ATLANTA - After fumbles plagued last year's T-Day game, Georgia Tech football coach Paul Johnson had been pleased at the reduced number of miscues throughout this year's spring practice.
The bobbles were back in this year's T-Day game Saturday during what turned out to be a 31-28 victory by the Gold team - made up of primarily the first-team defense and second-team offense - before a robust turnout of roughly 8,500 fans at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
A combined eight balls by both wound up on the turf, with five of those being lost to the opposition.
However, Johnson wasn't about to deride his Yellow Jackets as "fumblebees." Especially considering how much further ahead he believes Tech's option-based spread offense is compared to last year, when there were 11 fumbles in the spring game.
"We made way too many mistakes on both sides of the ball," Johnson said. "But I thought (the players) competed and I really felt like we got a lot of things accomplished this spring. I feel like it's night and day where we are now from where we were a year ago.
"Yeah, (the fumbles were) a little bit (surprising), but you've got two freshman quarterbacks, and I'm sure they were nervous, and you've got two walk-on centers. Once the first quarter got over, it kind of settled down a little bit. ... But we'd done a really good job of (cutting down fumbles) all spring, so I'm not going to lose too much sleep about that."
The game started on an ominous note for the White team offense when senior linebacker Sedric Griffin crunched quarterback Jaybo Shaw and forced a fumble on the very first play from scrimmage, which Jason Peters recovered.
Two plays later, Tevin Washington scampered in from 13 yards out on the option keeper to put the Gold team up 7-0.
The White team fumbled twice more in the first quarter, while the Gold team put the ball on the ground once. Both teams settled down as the game went along.
"I know I fumbled twice and I didn't run the offense as crisply as I wanted to," Shaw said. "But it was a lot of fun. Any time you get to go against that No. 1 defense, you're going to have to be on your 'A' game."
Shaw was leading the first-team offense in place of Josh Nesbitt, who was held out of Saturday's game as a precaution after injuring his non-throwing shoulder during spring drills.
When the Jackets were able to hold onto the ball, there were plenty of positives. Among them:
· The passing game, especially that of the Gold team, led by redshirt freshman quarterback Washington (7-10-0, 167 yards, TD) and some impressive catches by his receivers. Shaw also had a good day throwing the ball, completing 12 of 20 passes for 198 yards, including four completions to Demariyus Thomas for 55 yards.
· Gold team A-backs Anthony Allen and Embry Peeples, who combined for 221 total yards on the day, including Peeples' 60-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
· The durability of Shaw, who led the White team with 65 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries despite taking a few vicious hits.
· A stout effort from the Gold defense, especially Griffin, who had a team-high six tackles, caused one fumble and recovered another.
The latter was an encouraging sign considering the Jackets are trying to rebuild a defensive line that could see as many as three starters from last season - Michael Johnson, Darryl Richard and Vance Walker - taken in next week's NFL draft.
"We're just trying to set the tone for this season," Griffin said. "We wanted to come out (Saturday) and play hard and hit, hit, hit. We want to be here for the long haul, not just the early part of the season."