Georgia Tech is a perfect fit for Atlanta for numerous reasons.
Without a doubt, one of them is the emotionally taxing experience of being a fan of its sports teams.
If you’re a Braves fan, or a Falcons fan, or a Hawks fan, or a Thrashers fan, you know this emotionally taxing experience all too well. You’ve seen your team win 14 division titles in a row, only for 13 of them to end in postseason disappointment. You’ve seen your team score a 10-point halftime lead in the NFC Championship Game, only to get stopped in the red zone and lose on the absolute doorstep of going to a Super Bowl. You’ve seen your team go 108-56 over the last two seasons, before losing 8 straight playoff games to LeBron James and the Cavaliers. And, you’ve seen your team so poorly mismanaged that it was quite literally deported.
Oh, and all of that has happened in the last 20 years. Most of it has happened in the last 5 years.
Tell me that the emotionally taxing experience of being a Georgia Tech fan doesn’t fit those experiences, and I’ll question how truly emotionally invested you are in the Yellow Jackets.
All of that, to say this: Georgia Tech fans have really been through a lot lately. We’ve seen our team perform exceptionally well in 2014 and narrowly miss a chance to play in the first-ever College Football Playoff, ride that wave into huge preseason expectations heading into 2015, get totally crushed by injuries and bad luck en route to a 3-9 finish (with one of the most iconic and exciting game-winning plays in college football history mixed in), score a touchdown within the last 40 seconds of a game played in Europe to win the season-opener, and get totally shut down by a rival in a home game. The emotional roller coaster of being a Georgia Tech fan is really something special sometimes.
It’s crucial for that roller coaster to pull out of its nose dive from last week and shoot back up this weekend.
The combination of high expectations going into last season and the poor results that followed really took a toll on the spirit and confidence of several Georgia Tech fans. It makes sense, too -- the sheer disappointment of falling so far short of expectations is tough, enough so that we internally lower our expectations to prevent such disappointment from reoccurring. Going into the 2016 season, we talked ourselves into Georgia Tech being better based on the statistical unlikelihood of injury issues returning, a seemingly easier schedule, and commentary from coaches suggesting they were confident that the team would be improved. The first game was tough, but gave us a desirable outcome, before the following two games showed continual improvement and really began to restore the faith of Yellow Jacket fans in their own optimism and in the coaching staff.
Then, there was last week’s game against Clemson. Georgia Tech’s offense looked totally inept against a high-powered Tigers’ defense, turning in its single worst performance of Paul Johnson’s 9-year tenure both visually and statistically. The explanations from the coaching staff on what caused the issues were the same as we’ve heard on several occasions during that tenure, and in particular were a staple of postgame press conferences during the struggle that was 2015. They were so common that hearing the comments repeated over the last week saw so many of us react immediately with, “Oh no, not again.”
That’s what makes Saturday so crucial for Georgia Tech this season.
A better performance from the offense on Saturday, regardless of the game’s outcome, is absolutely vital for three reasons. From least to most important...
Again, Georgia Tech’s fans have been through an awful lot over the past couple of years. For the offense to continue to struggle, the way that it has for most of the last 14 games, could really damage the type of fan support the team gets down the stretch of this season. All that, not to mention the slowly waning fan support for the current coaching regime that might be further diminished.
Player Morale & Mental State
More important than the fans’ morale is that of the players. We as fans think we’ve been through a lot — just think of what they’ve been through. They’ve spent the last year hearing about how they can’t execute and aren’t big or talented enough and just can’t get it done any more. It’s one thing for all of that to happen and for it to create a real chip on the shoulder of a team — it’s another for that chip to remain intact and serve as enough to will them to win through increasingly pervasive disappointment. With so much talk over the past week about Miami “getting its swag back” this year, Georgia Tech’s offense needs to get its swag back just as badly. If not, it’s conceivable that things could begin to spiral downwards once again.
Paul Johnson said we’d see a better performance
This is the most important, as I see it. From a statistical standpoint, things couldn’t get much worse for Georgia Tech than they were last Thursday against Clemson. So, in that respect, it’s highly likely that this game statistically will qualify as “better”. That said, the more important part of being “better” is how the team looks. Is the offensive line identifying and executing their assignments, or continuing to “turn defenders loose”? Is the perimeter blocking there and opening up room to run?
Simply put — does the offense look organized and well-coached, or does it revert back to the helpless appearance we got used to seeing in 2015?
It matters this Saturday, because Paul Johnson guaranteed on his radio show Monday that the offense would look better against Miami. If it’s not, after the embarrassment that was last week’s game, and his radio show guarantee, and his stated hands-on approach this week in practice and film sessions — when should we expect it to be?
Frustration is beginning to really mount regarding Georgia Tech’s offense, and it’s time for Paul Johnson to put his money where his mouth is. That starts on Saturday, against a Miami defense that’s talented and has performed well its first few weeks, but is still young and untested by a Power-5 opponent. Ultimately, Georgia Tech doesn’t even have to win the game on Saturday for fans to feel better about the remainder of the season — it just needs to put up a fight and look like it belongs on the same field as Miami.
For the sake of the team, the coaches, and us as fans, let’s hope they’re able to do that.