Joe Speed knows a little bit about leadership. A U.S. Naval Academy graduate, Georgia Tech’s secondary coach was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. He led tactical training exercises and took a platoon on a security mission to Kenya.
So it was that at least two of Tech’s captains heard from Speed this week as the Yellow Jackets attempt to prevent the third three-game losing streak in their past four seasons.
“We were just talking,” B-back David Sims of his encounter with Speed on Sunday, the day after Tech’s 45-30 loss to Miami. “He was like, ‘Make sure everybody’s still focused.’”
Tech is at a precarious point. One of the bigger goals of the season — playing for the ACC title — almost certainly is in the discard pile as a result of consecutive losses to Virginia Tech and Miami.
If the Jackets aren’t correctly focused Saturday night, there’s a good chance BYU could embarrass them. The Cougars possess one of the better defenses in the country and an offense that trampled Texas for 40 points and a stunning 679 yards of offense Sept. 7.
Responsibility falls to Tech’s captains, defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu, cornerback Jemea Thomas and Sims, and other leaders to help the team retain its edge.
“Actually, me, Jeremiah and Jemea were talking about that a little bit earlier, about how we need to make sure everybody has the right mindset, whether it’s somebody who played pretty bad Saturday or whoever played good Saturday,” Sims said.
Both Sims and Attaochu mentioned a motivational point made by Speed, that Tech can finish the first half of the season with a 4-2 record by defeating BYU, the reverse of the Jackets’ mark at the halfway point last season.
“We just remind guys that it’s a long season ahead of us to play,” Attaochu said. “We’ve had a lot of tough games early, and we can’t let it change the way the season can still go.”
At 3-2, there is plenty that can be accomplished. To start, Tech can avenge its 41-17 defeat to BYU and earn one of the more noteworthy road wins for the senior class.
The Jackets can make a run at a Top 25 ranking, a better bowl than the past three (Independence, Sun, Sun) and wins over Clemson and Georgia. Sims, who at the start of the preseason proclaimed his own goal for Tech to go undefeated, has recalibrated his aspirations, saying he thinks that the team “got a little ahead of ourselves” with the 3-0 start.
“But I think we need to approach it as we’re trying to go 1-0 every week,” Sims said. “If we do that, we’ll still end up with a pretty good season.”
Going 1-0 in Provo, Utah, will indeed be task enough. BYU is 43-9 at LaVell Edwards Stadium under coach Bronco Mendenhall. The Cougars play a physical style that overwhelmed the Jackets last season, when they failed to score a touchdown on offense for only the second time in coach Paul Johnson’s tenure. BYU is favored by a touchdown over the Jackets.
The past two games have been unsettling for quarterback Vad Lee, who has known little but success on the football field.
“It’s definitely been hard on me because I haven’t been used to this,” he said. “It’s something I don’t plan on getting used to, either. I’ve just got to continue to lead the team, continue to get better myself while everybody else is getting better.”