The pendulum swings quickly, and sometimes with excessive amplitude. Before dusk fell Thursday evening on Bobby Dodd Stadium, Georgia Tech was an undefeated team starting to gain national attention after a convincing win overVanderbilt last Saturday. With an offense that coach Paul Johnson said had the potential to match the standard set by the historically efficient 2014 team, the Yellow Jackets were eager to test themselves against one of the most formidable teams in the country.
By the time the Jackets fans filed out of Bobby Dodd Stadium later that night, some well before the final seconds ticked off the clock of Tech’s 26-7 defeat at the hands of No. 5 Clemson, skepticism had regained the stage.
How much better is this team than the 2015 version, particularly considering the offense plunged to new lows in coach Paul Johnson’s tenure with 124 yards of offense and a 2.4 yards-per-play average? Can the Jackets rebound against next week a team and coach (Miami and Mark Richt) that have historically been trouble?
“We’ve got to keep getting better,” Johnson said. “(The Clemson loss) is not a division game, which is a good thing. We’re going to see the same kind of athletes next week when Miami comes here. We’ve got to be able to play better. We’ve got to have a little pride and throw our bodies around and get in front of some people and play better.”
Johnson was critical of the blocking in the loss to Clemson, and called the play of the offense in the first half “totally inept.” The litany of no-gain or negative-yardage plays derailed the offense, putting the Jackets in untenable 3rd-and-long spots that they couldn’t pick up against an overpowering pass rush.
The Jackets will need to respond to Thursday’s mess, to correct the mistakes but not be consumed by them.
“We can’t harp on (Thursday’s loss),” quarterback Justin Thomas said. “We’ve still got our whole division (schedule) that we still have to play that we haven’t started yet. Everything that we’ve got to look forward to at the end of the season is still right here in front of us.”
Indeed, Tech has all six games against its Coastal Division opponents left, starting with the Hurricanes. Win all six, and the Jackets will win the division. But, in four games thus far, Tech has twice failed to clear 125 yards or average three yards per carry, against Boston College and Clemson. That is highly anomalous.
In Johnson’s first seven seasons, a span of 105 games, Tech had just four games in which it finished with under 125 rushing yards and only five in which it averaged under three yards per carry.
It might be merely the byproduct of playing two exceptional defenses in a four-game span, although Boston College’s 49-0 loss last week to Virginia Tech doesn’t quite lend credence to that possibility.
Or perhaps it’s an indication of an offense that needs more work than previously thought.
“The offense, to say I’m disappointed would be an understatement,” Johnson said. “Just really frustrated with that right now.”
Improvement is often not linear, and perhaps the gains made against Vanderbilt did not erode entirely in one disappointing Thursday night. More light will be shed next Saturday.
Next week, “I think guys will be confident going in,” center Freddie Burden said. “One bad game doesn’t make a season.”