The 15th-ranked Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets take their act on the road for the first time this season, as they invade Lawrence this weekend, for a showdown with the Kansas Jayhawks in an ACC/Big XII non-conference affair.
The defending ACC champions got their 2010 season off on the right foot, with a 41-10 drubbing of FCS foe South Carolina State in Atlanta last weekend. With the win, Tech has now won its last four season-openers by a combined score of 152-44. Paul Johnson is now 21-7 in his third year with the Yellow Jackets and has been named the ACC Coach of the Year in back-to-back seasons.
The Jayhawks are under the guidance of new head coach Turner Gill. The 2010 campaign didn’t start according to Gill’s plan, as Kansas dropped an ugly 6-3 decision to North Dakota State last weekend. It marked the first season- opening loss for Kansas since 2003. The nine total points combined were the fewest for KU in a game since 1971.
This is just the second meeting between these two programs. Georgia Tech was victorious in the only other meeting, a 20-14 decision in the 1948 Orange Bowl.
Paul Johnson has run the football a lot in his first two seasons at the helm and early indications are Georgia Tech will once again live and die by the run. In the season-opener, Tech amassed 384 yards of total offense, with 372 of that coming on the ground. The team averaged a hefty 6.6 yards per carry and rushed 56 times, compared to a mere eight pass attempts. Talented signal- caller Joshua Nesbitt certainly jump-started his season, rushing for 130 yards and three TDs against South Carolina State. Tailback Roddy Jones got in the act as well, netting 11.2 yards per carry and scoring twice. In all, Georgia Tech scored six times on the ground, running at will over SCSU. The passing attack, which was at least an option last season with Demaryius Thomas on the outside, failed to materialize in the opener. It remains to be seen if Johnson will have Nesbitt back in the pocket much this year.
In speaking about Nesbitt’s passing, Johnson had this to say.
“It is what it is. I think there are games that he is going to throw the ball really well, and he has in the past, and there are games where he may struggle sometimes. What you hope is if he struggles, it is a game that you don’t need to throw it. I really believe that we could have won the game on Saturday not ever throwing the ball. We have played a lot of games that way. We are going to be more efficient, but six attempts is a pretty small sample size to announce something dead. Especially when one guy dropped, one was a pass interference, it wasn’t that big of a deal to me. Would I like to see him throw a couple of balls better? Yes. But I have seen the kid and he can throw the ball. If you are waiting for him to complete 70 percent of his passes you are going to be waiting a long time.”
The Tech defense, which needs to replace several top-notch performers from 2009, was not tested all that often against South Carolina State in the opener. The team yielded a mere 272 yards of total offense, although SCSU did find some success on the ground (178 yards). The Tech defense failed to record a sack in the game and forced just one turnover, a fumble recovery by Quentin Sims. Four players tied for the team-lead in tackles, with Izaan Cross, Isaiah Johnson, Mario Edwards and Mario Butler all recording six stops. The secondary was obviously active in the opener, as Johnson, Edwards and Butler all reside in the defensive backfield.
Stopping the run is key to Tech’s success defensively this year according to Johnson.
“We just need to stop the run and that is the way that we need to play football. My experience through the years, you stop the run and you run the ball you are going to win more than you lose.”
The Jayhawks sure have their share of youth throughout the roster this season and it definitely showed last weekend, especially on offense. Kansas gained 293 yards of total offense in the game, but three costly turnovers thwarted any opportunity at building momentum and ultimately cost the Jayhawks the game. Sophomore QB Kale Pick and redshirt freshman QB Jordan Webb combined to go just 19-of-33 passing, with one INT. Junior wideout Daymond Patterson was one of the only bright spots on the offensive side of the football, carrying the ball three times and netting 63 yards, with a long of 51 yards. He also recorded four receptions, for a team-high 66 yards. The offensive line struggled with its run-blocking, as KU averaged just 3.0 yards per carry and also yielded four sacks to NDSU.
Defensively, the Jayhawks did their job, holding North Dakota State to a meager 168 yards of total offense. However, the unit did have some costly penalties that extended NDSU drives, keeping the team from earning the victory. Junior LB Steven Johnson led all Jayhawks with nine tackles and was responsible for one of the team’s seven TFLs in the game. Senior LB Justin Springer was right behind with seven stops (one TFL). Secondary play was highlighted by junior CB Isiah Barfield (five tackles, one INT) and senior CB Chris Harris (four tackles, 1.5 TFLs, one sack).
Harris knows what the Jayhawks need to do defensively against the Yellow Jackets.
“You have to beat GT by being disciplined. Everybody is going to have a responsibility. A linebacker might have the quarterback this time. Somebody might be watching the pitch. You’ve got to stay disciplined, you can’t try to be the hero. You have to stay focused on your job.”
Kansas failed to get anything going at home against North Dakota State although the defense played well for the most part. Still, a high-powered offense like Georgia Tech will pose all kinds of problems for KU. Expect the Jayhawks to have their hands full with Nesbitt and company, as the Yellow Jackets win this one going away.