While Kansas University’s football team was fighting for its life last week against North Dakota State — a game the Jayhawks ultimately lost, 6-3 — the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets were rolling up 372 yards on the ground and running over South Carolina State, 41-10.
How, then, is it possible for the 15th-ranked Yellow Jackets, who lost to Iowa in last season’s Orange Bowl, to convince themselves that KU could pose a threat when the two kick off Week 2 at 11 today at Memorial Stadium?
“They moved the ball. They had about 100 yards more than the team that won,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “They missed a short field goal, threw an interception in the end zone, had a couple fumbles. When you turn the ball over like that, it’s tough to win. (KU’s) defense actually played pretty good. They held the other team to under 200 yards and six points. That’s pretty good, I think.”
So good, in fact, that GT quarterback Joshua Nesbitt kind of wishes things had gone differently at Memorial Stadium last week.
“I kind of wish they would’ve won because, right now, if I was them, I would be mad that I just lost to a Div. I-AA school,” Nesbitt said. “So we know we’re going to get their best, and we just gotta go out and play.”
The good thing about the Georgia Tech attack is that, so often, it doesn’t much matter what kind of mood the other team is in. The Yellow Jackets play one style of offense — the spread triple option — their opponents know it’s coming, and whichever team executes better usually wins.
“You can take anybody out of the game if you want,” Johnson said. “There’s not anybody alive that you can’t take out of the game if you’re willing to take what happens with the rest of the guys. I don’t care who’s carrying the ball as long as the quarterbacks and the backs are making yards, then so be it. Last time I looked, it’s a team game. It’s not a question of, ‘Can I get this guy this many yards and this guy this many catches’ and all that. The bottom line is you’re trying to win.”
Under Johnson, Georgia Tech has done plenty of that. In his three seasons at GT, Johnson has compiled an overall record of 21-7. That mark includes three consecutive bowl trips — of 13 in a row overall — and two ACC Coach of the Year honors (2007 and 2008).
“We’re well aware that they’re an outstanding opponent,” KU coach Turner Gill said. “Their record speaks for itself. Paul Johnson has done a tremendous job there, and he’s done a tremendous job wherever he has been.”
Nesbitt, a darkhorse Heisman Trophy candidate who is on every major quarterback watch list in the nation, is the motor that makes Georgia Tech go on offense. A 6-foot-1, 217-pound senior from Greensboro, Ga., Nesbitt takes a pounding on just about every play but still manages to keep opponents off balance in Tech’s wild offense. In last week’s victory, he completed just one pass — in six attempts — but guided the Yellow Jackets to a monster day on the ground.
The scary part? Johnson was only mildly impressed.
“Offensively, I don’t think we played as fast as we can play,” he said. “Certainly we didn’t execute very well when we decided to throw the ball. I’m probably not worried as much about that as everybody else.”
Tech’s ground game also features B-Back Anthony Allen and A-Backs Roddy Jones and Embry Peeples. All three are athletic menaces with speed that can kill. The offensive line is somewhat young but features a couple of guys, junior Nick Claytor and senior Sean Bedford, with legitimate experience.
Defensively, the Jackets have switched from a traditional 4-3 defensive set to a 3-4 alignment, which allows their athletic front seven more room to make plays all over the field.
Georgia Tech’s trip to Lawrence will mark the first time since 1992 that the Jackets have faced a Big 12 team on the road and will be just the second meeting all-time between Saturday’s foes.
The first meeting came in the 1948 Orange Bowl, where Georgia Tech knocked off Kansas, 20-14.