By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
Short-term memory can be a good friend after a loss, especially one as tough as the double-overtime 42-41 game Georgia Tech endured Monday night in its season-opener.
The Yellow Jackets (0-1) really haven’t had a choice this week, as they’ll follow up their Labor Day opening marathon with their home opener Saturday afternoon against Jacksonville State (1-0). Kickoff is at 12:30 p.m. ET.
“It’s a tough situation,” said head coach Paul Johnson, who is 9-0 in home openers. “You’re coming off a really physical game where you played until midnight and you have to turn-around and play a really good team. I’m not sure people realize how good (Jacksonville State) is. They’re good. It’s not like we’re trotting one of these lower-level I-AA teams in here. They've got some players.”
Johnson estimated he had about 2 ½ hours to practice during the week to prepare for the FCS power -- they’re ranked fifth -- which includes 2016 Ohio Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year redshirt senior defensive end Darius Jackson, 2016 OVC Freshman of the Year, redshirt sophomore safety Marlon Bridges, 2017 Week One FCS Offensive Player of the Week senior running back Roc Thomas, and is coached by 2016 Roy Kidd OVC Coach of the Year John Grass, who is 34-6 in three years at Jax. St. and has won the Kidd Award all three years he's been with the Gamecocks.
Oh, and did we mention that they're coming off a bye week?
One bit of good news for the Jackets is that Eli Jenkins, JSU’s quarterback and the 2015 and 2016 OVC Offensive Player of the Year won’t be playing -- he’s graduated.
These are not the Gamecocks that Johnson’s Jackets throttled 41-14 and 37-17 in his first two home openers on the Flats.
Johnson also did not reflect on those two days. He doesn’t really even want his team looking back at Monday anymore. That was fine with the players.
“We’re moving on. We’re not going to let that drag on us. We’re not going to let Week One beat us Week Two,” said senior outside linebacker Terrell Lewis, who had four tackles (two solo) on Monday. “Tuesday, 3:15, as soon as film was over we forgot it. All we took from it was the positives and the corrections.”
“Everybody was pretty mad about it Monday night and early Tuesday but we have to put it behind us because we’re playing a good Jacksonville State team and we’re focused on them right now,” said senior nickleback Lawrence Austin, who led Tech with seven tackles (five solo) and had one of three pass breakups. “We got it out of our system fast. We know what it feels like to lose. It was quiet in the locker room so nobody wants to feel that feeling again. So we’re focused on Jacksonville State and we’re eager to play those guys and we’re ready to get our first win of the season.”
The unit knows that it has its work cut out.
“(They’ve got) Big offensive linemen, they’ve got a good team. We just have to prepare for them the best we can,” said junior defensive end Anree Saint-Amour. “We’ve been talking about how we can’t underestimate them. We know they’re a great team. We know they’ve played some great competition.”
The defense isn’t the only unit that’s moving on.
Special teams is eager for a mulligan, especially redshirt sophomore kicker Shawn Davis, who was 0-for-2 on field goals.
“One game does not make a season,” said Johnson. “I’m not going to write the kid off. We’ll give him a chance, see what he can do, again.
“I haven’t even talked to him. I don’t usually talk to the kickers,” he added. “It’s been my experience to leave them alone and let them do their thing. I don’t proclaim to know how to tell him to kick the ball. That’s why we recruit kickers. I wouldn't want him telling me how to hit a five-iron. I don’t tell him how to kick the ball.”
Johnson will focus his energy on the offense, which, even though it put up 655 yards and ran 96 plays will look to continue to move forward.
Quarterback TaQuon Marshall, who ran 44 times for 249 yards and five touchdowns (both school records), and B-back KirVonte Benson, who compiled 124 yards on 26 carries when not leading Marshall, are anything but satisfied. They want to see what’s next.
Marshall, who admitted that it took a while to roll out of bed on Tuesday morning for treatment, tempered his enthusiasm, focusing on improvements he needs to make.
“Making better decisions, throwing better balls,” he said. “I think I overthrew a couple of balls that could have made a difference in the game. Holding onto the ball, too, because I turned the ball over. Just the small things that turn into big things.”
Benson is confident in the offense heading into the home opener.
“We know what we’re capable of. We know that we can compete with a lot of teams in our conference and in any conference,” he said. “We just take the game and leave it in the past and just focus on this week and focus on next week and just focus on game-to-game, not dwell on the past. Having 500-plus yards on the ground, we can play with a lot of people. Tennessee is a great team. They have a great defense and we showed that we can run the ball no matter the circumstances. So that gives us a lot of confidence going into this week.”
Marshall and Benson may get fewer carries anyway, as A-back Clinton Lynch, Tech’s leading returning rusher, may return to the lineup -- he’s practiced with the team this week.
Marshall would trade his carries for the opportunity to throw more. He was 5-for-9 for 120 yards against Tennessee.
“I’m very confident. I don’t think a lot of other teams are confident, especially after Monday seeing me run so much,” he said. “I’m really excited to see what Coach Johnson is going to call this Saturday. I hope we get a lot more pass plays so I can show my throwing ability.”
The defense believes it’ll fix what needs fixing -- more mentally than physically -- and show its ability to stand tall, something they didn’t do in the second half.
“We feel like we gave up too many big plays, too many touchdowns,” said Saint-Amour. “Five out of six possessions we gave up touchdowns (in the second half). We have to bear down a little bit more.”
“We know it’s not acceptable. We know it’s not our standard,” said Lewis. “There are sometimes I could have come in a little bit quicker or missed reads or took a step the wrong way, things like that. Things I’ve got to clean up. That’s all, just mental stuff, stuff that you can fix with film, time and stuff like that.”
Austin expects the defense to rebound from a second half that simply got away from them.
“They got momentum and we couldn’t take it from them,” he said. “The first half we were getting off the field. The second half we couldn’t find a way to get off the field when we needed to or get a turnover. We just have to go back and fix what we need to fix and come back in Week Two and play with some energy and get off the field and get turnovers.”
“Just focus on your assignment. You have to make a play when it presents itself,” he added. “Sometimes the ball bounces your way, sometimes it doesn’t and it wasn’t bouncing our way Monday. Hopefully it bounces our way on Saturday. We’re working hard and we’re eager to play a good Jacksonville State team.”