Saturday, September 29, 2007

Jackets Back on Winning Track

Well, the boys did it. They came into Bobby Dodd Stadium today against the #13 ranked Clemson Tigers and showed that pride still matters. The team showed us that the Georgia Tech YellowJackets are not going to go down without a fight.

Today the YellowJackets displayed a show of defensive force and shutdown the high octane Clemson offense, winning by a final of 13-3. It was truly an impressive display. On the offensive side of the ball, Tashard Choice flexed his muscles and put his name back on the map as the top ACC back.

This game came down to three keys:

1. GT Defense shut down Clemson's running game (stop the run)
2. Tashard Choice ran and ran and ran (establish the run)
3. Special teams play by GT and special teams help from Clemson (big plays)

Let's look at the highlights:

After the first two series of the game for the Jackets, I thought we were in for a rough day. The first snap by Taylor Bennett he trips, tries to handoff as he's falling, fumbles, and Clemson recovers. Thank goodness the defense held them to a field goal - but the Jackets gave up 3 free points.

The second series gets going with penalty, penalty, penalty. Everything good we did got nullified by a mistake. Folks, when are we going to learn how to line the right number of guys on the line-of-scrimmage? But things settled out after that and the momentum turned for good.

Jon Tenuta has taken some heat in the past two weeks. Is he "overrated"? Is he a one-trick pony? Have people finally figured out how to exploit what he does? Wwwweeelllll ....... not really.

The defense was swarming, making tackles, filling gaps, shutting off running lanes, penetrating the line, pressuring the QB and generally wreaking havoc everywhere. Philip Wheeler was a monster, with 2.5 sacks and multiple other hits on the QB.

Wheeler stood out but it was a true group effort. Six sacks total, tons of QB hurries and knockdowns, batted passes, etc, etc. They held Clemson to 228 yards when they were averaging 445. They held them to 3 points when they were averaging 38.3 per game. Wow.

I would also like to give a special note to Vance Walker and Daryl Richard. Defensive tackles never get the stats, but they can disrupt an offense. Today those guys did just that. Nice work by those two bruisers. If you remember, in my pres-season preview, I said that I expected Vance Walker to be the breakout player of the season. It's not a stretch to say he's one of the top candidates for that team prize.

Tashard Choice is a champion. Today he showed why. He absolutely carried the offense, running the ball for 145 yards on 32 carries. "Workhorse" does not do him justice. The coaches did a good job of giving him rest at key points in the game, but he was clearly the man. Don't forget that James Davis and Choice were workout partners over the summer, and Davis is from ATL, so there was some serious showmanship here.

Also, When you consider how anemic the passing game was today (will discuss later), what Choice did is even all the more impressive. Just an amazing effort.

Another amazing point - evidently he lied all week about how he was feeling. Evidently he has been hurting this week but just would not allow Coach Gailey to sit him. Evidently he also gave a rousing pre-game speech about how much he loved this team and that they had to keep fighting and never give up. Here were his postgame comments on those pep talks:

"I addressed the team before the game and told them that we work so hard, and there are so many things that we do that people don't know about. A lot of dedication, and I really wanted them to understand that my life is based around football, and all I have is those guys in the lockerroom and everything that I do out on the field is for them. It's not all about me. Once they understood that, my teammates really rallied and played for me. At halftime, I really told them that it wasn't over. I was really upset at halftime because I felt like we left a lot of points on the field, turned the ball over and didn't convert on situations. It was good that our team was ready to go and the defense came out and kept them from putting points on the board."
In addition, here's what he had to say about the hammy:
"I wasn't at 100 percent today. I lied the whole week, but I had to. It was absolutely hurting me to watch my teammates struggling like they've been. All the hard work you put into the season, to not be able to be out there fighting with your teammates is hard."

At the end of the game, teammates surrounded him and you may have noticed that Choice was crying. You could tell he couldn't contain the emotion of the day and avenging last year's performance. Today was a special day for that young man, and of course a special day for all of us. Thanks TC!

Also have to give a shout of to the guys who led the way for Choice, including Mike Cox, the bruiser, the O-Line, and ever R.Grant, who made a handful of key blocks springing TC for more yards. Grant also did a nice job spelling Choice at key times during the game.

What can you say? GT special teams continue to amaze. Other than last week's punt muff there's not much bad to talk about. Today was no exception.

First you have the incredible punt block by DJ Donley. Just a complete bull-rush. Donley made one of the most pretty moves to get inside they layed out to block the kick. The result was a Jacket FG.

The other key play was the punt muff by Clemson on the hit by Blackwood, which was recovered by Donley.

Throw in your typical Durant Brooks punting outing (7 punts, 49.1 yard average, 1 inside the 20, 3 over 50 yards). Had the coverage team done a better job, they could have stopped one of those kicks on the 1 yard line, but they knocked it into the endzone for a touchback.

Next you get to Travis Bell. The guy continues to do nothing but knock it through the uprights. Two field goals today, one from 41 and one from 48..... and they would have been good from a lot longer as well.

Now, we also have to give a special shout out to Clemson's special teams. Not only did they allow us to block a punt and muff another one - they missed 4.. count'em 4 field goals. VERY costly mistakes that ultimately were the turning points in the game........... well, that and the Clemson TD called back on a personal foul penalty.

....... or should I say drizzle and fizzle? I tell you, everytime these guys touched the ball I held my breath......... but I'll be darned if the defense didn't just keep bottling them up and shutting them down. Thunder (James Davis) ended with 60 yards on 12 carriers and Spiller ended with 2 yards rushing on 9 carriers. Just a dominant performance by the defense.

There were some young guys that made a statement today. Morgan Burnett had his 2nd INT of the year (the only two by the entire team). He played well today.

DJ Donley was a special teams monster, blocking one punt and recovering a fumbled punt by Clemson on another play. Those two plays were key turning points in the game and he was right in the middle of both. You know, DJ Donley might turn out to be a great receiver, but he's got the serious skilss to be a great DB.

Another guy who made some good plays was AT Barnes. He made a critical tackle on an attempted reverse by Clemson and had he missed there would have been some open real estate.

There are always areas to improve, even after an emotional victory. The glaring need is still obvious and the answers are mysterious. Where is the passing game? Today, Taylor Bennett was 7-15 for 67 yards and 1 INT and no TD's.

Once again, there was just no mojo in the passing game. Not all of it is on Bennett though, as numerous guys dropped very catchable balls in the first half, noticably Peek, Thomas and Smith (would have been a tough catch). That could have been 3 more completions for about another 50-80 yards. But even with that, how much confidence do you have when Bennett drops back to pass? For me there's very little. When we complete a pass I'm like "How about that - bonus".

I don't know the answer. There just isn't much tempo to the passing game. Nothing comes easy. Guys aren't getting open. I'm starting to think that the receiving core is as much of the problem as anything.

Once again we were pretty poor on 3rd down conversions even though the stats look better than they were (5-15 on 3rd down). They look better because most of those conversions happened on the last drive of the game, which basically ran out the clock. Critical of course, but during the game we just didn't convert many. Still work to be done here.

Props to the crowd today, which included Dennis Scott and our man Bobby Ross "the Boss" Ross that is. Ross did the line-up intro's for ESPN for the Jacket offense while Keith Brooking handled the D. Nice.

Linebacker Malcolm Munroe commited to the Jackets today! Outstanding! He's a Florida kid with offers from USF, UCF, Auburn, Louisville, S.Carolina and Wisconsin, among others. ranks him the #18 SLB in the nation.

Just an outstanding effort by the team. A great day for Jacket fans - and I cannot wait to get to the office Monday to talk to my Clemson co-workers. There is such a long way to go in the season. Lots of football to play, but the guys should be proud. The bucked up, showed their pride, and made us all proud.


One quick note - sorry about the Tiger picture on the post yesterday. Wasn't trying to promote extinction of some rare animal. Lighten up people.