ATLANTA — When it last met Miami on the football field, Georgia Tech saw perhaps a turning point — if not the turning point — in its 2012 season.
After rallying from a 19-point deficit to take a two-touchdown lead heading into the fourth quarter, the Yellow Jackets saw the Hurricanes charge back to tie the game with 27 seconds left in regulation before winning the game in overtime.
The nature of that loss, and the string of three straight losses and four in five games that it started, put the Tech’s back to the wall for much of the remainder of the season.
It’s a path neither head coach Paul Johnson not the Jackets (3-1, 2-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) want to tread again when they travel to Sun Life Stadium to take on 14th-ranked Miami (4-0) on Saturday.
However, Johnson said his team is more focused on the the present implications, rather than the past.
“We had a crazy game with them last year. It was a heck of a game,” Johnson said during his weekly news conference Tuesday. “I felt like we should’ve won the game here a year ago, but we didn’t get it done … I don’t know that were at a crossroads. We’re 3-1. That’s better than we were when we played them last year. But it’s an important game because it’s a conference game.
“Our guys haven’t said anything about, ‘Circle the wagons. This is it.’ Eighteen- to 22-year-olds sometimes can’t remember yesterday, much less last year. But they know Miami’s got a really good team, and it’s a challenge to go down there and play. It’s always exciting and fun to match up against them because they’re good athletes. So, it’s a conference game and a (Coastal) division game. So, it’s important, no question about that, especially after we lost one last week.”
While Johnson may not necessarily consider Saturday’s game as a potential crossroads for this season, he is quite correct about its bottom-line implications given last Thursday’s 17-10 loss to Virginia Tech.
Being 4-1 and 3-1 in the ACC after a win definitely is a much better place to be at than the 3-2 and 2-2 marks a loss would bring.
And if the Jackets are to get that important win, they know they will have to play considerably better than last week’s loss.
While most of the concern would seem to be on offense, where Tech’s spread-option attack managed a mere 273 total yards, and just 129 on the ground, Johnson said there are plenty of improvements that have to be made across the board this week in practice leading up to Saturday’s game.
“I’m hoping, and I think, that the game on Thursday was an (anomaly),” Johnson said. “We didn’t play very well. We’ve done that a couple of times against Virginia Tech. You’ve got to give them credit. Evidently, they caused some of it because we seem to self destruct when we play them.
“It’s like everybody else. There’s some good and some bad (so far this season). I don’t think you can put any of the games on one particular group. Over the season, you’re going to match up differently. Did the offensive line play great Thursday? No, but nobody else did. We didn’t coach great. There’s a lot of things that happened on Thursday night. … We haven’t had a dominant group at any position, offense or defense, that’s just kind of overwhelmed the other team every game.”
That said, Johnson is encouraged by what he’s seen from the players during practice since Thursday’s eye-opening loss.
Specifically, he was pleased with the focus and intensity he saw from the majority of his team that he says sometimes only comes from adversity.
“What I saw (Monday) is we worked … with a little more urgency,” Johnson said. “We talk about (improvements that need to be made) and we say it. But when you’re winning, they ain’t listening. They’re not hearing it. When they watch that on tape, they hear me. They see what they’ve got to do better, and we’ve got to coach better.”