Spring scrimmage has mixed reviews
It was a good news, bad news scenario at the Georgia Tech spring football scrimmage this Saturday. The good news is that Tech's defense looked strong, aggressive and opportunistic. The bad news is that Tech fans hoping for improved play and consistency on the offensive side of the ball took little solace away from that particular Tech effort Saturday. Even more disconcerting, the defense outscored the offense 26-24, without ever having possession of the ball.
Coach Chan Gailey decided to conduct things a little differently in his second White-Gold game. As opposed to the traditional format of an offensive unit and a defensive unit on each team, the Jackets scrimmaged as an offensive team vs. a defensive team. Pitting two different offensive units on separate teams became complicated, and utterly impossible, with the slew of injuries experienced on that side of the ball this spring, particularly on the offensive line. At some positions on the line, Tech had no backups available due to attrition from injuries.
The defense was credited with points as follows: six points for a defensive touchdown, three points for an interception or fumble recovery, two points for forcing the offense to go three-and-out and one point for holding the offense without a score on any series.
Sophomore cornerback Reuben Houston made all the difference for the defensive Jackets. Houston, the hero of Saturday's scrimmage, intercepted Damarius Bilbo on the game's first play, and blocked a potential game-winning field goal attempt from place kicker Dan Burnett on the game's final play.
Tech's offensive showing was pretty much the same old story from last year: one good play would be followed by consecutive bad plays. Sophomore Damarius Bilbo, who has received the bulk of the reps at quarterback this spring, finished 6-15 for 135 yards with one touchdown and the aforementioned interception. The touchdown pass came via a 35-yard strike to senior wideout Jonathan Smith.
The incumbent, senior A.J. Suggs, completed 7-10 passes for 119 yards but, likewise, was guilty of throwing an ill-advised interception. Linebacker Tabugbo Anyansi picked Suggs on an attempted throw-away by the senior quarterback from Powder Springs, GA. Suggs hit junior Levon Thomas for a 44-yard scoring play.
Attempts at offensive continuity were marred by numerous false start penalties. Much of the lack of concentration can be attributed to the absence of the entire starting left side of the offensive line-mammoth juniors Leon Robinson and Nat Dorsey are sitting out spring drills with injuries. Both veterans are expected to be fully recovered from their injuries by the time Tech travels to Provo, Utah to take on Brigham Young University Aug. 28.
"We've got to eliminate that," said Gailey of the penalties. "That's just a total lack of discipline on their part, and we've got to straighten that out."
The Jackets also committed four turnovers on the day, two fumbles and two interceptions.
Run blocking has been solid this spring, but pass protection has been quite a different story. Bilbo and Suggs have been running for their lives and forced to improvise far too frequently due to breakdowns in the pass-blocking schemes, another area that should be assuaged by the return of Robinson and Dorsey.
The offense, however, was not without its bright spots. Sophomore running-back Michael Sampson led the ground attack, rushing for 111 yards on 12 carries. The speedy Sampson highlighted his day with an impressive 65-yard scoring jaunt. Gailey is obviously impressed by Sampson's strides.
"Michael has done a great job, and he's moved to the front of that pack right now," said the second-year Tech coach. "I thought he did a good job of running inside and when he got on the perimeter."
That is good news for a Tech team anticipating the return of "Touchdown" Tony Hollings this fall, as well as proven backs P.J. Daniels and Ajenavi "Ace" Eziemefe. Tech also landed the highly touted Reshaun Grant this past recruiting season. Grant, from Florida, was regarded as the best "all-around" back in the nation by several recruiting publications. Competition at the running back position should be heated once fall practice begins in August.
Other offensive stars were sophomore Daniels (54 yards on 11 carries), junior Mark Logan (57 yards on five catches), Thomas (92 on three catches) and Smith (55 yards on two receptions).
"We threw the ball deep fairly well, but we're not crisp and we're not where we need to be," added Gailey.
Defensively, along with the interceptions by Houston and Anyansi, sophomores Eric Henderson and Gerris Wilkinson recovered fumbles for the defense. Sophomore interior lineman Travis Parker added two sacks and a forced fumble.
Things are looking bright for John Tenuta's defensive unit. Tenuta's boys return six of the front seven, as well as seven of 11 starters overall from last season's unit, not including the potential return of All-American Greg Gathers from a kidney ailment. Gathers, Tech's all-time sack leader, has participated sparingly in the spring, but should be full strength by the fall. The defensive secondary lost three starters, but Houston, senior Jonathan Cox, sophomores Chris Reis and Dawan Landry, junior James Butler and redshirt-freshman I-Perfection Harris have more than held their own this spring.
The results from Saturday's scrimmage left most Tech fans with mixed reviews. As expected, the defense is ahead of the offense at this juncture. However, the offense has shot itself in the foot far too frequently, and must search for some amount of continuity and consistency before the fall.
Tech fans don't want a repeat of 2002, when the offense never quite seemed to find its comfort zone. Fall practice will be especially vital as a time for the offense to work those plaguing kinks out.
The return of several starters should help. The Jackets will also receive additional time to digest the new offensive philosophy of co-coordinators Buddy Geis (passing game) and Patrick Nix (running game).