The Governor's Cup

ATLANTA, GA – Tech fans, this one will be short. It’s as tough to write about this game as as it is to continue reading or hearing about it.

We lost. We lost in all three phases of the game – offense, defense and special teams. There should be no confusion about the outcome. Georgia Tech was outplayed and outcoached, according to head coach Paul Johnson.

There’s not much else to say. There’s not enough lipstick to disguise the pig today.

Was there a silver lining? No, not from today’s thrashing.

So how did we arrive here this year? That part is unclear.

What is clear is that no one’s expectations were met – not the players nor coaches. Said Johnson, “This [season] was disappointing to me. This season we had a chance – ‘woulda, shoulda, coulda’ – you can’t play that game but we had a chance for this to be a much better year than it turned out.”

The odds of backing into a bowl game are slim to none. Said Johnson of his team’s prospects, “I don’t think there’s any uncertainty.”

The season ended with a thud, and I will take the opportunity to end this article the same way.

P.S. Go Jackets.

Freshman point guard Jose Alvarado (#10) gets to the rack vs. UT-RGV (photo credit to ramblinwreck.com)

Coming off a 78-68 win against Texas-Rio Grande Valley, Tech is ready to battle the Mean Green from the University of North Texas. The Mean Green are in Conference USA (C-USA) with a record of 3-2 overall this season and 0-1 on the road. They lost by 20 to Nebraska and by 12 to Texas-Rio Grande Valley. North Texas does have a win against Bethune-Cookman, who Tech only beat by 3. At the head of the snake is first year head coach Grant McCasland. On March 13th, 2017, he was hired after leading Arkansas State to a 20-win season and having an 80% career winning percentage. McCasland was a three-year letterman at Baylor University where he was an assistant coach with Scott Drew before taking the Arkansas State head job.

The Mean Green are led by sophomore #3, Roosevelt Smart. He is a 6’3” 185-pound guard from Chicago, Illinois. Smart is a transfer from New Mexico Junior College, was ranked 79th for JUCO prospects, and a 3 star according to ESPN. He was originally committed to play for Coach McCasland at Arkansas State, but after McCausland switched jobs to North Texas, Smart followed him to the Mean Green and it has paid off. In the last game against Rogers State, Smart put up 26 points in 28 minutes, going 6-12 from the three-point line and not missing from the charity stripe (4-4). Smart has a nice high release and reminds me a little bit of Adam Smith from a few years ago for Tech. He has no problem putting shots up, and continues to knock down his opportunity at the line.

Running the Mean Green Machine (my trademark is pending), is another 6’3” guard #0, Ryan Woolridge. He is a transfer from University of San Diego and was a two-time winner of C-USA player of the week last year. This year, Woolridge rarely comes out of the game and does a little of everything for his team. He can set up his teammates, like he did last game against Rogers State racking up 9 assists. Woolridge can also call his own number as evidenced by a season high of 21 points to go with a couple 18-point game outings. The only downfall of his play right now is he can get reckless with the ball, along with some poor decision making that is often seen in underclassmen. If we can speed him up, like I think Alvarado can, we should be able to get a lot of chances in transition.

To round out the guard play is yet another sophomore, #1 A.J. Lawson. 6’5”. Lawson was named to the Conference USA all-freshman team last year, while leading the team in scoring at 11.4 points per game. He also can get up on the boards and is another player Coach Pastner would “love to give a big kiss on the cheek” for his guard rebounding skills. He got multiple double-doubles last year and worked for one the last game against Rogers State (10 points and 11 rebounds). He is a big, tough, physical guard who will be a problem for us if we do not box out or over rotate in the zone.

In the post, Georgia Tech should have a Thanksgiving feast with Lammers getting all the stuffing and blocks of meats he wants (pun intended). The Mean Green have a big 6’10” big man from Russia, Mark Tikhonenko, but he is not ready to contribute yet, so they’ll turn to 6’9” senior #50, Shane Temara. Temara’s game is simple: get rebounds, make your put back lay-ups, and set screens for Smart to come off from to get up his shot.

Outside of Roosevelt Smart, Ryan Woolridge, and A.J. Lawson the Mean Green rely on role players such as previously mentioned, Shane Temara, along with a pair of juniors: 6’1” guard, #2 Jorden Duffy and 6’7” forward #5, Allante Holston. Both are solid upperclassmen players and can do a plethora of things for North Texas. Duffy is more of the shooter of the two and Holston is the slasher. Both men can run the floor, with ease, and play in your face defense. I have a feeling Coach McCasland will turn to these two tonight, along with the formidable trio for North Texas.

Prediction: They try to play zone against us, due to their small ball line-up and lack of big men. But Ben Lammers continues his dominance and gets another double-double. Jose Alvarado racks up the steals again and pushes the ball in transition for easy lay ups and dunks (quick S/O to that alley-oop to Moses Wright, I saw a glimpse of the future, and man did I get excited). Also, I am very intrigued to see if Haywood can follow up his solid performance from last game, and even add onto it by finishing a few of those lay-ups that went in and out. Similarly, it'll be interesting to see if Evan Cole can contribute offensively off the bench again. The biggest question for me is if we will play zone given Smart’s shooting ability or take advantage of our size mismatch. I got my prediction right on the dot last game (humble brag) by saying Tech by 10. So this game, even though I want to say 12, Tech by 8.

Ben Lammers drops in a hook shot vs. Bethune-Cookman. (photo credit to ramblinwreck.com)

Georgia Tech is coming off a 65-62-win against the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats, led by Ben Lammers’ 19 points and 13 rebounds. Up next for the Yellow Jackets is the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley Vaqueros. Located in Edinburg, Texas, the Vaqueros are 3-2 so far in the season, with this upcoming game against the Jackets being their fourth straight road game in a row. They have a win against our previous opponent Bethune-Cookman and also in their most recent game, a victory against another future Georgia Tech opponent, the North Texas Mean Green, by a final of 75-63.

Texas-Rio Grande Valley, who play in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), was 10-22 last year and 1-14 on the road and are led by the first year Head Coach, Lew Hill. Coach Hill spent the previous 5 seasons as an assistant coach at Oklahoma and followed Lon Kruger from University of Las Vegas (UNLV). Hill was an all-American at San Jacinto Junior College before taking his talents to the Wichita State Shockers his senior year, helping them make the NCAA Tournament. He played one season professionally in Germany before returning to America. Hill got his Paul Johnson-esque start by coaching the JV boys at Wichita East High School in Kansas before moving up the rankings to varsity, then making the jump to an assistant role in the collegiate level at South Alabama.

The Texas-Rio Grande Valley Vaqueros are led by redshirt senior guard, #4 Nick Dixon. Dixon is the team captain and listed at 6’2”, 180 pounds out of Hillside, Illinois. Take one look at the Vaqueros and he sticks out like the belly on a UGA fan (it’s hate week boys!) #THWg. Through 5 games this season he is averaging 23.4 points per game, with his career high coming last year on the road against Utah Valley when he dropped a whopping 41 points. If this game is close in late game situations, this is the one guy you do not want to foul. Dixon led the WAC and was 21st nationally last year in free throws made last year.

Next in line for the Vaqueros is another redshirt senior guard, #10 Moe McDonald. Standing 6’4” and 195 pounds, he came out of IMG Academy by way of McAllen, Texas. McDonald is one of the glue guys for the Vaqueros as is the only other player leading Nick Dixon in minutes on the team. He has his occasional scoring outburst, but for the most part he will make a few assists, make a couple jumpers, and grab some boards. Overall, McDonald is a solid player that every program needs and his minutes show that.

Outside of Dixon and McDonald, the Vaqueros have a very unusual rotation of players and minutes. No trend or tendencies have shown up the first five games, which makes it hard for opposing coaches to gauge what strategy to follow. They can choose the long and athletic route with 6’7” sophomore #11, Leslie Varner Jr and 6’6” sophomore #25, Xavier McDaniel Jr to pair with the formable duo, Nick Dixon and Moe McDonald. Varner Jr is averaging 9.5 points per game and brings intensity on defense and the boards. Pastner would love his “guard rebounding” skills. McDaniel Jr, is a wild card. He can go off like he did against UT Martin for 27 points, or not show up like the last game against North Texas where he had only 5 points.

The Vaqueros can also choose to go with a more stable, older group consisting of 6’8” redshirt senior #32, Adonis Rwabigwi and the second team captain, redshirt junior guard #13, Lew Stallworth. Rwabigwi has shown to be nothing more than an experienced big body out there that the coach can trust to not make an unwise decision, which is why would could see him tonight on the road against an ACC opponent. The same can be said for the 6’1” Stallworth who was ranked third in the WAC in assist-to-turnover ratio and 205th in the country. He gets way more playing time than Rwabigwi but doesn’t tend to put up the numbers to match his minutes. Stallworth is out there to once again play smart and get the ball to the playmakers.

The final option they have is the young and fast group with 6’3” 165-pound freshman #0, Greg Bowie and 5’10" 165-pound freshman #14, Javon Levi. Both players can get the ball up the court and in a hurry. The only drawback is that the can get out of control and make mistakes, especially when going up against an ACC team. It will come down to who Coach Hill thinks he can trust with the ball and make smart decisions. #22 Jordan Jackson, the junior out of Houston, Texas also fits this bill. He is a little bit older but still carries the same skills as Bowie and Levi.

Down low they have 6’8 senior #23, Dan Kimasa. Along with the third team captain and 6’8” redshirt senior #21, Mike Hoffman. Both men provide the same service for the Vaqueros: play sound defense, screen for Dixon, and get most of the rebounds. They are not counted on for much scoring and play their role well. An interesting thing about the big men of the Vaqueros is that they have a big 7’1", Ole Miss transfer Johnny Crnogorac who is mostly glued to the bench. It leads me to wonder if they will put him in to try and contain Ben “Marta” Lammers.

Prediction: Ben Lammers should have another huge game, and Georgia Tech forces the Vaqueros to get reckless with the ball like Bethune-Cookman. I would be worried about foul trouble for whoever is guarding Nick Dixon, but I’m assuming we will stick with the zone this game. Only things I worry about is not over-rotating in the zone and stopping the transition. If we make them play in the half court, we will be in an advantageous position to succeed. They lack the presence down low on offense to beat the zone and do not have a shooter the caliber of Bethune’s Brandon Tabb on the perimeter. The key to the game is keeping Dixon out of the lane and away from the free throw line. Tech by 10.

Video courtesy of ACC Digital Network

ATLANTA, GA – For the second time in as many games and for the fourth time this season, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (5-4, 4-3) found themselves in a familiar yet uncomfortable situation. Another blown lead in the fourth quarter with little time to salvage a win.

In the three prior attempts they came up short, with the opposition making just one more play, forcing the good guys in white and gold to contemplate, “what just happened?”

On Saturday against the #17 Virginia Tech Hokies (7-3, 3-3), the Jackets dictated a different ending. By way of big plays on offense and defense, Georgia Tech responded to a late deficit and sealed a big win against their Coastal division rivals, 28-22.

In doing so the Jackets ended the speculation about whether this year’s team could deliver in the clutch. Instead they may find themselves pondering, “Why couldn’t we figure this out sooner?”

Junior quarterback TaQuon Marshall offered his take. “We were just trying to prove a point,” said Marshall. “I mean, we hear all the time, ‘You guys can’t finish.’ This week we really tried to put an emphasis on it like ‘Hey, this is our time to show everyone that we actually can finish,’ and you see what happens when we do finish.”

As Tech’s signal-caller, Marshall’s day was unsurprisingly emblematic of the Jackets’ as a whole. Offensively, the Jackets operated in fits and starts in large part due to a Hokies’ defense that limited their ACC opponents to 13 points per game coming into Saturday.

Big plays led Georgia Tech to four touchdown drives, with none bigger than Marshall’s strike to wide receiver Ricky Jeune in the fourth quarter. Following a pick-six by Virginia Tech’s Greg Stroman, a momentum-seizing play that catapulted the Hokies ahead of the Jackets by one point with 7:27 to go in the game, Marshall went back to work. Just two plays later, Jeune was running free behind the Hokies’ secondary and Marshall found him in stride thru the air, an 80-yard strike that proved to be the difference in the game.

It was Marshall’s second completion of the game – his second touchdown pass no less – that put the Jackets in the driver’s seat. And his head coach was content with that performance. Said Paul Johnson, “[TaQuon] made, what, two completions and they were both for touchdowns and it ended up being 140 yards?” So we’ll live with that. That’s a pretty good average.”

Not to be outdone, the Jackets’ defense delivered when the game pressure hit its peak. Virginia Tech’s last grasp drive of the game almost resembled those of games past with Tennessee, Miami and Virginia. In each of those games, a late fourth quarter drive by the opposition was the clincher.

Today, the Jackets’ defense was the difference. After shutting down the Virginia Tech offense for much of the day, the Hokies built some early momentum on their final drive. The Hokies converted two fourth downs and moved the ball 42 yards to the Georgia Tech 32-yard line. The Jackets faced a third 4th down attempt to end the game. On 4th and 1, the Hokies’ dialed up a play-action pass to their prolific wide receiver Cam Phillips.

Said Hokies’ head coach Justin Fuente, “We had the best matchup that we could possibly get. We had press coverage with our best guys. Everything we did offensively was a struggle, and we had a couple opportunities to go win the game… I felt like we had an opportunity with as good of a look as we were going to get to go win the game.”

The good news for Georgia Tech? Redshirt freshman cornerback Ajani Kerr ran step-for-step with Phillips down the seam. Hokies’ quarterback Josh Jackson gave Phillips a chance to be the hero on his toss to the end zone, but Kerr blanketed Phillips all the way thru the ball, knocking it to the ground with 1:03 to go. Kerr, a seldom used cornerback, stole the spotlight instead.

The performance by the Jackets defense as a whole should not be an afterthought. The Hokies offense struggled their way to 258 yards and 16 points for the game.

Saturday’s win was the Georgia Tech’s 8th straight at home and Paul Johnson’s 9th vs. a ranked team at Bobby Dodd Stadium. But those achievements are small compared to a confidence-boosting win that the Jackets needed and earned. There are few better ways than versus Virginia Tech to exorcise those last-minute loss demons, and today the Yellow Jackets proved clutch.

Other news and notes

  • As mentioned above, Georgia Tech’s four touchdown drives were propelled by big plays:

    • On their first, A-Back Nathan Cottrell ripped off a 69 yard run down the Hokies sideline to set up a short Marshall touchdown run.
    • On their second, B-Back KirVonte Benson had a run of 21 yards while A-Back Clinton Lynch shook defenders on his way to a 16 yard gain.
    • On their third, Marshall hit wide receiver Brad Stewart for 60 yards thru the air for Stewart’s first career touchdown.
    • On their fourth and final drive, Marshall found Ricky Jeune thru the air and Jeune sprinted to an 80-yard touchdown reception.
  • Linebacker Brant Mitchell returned to the field fully healthy this week and led the Jackets in tackles with 9 total, 6 solo, and 1 sack.
  • A-Back Omahri Jarrett made his debut as kick returner, bringing out three kicks with a long of 24 yards.