Monday, September 22, 2008

Overdue Post-Game Thoughts - Mississippi State

It was a long day Saturday... a long wonderful day. It started at about 7:00am, when we woke up our three girls and made breakfast. It ended with our clan pulling up into our driveway at about 8:30pm that night. In between was a glorious, fun day at Bobby Dodd Stadium. We arrived just after kickoff, missing the first drive, which would prove to be Josh Nesbitt's last. Hamstrings are the darndest things. They can be better in one week or 6 months.

My 4 and 6 year old girls had a good time in section 218, part of the "Jackets Nest". Their favorite part? The cheerleaders of course..... and "the Bug" (that would be Buzz). Their faces reddened as the day wore on, the sun shining brightly on a mostly cloudless afternoon. It was their first time at BDS. I asked them last night if they wanted to go again sometime, and with baited breath, I heard those magic words I was longing to hear - "yeah daddy". Honestly, they were troopers, considering the heat, and the fact that every Minute Maid Frozen Lemonade stand ran out of Frozen Lemonade at Halftime. That was a bit of a crusher, because $4 Dove bars just aren't the same as frozen lemonade on a hot day.

I'm sure you're more interested in the game. However, when you're there with your wife and young kids, it's hard to focus completely on the happenings on the field. That's fine by me though, as Saturday was about the family first. So here are my stream of consciousness thoughts.

Let's take stock of a few things. 1) Mississippi State's head coach, Sylvester Croom, said that he and his staff knew exactly what we were going to do and that we did nothing Saturday that surprised them - nothing they had not prepared for..... 2) They had practiced against "the wishbone" for more than one week - they had run option in practice during fall camp - everyday. Croom even said they started preparing for this game at the beginning of summer with his staff....... 3) Mississippi State has (had) a good SEC caliber defense. They did hold Auburn to 3 points, and this is the team that won 8 games last year and went to a bowl, and beat Auburn and Arkansas. Oh yeah, and their head coach is the reigning SEC Coach of the Year in the best conference in football. 4) Georgia Tech's starting stud QB goes out on the first series, leaving a true freshman to run this complex, precision offense.

So you take all that into consideration, and it's eye-opening that Georgia Tech won 38-7. It's mind-boggling that we ran up 500 yards of total offense, including 438 on the ground. It's whacko that 10 different guys carried the ball, and none of them had more than 9 carries. At least 4 guys had over 50 yards on the ground.

Saturday was about complete offensive domination. Players executed more effectively both on the inside and on the perimeter. Many more key blocks were made that just didn't happen last week. Paul Johnson's playcalling was masterful. True freshman Jaybo Shaw handled himself and the offense very well. It is such an incredible feeling to know that you have some confidence if your #1 QB goes down, especially in this offense.

We racked up 500 total yards, including 438 on the ground. That now places the Jackets #3 in the nation in rushing, only behind Navy and Oklahoma State. In essence, Paul Johnson has two of the top three rushing offenses in the country right now.

I have mixed feelings about the defense. On one hand, we held them to 7 points, and that's all that really matters. On the other hand we gave up over 400 yards in total offense to Miss St. On the other hand, our starters really only gave up 200-250 of those yards, mostly in the 1st half, and 70+ of them on one broken running play. Paul Johnson challenged the defense at halftime and they rose to the challenge in the 3rd quarter, until most of the starters were removed before the 4th quarter started.

I'm still a little unsure about this defense. We rely on our D-Line to get pressure and we blitz a lot less than I thought we would. I was never expecting Tenuta-like blitzing, but I just don't see as much aggressive play going after QB's outside the front four. I'll say this much - I don't think our secondary has been challenged yet. Let's face it - we haven't faced even an average passing team yet. Perriloux had nobody to protect him or anyone to throw it to. BC's Crane was lost against us and was a not even close to making BC fans forget Matt Ryan. Tyrod Taylor didn't complete a pass over 10 yards and beat us with his feet and some untimely penalties and turnovers, not his 43 yards passing. Beamer never opened the playbook for him.

Miss St was more effective in the passing game, but let's put a little perspective on the Dogs - they did lose to Louisiana Tech, the new home of Taylor Bennett. So I still have unanswered questions. It looked to me like the corners were playing soft again, willing to give up the short pass. I still think our banged up linebacking core is a step or two behind the standards of years past. There just isn't enough consistency.

There could be another explanation. With the game well in hand early, DC Dave Wommack may have decided to call off the dogs and hold back on some of his tricks for a future opponent. It seems to be a Paul Johnson trademark that he has things up his sleeve we haven't seen. Maybe he wants his defense to keep some Aces up their sleeves as well.

One thing we might say is that our defense could be considered a "big play" defense. We talk about big plays on offense, but what about the goal-line stops, the INT's, the 4th down stuffs, the fumble recoveries? This defense does generally bow up in the red zone and so far they have a knack for creating turnovers. Some of that is the putrid offenses we've seen. Miss St handed some of those stops to us on a silver platter. Now, if Tech can just force more 3-and-outs further back on the field, we'll really be cooking.

Again, hard to complain about the defense when you only give up 7 points late against the 2nd / 3rd string. Paul Johnson put it best - giving up over 400 yards of offense is not a good defensive performance.

You want to know why we had no turnovers today? We fell on the loose balls before the Dogs did. We can't lose sight of the fact that we put the ball on the ground three times Saturday. We were just fortunate to get all of them back. I would not classify our turnover performance as better this week. We just had the bounces go our way. That's how I see it. I have no confidence that we've "taken a step" to improve.... yet. I still believe we are going to be frustrated with our ability to control the ball. There's no magic cure here. In 4 games, we've fumbled 14 times and been fortunate to lose it only 7.

There was some online scuttlebutt that maybe the Jackets switched up the blocking scheme on the interior of the Oline, and that was a primary driver in the success of fending off the Miss St DLine. I cannot confirm this, although I'd welcome any comments for those in the know. On his post-game interview, Johnson said that they unveiled a "new formation that we'd kind of been saving, that gave us a little jump on the toss early on". Whatever changed, it seemed to be working more effectively. I don't remember seeing DT's bust through the line untouched. I don't remember seeing QB's tackled before they could get the snap. Miss St's massive DT was the SEC lineman of the week against Auburn and I think we held him to one tackle. Overall, those guys in the trenches were more effective, for whatever the reason. Kudo's.

So what was the new formation? I did notice we went away from our "balanced" formation on a number of occasions. In fact, Jonathan Dwyer's 88 yard TD run came on a counter-option play where we were over-weighted on the left side, along with thre Miss St's defense. Not sure about the formation comparison, but that counter-option is the play that Dwyer took 43 yards for the game winner against BC and also resulted in one of those TD's against Jax St. It's been a very effective way to break open a big play if enough guys make their blocks downfield. In every case, Lucas Cox has gone in motion from right-to-left as the A-Back, only to change direction and head back right as the lead blocker for Dwyer on the pitch.

For the bettors out there, Tech has covered the spread in every game so far. On another note, the "over / under" for total points in this game between both teams was 37 (I think). We managed to eclipse that all by our lonesome.

It's going to be easy to focus on nothing but "the system". The media is going to it constantly, particularly the opposing teams media. Let's not lose sight of the fact that Paul Johnson and his staff are fiery competitors and winners. Johnson won't accept anything less and nobody will be harder on him than he will. Clearly he had this team ready and focused, and he had Croom's boys on their heels and in a state of confusion all day. The system doesn't make the coach. The coach makes the system. The system has nothing to do with discipline, hard work, buy-in and aggressive play. That comes from the heart of each player in combination with a leader they would go to battle with.

Those were the three words Johnson gave his team last week. I'd say they were the right three.

Across the discussion boards, there were some interesting debates about Jaybo vs Josh, and who should be our QB moving forward. When Josh went out early, Jaybo stepped in and never missed a beat. So what will Coach Johnson do? I think the answer is simple - play Josh Nesbitt when he's healthy again. It's that simple. Jaybo does the little things well and seems to have a better grasp of the mesh/tuck/pitch sequence. Of course, you would expect that since he's a coach's son who ran the exact same system with the exact same terminology in high school.

Josh has had a steeper learning curve in terms of the offense. However, when you compare "upside", it seems clear early on that Josh Nesbitt is more athletic and has a better arm. Nesbitt can do things Shaw can't. We saw it against BC and VT. He makes things happen with his feet when the pocket breaks down. Shaw is quick, but the damage he does with his feet come within the course of the play after making the proper read, and doing it quickly. If things break down, we haven't seen a significant scrambling ability from Shaw.

In terms of throwing strength and accuracy, it's probably too early to tell from the games, but I still have to give the edge to Nesbitt here. Time will tell, but Nesbitt has shown more true "dual-threat" capability so far.

So Shaw might be the better fit now, but Nesbitt might have the bigger upside, so it's worth getting Nesbitt every snap possible. Nesbitt has the potential to be the next Tommy Frazier, possibly the best option QB that ever played the game.

Michael Johnson. Field goal block. Check. Sack. Check. Defended passes. Check. Fumble recovery. Check. QB hurries. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. It was that big play day people were waiting for. Hopefully more to come.

Andrew Gardner's performance netted him his second ACC lineman of the week award.

As always there are still areas to get better. Kick-off coverage needs improvement. The secondary needs to step up more effectively against the pass. We still put the ball on the ground too often. We are still incredibly penalty prone.

With VaTech's win over UNC, they now control their own destiny. They're 2-0 with wins over GT and UNC. We need VT to get knocked off at least a couple of times, and soon. You know, people were so ready to write those guys off and they just win. All that QB controversy stuff last year, and who goes and wins the ACC title? Beamer is an outstanding coach with a very good coaching staff. They get their players ready. Losing to them just the way we did just might be a sting that continues to linger as the season progresses.
Evidently it's not too early to start enjoying comp tickets to college football games. The Citrus Bowl is the stadium where the Champs Sports Bowl and Capital One Bowl are held, and per reports from the Hive, they had some reps at our game.