Just as Mark Twain once said; “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” So too are the reports that the triple option can be stopped. Pick a team from the college football ranks and have them play the same truncated schedule that the Yellow Jackets were handed at the beginning of the season and then we can all begin to talk that “their” offense has also been figured out and can now be stopped. An exhausted team is never effective. That is why in the NFL every team not only wants to win their division, but also wants more than just the home field advantage in the playoffs. They want the opening round bye giving them an extra week of rest.
The extra days of rest that Georgia Tech had prior to playing the Tar Heels was well needed as evidenced by the raggedness and plethora of errors in their prior Thursday night game loss against the Canes. Not an excuse, just an observation. On Saturday, Tech came out and dominated from the opening series of the game with defensive tackle Logan Walls setting the tone for the afternoon by knocking down T.J. Yates on his first pass attempt. That series established the defensive play for the rest of the game. They were playing hard, completely dominated the line of scrimmage, and prevented any yardage on the ground as they held North Carolina to a paltry 17 yards rushing. The hustle and energy was evident from the entire squad even though we were playing without 2 starters in the secondary as Cooper Taylor and Dominique Reese were held out due to injuries.
The entire offense team played with determination and desire all day against yet another big and talented defensive line and outstanding group of linebackers. The blocking was better but not perfect. Yet the Yellow Jackets not only controlled the line of scrimmage, but kept the ball for over 42 minutes of this game as they ran for 317 yards against a defense that was giving up a meager 52 yards on the ground to their previous opponents. Jonathan Dwyer ran for 158 yards on 19 carries, and showed the toughness and energy that we are used to seeing from him. But the game ball in this win goes to Josh Nesbitt.
Josh carried the ball 32 times for about 97 yards, but his toughness and grit was self-evident on the last drive in the 4th quarter with about 5 minutes left to play as the Yellow Jackets were going for another touchdown on the Tar Heels 10 yard line. Josh was tackled hard by several Carolina defenders in the backfield who were twisting his legs while driving him to the ground. Josh rolled on the field for several seconds before regaining his feet and dragging himself slowly back to the huddle. It was at this point that Nesbitt clearly established himself as the leader of this offense. Coach Paul Johnson was preparing to send in Teven Washington at quarterback, but Josh waved him off several times and walked into the huddle. Coach Johnson immediately sensed that Josh was upset from the prior play and wanted to take out his anger by scoring a touchdown.
This is where Coach Johnson has an uncanny knack of knowing his personnel, but more importantly how to feed their competitive nature on the football field. In came an A-Back with the next play from the sidelines and the team broke the huddle. On the next snap I was expecting to see a hand-off to Dwyer up the middle, but I could tell from the prior play that Josh was visibly upset from the tackling by the Carolina defenders. Josh took the snap and with a burst of energy and speed kept the ball on a B-Back lead around the left guard and turned on the burners and ran through the right side of the Tar Heels defense as he tore into the end zone standing upright for a touchdown putting the game out of reach 24 to 7. You could see the energy and leadership from Josh after he scored the touchdown that was sending a personal message to the Tar Heel defenders that I took your best shot, but you could not stop me from putting this one in the end zone. If he would have spiked the ball, I’m certain it would have left a noticeable divot on the turf.
This was a tell tale message from a true leader who not only stepped it up when needed on Saturday, but also showed his teammates that this is “his” team, and nobody is going to prevent him from being on the field, let alone a hard tackle in the backfield from several defenders. Leadership is not bestowed or appointed, but “earned” by performing when it counts. This Saturday Josh Nesbitt came of age as not only a leader of this triple option offense, but a warrior as well. Remember, Josh was not recruited as an option quarterback, and he is just beginning his second season under this offensive system. That play alone showed me that we have the right player running this offense, but more importantly, that we have a quarterback playing under center with the same competitive nature as our coach.
I am even more confident in this team under Josh’s leadership as we head further into the season. He proved his mettle Saturday to not only himself, but his entire team. What was most impressive was Josh’s gritty effort when he was obviously exhausted from the 42 minutes he spent on the field running the offense quite effectively on Saturday. He wanted that score to send a message to the Tar Heels that I’m still standing after taking your best shot all afternoon from a defense that insisted it knew how to stop the triple option. By the time he scored that touchdown, the Carolina defenders all looked tired from hitting Josh all afternoon.
Let me say this again, our offense is not designed to complete 75% of our passes. Josh went 7 for 11 for 89 yards on Saturday. But his real worth was earned in the toughness category which doesn’t show up in any statistical ledger. But you can gauge it by looking at 310 lbs. defensive tackles who were unable to tackle Josh when the game counted the most in the red zone, and gave up a touchdown run of 10 yards on his 32nd carry of the day. Game ball-Josh Nesbitt!
Let me make this disclosure before I write about the kicking game, as a former player, I was not fond of kickers. With that caveat, let me make this brief. I like Scott Blair, and I can forgive him for missing 2 short field goals on Saturday based on his body of work to this point in the season. I have bad days too, just like everyone else in this world. I thought his first kickoff 4 yards deep into the end zone was outstanding, as was another one he kicked to the same place that the Tar Heels returner brought out short of the 20 yard line.
But here is what I cannot tolerate; kicking a ball out of bounds on a kick off, especially after just scoring a touchdown. It is just an absolute momentum killer. So I will leave it at that. Hopefully Scott will correct his problem this week, and all I will need to say the rest of the year is that we were great in all aspects of the kicking game.
My final note goes out to Coach Paul Johnson who is just an absolutely fearless leader on the sideline. While everyone always complains about the officiating, the calls and game management by the ACC crew for this game was well below acceptable. I’m being quite kind as I took “2 polite pills” before writing this entry. Watching our coach go out to “talk” to the officials before going in at halftime is what I expect our leader to do when the officiating is plainly substandard. Kudos to you Coach Johnson for not letting that type of crappy officiating go unchallenged! I know that was used to fire up the team for the second half, as there was no let down on either side of the ball the rest of this game. It was great hearing the fans express their opinion simultaneously with Coach Johnson, and maintain our dignity by not throwing items onto the field at that point in time. I’m also giving a game ball to the crowd at Bobby Dodd for showing class and knowledge in the face of erroneous officiating. Also for remaining in the stands toward the end of the game when the rain storm hit with about 5 minutes left to play.
Let’s get ready for the Bulldogs of Mississippi State as we head back to the road against another opponent looking to pay us back for a loss from last season. Go Jackets!