. Charlie Weis played to win - and won. There has to be a lesson there somewhere.
Despite all of those disappointing developments, I remain optimistic that Tech can have a good season. After all, they lost by only four points to a top-ranked team even with all of the shortcomings we noted above. The defense seemed to run out of gas late in the first half but recovered and held the Irish to only two touchdowns. Let's face it - if your defense holds the other side to 14 points, you ought to be able to win the game.
Philip Wheeler had a monster game at linebacker. Joe Anoai got in some hard hits on Brady Quinn. Pat Clark was surprisingly good as a first-time starter at defensive back. Jon Tenuta, as always, called an intriguing package of blitzes that had Notre Dame's offense befuddled for most of the first half.
While I wish Chan Gailey would have been a little bolder in that fourth down situation, I also have to note the splendid job he and his staff are doing on the recruiting trail, capped by the announcement two days before kickoff that running back Jon Dwyer and offensive tackle Nick Claytor are committing to Tech. Those are terrific pickups in a recruiting year that has already exceeded most people's expectations. The fact is, Tech has the talent to go head-to-head with Top 10 programs like Notre Dame and more talent is in the pipeline. You have to be encouraged by that.
Bottom line, it's way too early to write anybody off just yet. Tech can expect to win the Samford/Troy games while it works out some of the kinks - then we'll get to the meat of the conference schedule and can start making more accurate assessments of where the team is going.
Q: What else was disappointing about the weekend?
A: Even more depressing that Tech's loss to Notre Dame was the news that Steve "Crocodile Hunter" Irwin, the well-known Australian wildlife expert, was killed while filming an undersea documentary when a sting ray barb hit him in the heart. Crikey!
As a tribute to Irwin's TV career, and in keeping with the high-class traditions that have always been associated with the game, his remains will be fed to the Florida mascot, Albert the Alligator, during halftime of the Georgia-Florida game.
Q: I was really impressed with the whipping Southern Cal laid on Arkansas. Any chance that Tech might play them at some point?
A: I understand there were some high-level negotiations about adding the Trojans to Tech's schedule as the 12th game this year, but the sticking point was the possible playing time of Mark Sanchez, a backup quarterback at Southern Cal. Law enforcement officials reminded the Tech athletic department that under Georgia's tough new anti-immigrant law, once Sanchez crossed the state line he could be arrested and denied Medicaid benefits.
This week's picks -
Virginia Tech (-12.5) at North Carolina. With an embarrassing loss to Rutgers followed by the possibility of a blowout defeat at the hands of the Hokies, could this finally be the demise of John Bunting that we've been predicting for the past three years?
Auburn (-20) at Mississippi State. Auburn has taken a lot of heat because of that New York Times article about the "self-directed reading classes" offered to several football players who needed to get a quick passing grade from a sociology professor named Tom Petee. I think some of the criticisms are just a little unfair. It seems to me that Professor Petee was a compassionate instructor who wanted to do more for his students than just bog them down with trivial things like "knowledge" and "information." Defensive back Carlos Rogers described him this way: "He's the kind of teacher that, you know, he wants to help you out, not just pile a lot of stuff on you." Well, exactly. What good will all that "stuff" that comes out of books do you anyway? Another Auburn professor complained that under Petee's tutulage, "We were getting sociology majors graduating without taking sociology classes," but really, is that so important? Professor Petee, in his own defense, said there were only "a handful" of football players in his directed readings, if by "handful" you mean 60 or 70. I was also inspired by the way Carnell "Cadillac" Williams described a statistics class taught by Petee: "You're just studying different kinds of math. It's one of those things where you write a report about the different theories and things like that." Given that deep understanding of the subject, I'm sure Mr. Williams would have no problem at all with the statistics courses offered at Ma Tech these days. Then there was defensive end Doug Langenfeld, who recounted that in the class he took from Petee, he had to read one book (he couldn't recall the title) and write a 10-page paper on that book. "I got a B in the class," said Langenfeld. At most SEC schools that would be considered academically rigorous - if your instructor was named Jim Harrick Jr., that is. I don't see what everybody's getting so worked up about. With that kind of scholastic achievement going on, you have to think Auburn can cover this week's spread. They certainly won't be worn out from doing any homework assignments.
Penn State at Notre Dame (-8). Joe Pa's Nittany Lions didn't look so hot against Akron last weekend, but on the other hand, Notre Dame didn't exactly set the woods on fire at Bobby Dodd Stadium, now did they? I'll pick Paterno to go for it on fourth down and beat the spread.
Clemson (-2.5) at Boston College. The Eagles had a mediocre performance against Central Michigan last weekend but I'm confident that Tommy Bowden and them Tigers will find a way to under-achieve because, well, that's what they do.
Central Florida at Florida (-23). George O'Leary said that anyone who would make his team a 23-point underdog is obviously a flapper. I think I'm with George on that one.
Georgia (-3.5) at South Carolina. If the old ball coach had only had a placekicker last year, South Carolina would have made that field goal and beat Georgia in Athens. I don't know why Georgia is a three and a half point favorite this weekend - with the mediocre talent they've got at quarterback, it's going to be difficult for them to score even three points. Which means the Gamecocks should beat the spread.
Ohio State at Texas (-2.5). Since Ohio State is ranked number one in the nation, how can they be nearly a three-point underdog to a team ranked below them? Sounds to me like the oddsmakers took one of those statistics courses under Professor Petee at Auburn. Either that, or the sportswriters voting in the poll were drunk which, as we all know, can't be the case because sportswriters are a rational, sober group of people who don't drink. Never mind.
Air Force at Tennessee (-20). Looks like the Vols are benefiting from the return of David Cutcliffe as offensive coordinator. Cutcliffe seems to have really made a difference in the play of quarterback Erik Ainge, and suddenly it looks like the Big Orange could finish second in the SEC East and push Georgia down to third place, or lower. The best news of all for Vol fans is the return of backup quarterback/drunk driver Jim Bob Cooter, which means there will be a Chevy Blazer in the Neyland Stadium parking lot filled to the brim with brewskis. Mel Gibson has also agreed to be Jim Bob's designated driver (just as long as there aren't too many Jews around, of course). Party on!!
Dr Football - Week 2
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