Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
Georgia Tech football players picked up a few extra off days this week when Saturday's game at the University of Central Florida was canceled but they're not exactly happy about that.
Head coach Paul Johnson, his staff and players understand the reasons behind UCF's decision to call off the game as their campus was affected by the aftermath of Hurricane Irma and many players who evacuated the Orlando area ahead of the storm were not even back by Wednesday. Additionally, the Knights' football facilities have been used to house 1,000 members of the National Guard and 250 of their vehicles being utilized in the recovery efforts.
But players want to play, and coaches want to coach.
"It's disappointing; we're always looking forward to playing," said quarterback TaQuon Marshall. "I know a lot of the guys from Florida were looking forward to going down and playing. It's disappointing but we're also happy we can get a break and rest our bodies and move on to next week."
"I hate it because I always love to compete," linebacker T.D. Roof added. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to those guys down there ... but at the same time, anytime you get to go out there and compete against somebody, as a competitor, that's what you want to do. So, it sucks, but we get it."
Classes at Tech were cancelled Monday and Tuesday by fairly dire predictions of foul weather hitting the Atlanta area, yet the football team assembled for practice on Monday. Johnson and his staff learned of the game's cancellation shortly before practice and quickly changed the team's schedule and focus.
The Yellow Jackets (1-1) canceled practice on Monday and Tuesday but were back at Rose Bowl Field on Wednesday and Thursday. They'll take three days off this weekend before re-assembling next Monday to begin preparing for the ACC opener Sept. 23 against Pitt (1-1) at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Rather than game-planning for an opponent, Tech's practices this week were centered on fundamentals and cleaning up problem areas.
"We put in a lot of work Sunday and Monday and found out Monday about 2:15, right before practice," Johnson said. "Hopefully we'll come back Monday with a pretty fresh team . . . you always want to play. You're usually measured on how many wins you have and, if you don't play, it's like losing."
With the unexpected extra time to prepare for the beginning of ACC play, Tech is working to return its running game to form.
Freshman B-back Jerry Howard ripped off a 65-yard touchdown run on his second collegiate carry in last Saturday's 37-10 win over Jacksonville State. But the Jackets otherwise rushed 48 times for 145 yards, or 3.02 yards per carry, and that included Marshall's 18-yard run on Tech's first offensive play.
After the game, Johnson suggested that sophomore B-back KirVonte Benson resorted to "tip-toeing" against the Gamecocks, but the coach believes his young ball-carrier will work that out of his system.
"I think some of that was them knocking the crap out of him," Johnson explained. "He's got to do a better job, too, and I think he will. It was a good learning experience for him."
Howard and Quaide Weimerskirch handled the B-back duties for the last quarter and a half and Howard wound up leading the Jackets with 82 yards on six carries.
"There was a little bit of nerves, but Coach Johnson and all the coaches prepared us . . . " Howard recalled. "I just saw a wide-open hole and hit it as hard as I could."
Some players figure to use their extra time this weekend to travel home and this won't be their last Saturday off during the regular season.
Tech will be idle Oct. 7 as well. That will be the Jackets' only break during a stretch of eight-straight ACC games in nine weeks before the regular-season finale Nov. 25 against Georgia at Bobby Dodd.
Marshall, who said he spent much of his unexpected down time this week playing video games, believes the Jackets will polish up their offensive act.
"It wasn't that great," he said of the Jacksonville State game, in which the defense took the ball away from the Gamecocks on three-consecutive possessions to give the offense three short fields that led to 20 points.
"I don't feel like I played very well. Guys around me made some plays. The offense started out really slow. I think we were kind of sluggish in the beginning, and then we kind of picked it up. I think we can play better as a team, honestly."