Wednesday, May 17, 2006
AN ABSURDLY PREMATURE ASSESSMENT OF: GEORGIA TECH
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SMQ spins the wheel for a hastily-rendered, too-soon look at a random school's prospects for the fall, sans inevitable academic and criminal suspensions, sudden tr ansfers, debilitating injuries and other miscellaneous misfortunes of the long summer
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Ball/Gailey get another shot to break out of the 'just okay' doldrums
PAST FIVE SEASONS: 35-25 (21-19 ACC) - 2005: 7-5 (5-3 ACC), Lost Emerald Bowl
STARTERS BACK, ROUGHLY: 12 (7 Offense, 5 Defense)
WHAT'S CHANGED: The entire starting secondary, a pretty good one that included ballhawking draft pick Dawan Landry and a pair of good corners, a hit only exacerbated by Spring injuries to expected first-teamer Joe Gaston and depth guy Jahi Word-Daniels. That unfortunate combo prompted the move of Pat
WatkinsClark, likely starting receiver opposite Calvin Johnson, to cornerback; in turn, the offense got defensive tackle Mansfield Wrotto, now projected as starter at the lone vacant O-line spot, right tackle.
WHAT'S THE SAME: Aside from the 2001 PATRIOT Act provision restricting for national security purposes the right of any Tech team to finish a season with any win total other than seven (formally refered to as Chan Gailey Equilibrium), the Jackets welcome back quarterback Reggie Ball, that quintessential of gridiron rarities: the Four-year Starter of Little Consequence. Ball's numbers as a junior didn't vary in any significant way from his sophomore performance, which didn't vary in any significant way from his production as a freshman - despite the presence that last two seasons of borderline superhero Calvin Johnson at whom to toss air balls. In its own way, this must be comforting: Tech fans know in August they're getting a 2,100-yard passer with a completion percentage just under fifty, a TD-INT ratio leaning just slightly to the latter and about 360 yards rushing - like their win total the past four years, no more, no less.
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Like coach, like quarterback: Masters of, uh, consistency
AND THEY BLITZ 'EM! Tech's disappointing offensive output is offset by a high-pressure, high-risk defensive approach that can result in regret but more often leads to pain for opposing quarterbacks, physical and emotional. Twenty different players got in on sacks last season, amassing a team total good for 14th in the country, leading to 21 interceptions and giving hell to young immobile quarterbacks - ask Brandon Cox and Kyle Wright, both victims of pressure and picks at the hands of Jon Tenuta's mad scientist zone blitz schemes in the Jackets' upset wins last year. Secondary newbies may limit the amount of man Tenuta's willing to play, but the best athletes on the defense - linebackers Philip Wheeler and KaMichael Hall - are also the top blitzers if it's bombs away again.
GET HIM THE DAMN BALL: Johnson, for all his acrobatic brilliance, only comes up with a little over four catches per game, and has rarely gotten the opportunity to take over a game the way he did North Carolina or NC State (game-winning drop notwithstanding) despite being easily one of the most fearsome weapons anywhere in the country. Part of that may be due to the lack of another true receiving threat to take attention away, part from Ball's accuracy troubles or maybe just part of a scheme that stresses the run to the extent it forgets he's out there for long stretches (the entire Georgia game, for instance). The running game should be in adequate hands with adequate 500-yard backup Tashard Choice moving into the premiere role behind an experienced line, but Watkins' move leaves an absence at the No. 2 wide out position that will make trying to get the ball to Johnson more often another wedge job; given the potential rewards, though, it's a chance SMQ would still say is worth taking.
OVERLY OPTIMISTIC POST-SPRING CHATTER: Gailey is not impervious to the offensive stagnation: he announced following Spring practice that offensive coordinator and former Auburn slinger Pat Nix would be taking his place as day-to-day mastermind and play-caller:
Drawing on his playing days, Nix shouldn't be hesitant to let Ball chunk it up to Johnson more often - he did the same thing, after all, with Frank Sanders in his day.
REASON FOR HOPE: They don't come more experienced behind center than Ball, or tougher to defend at receiver than Johnson; the defense remains athetic and aggressive.
REASON TO BE AFRAID, VERY AFRAID: Ball's positives have yet to overcome his inconsistency; how aggressive can the defense be if the new guys in the secondary don't match the departed group's success last season?
IF THIS TEAM WERE ANY POP CULTURAL, HISTORICAL, POLITICAL, LITERARY OR OTHERWISE NOTABLE FIGURE, IT WOULD BE... You in ten years: once full of promise and talent, starting and the bottom, progressing until you find a niche, then start settling for just good enough until look up one day and think, "Can't I do better?"
HONESTLY, WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE SCHEDULE, SMQ'S THINKING... Ummm...7-5? Just a hunch.
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Previous absurdly premature assessments:
April 3: Central Michigan...April 4: Brigham Young...April 6: Kentucky...April 7: Bowling Green...April 8: Southern Cal...April 11: Rutgers...April 12: Marshall...April 13: Florida State...April 15: San Diego State...April 17: Alabama...April 19: Oregon State...April 20: Buffalo...April 22: NC State...April 23: Arizona ...April 24: Memphis...April 26: Louisiana Tech...Apr il 28: Iowa...April 30: Toledo...May 2: Ohio State...May 3: Mississippi State...May 5: Southern Miss...UL-Lafayette...May 11: Akron...May 13: Michigan State...May 15: Air Force...May 17:Stanford
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Oh, and it's Pat Clark - not Pat Watkins