White reigns over Gold in Ga. Tech's rain-soaked spring game
APR 19, 2014 12:22a ET
ATLANTA -- Here are five things we gleaned from the Georgia Tech spring game on Friday -- the White team officially beat the Gold, 20-12 -- an event that was greatly hindered by a blustery mix of rain and biting-cold temperatures at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
How bad were the conditions? Head coach Paul Johnson, who has been running college programs since 1997 (Georgia Southern, Navy, Georgia Tech), characterized Friday's weather as the worst he's seen for a spring game.
1. It's hard to tell if Georgia Tech's offensive philosophy completely jibes with deplorable weather
This was not a night for ample passing, not with a relentless rain that gathered more steam as the action trudged on. It wasn't an atmosphere conducive to horizontal running, either. (It's funny how skilled athletes can look sluggish on a slippery, waterlogged field.)
As such, the run-heavy Yellow Jackets -- who didn't operate out of a shotgun formation at any time -- struggled to find their offensive footing in the early going.
In fact, for the first quarter alone, the Gold and White offenses combined for five fumbles; and another booted play in the second stanza led to safety Isaiah Johnson's 86-yard fumble recovery/touchdown return (more on that sequence later).
The offensive miscues eventually subsided and Georgia Tech found a groove in the running game, starting with Zach Laskey's 40-yard scoring run.
The White squad, led by quarterback Tim Byerly, sold an option fake to the right but handed off to Laskey, who broke through an initial tackle on the left side, stumbled a bit and then sprinted 35-plus yards for the first touchdown.
It was a signature moment for Laskey, who accounted for 485 rushing yards and eight total TDs as a junior -- including a two-game tally of 30 touches, 232 total yards and five touchdowns against Syracuse and Virginia last year.
"Our guys fought hard for the most part," said Byerly after the game. "We moved the ball, but you can't have the ball on the ground that much and win the game ... it's great to have this kind of experience in the spring. Our offense is perfect for weather like this."
2. The Yellow Jackets could have a certifiable 1-2 punch at quarterback
In the wake of Vad Lee transferring to James Madison, presumably to helm a more pass-friendly offense, Georgia Tech's QB-derby focus has since shifted to Byerly and Justin Thomas, who sat out Friday's scrimmage with a sore shoulder (precautionary move).
The sophomore Thomas seemingly has the edge heading into the fall, performing well in relief of Lee last year (131 yards passing, one TD).
But Byerly made a case for the starting gig on Friday, running for 101 yards and one touchdown (stats courtesy of The Macon Telegraph). For good measure, he completed 5 of 11 passes for 69 yards.
3. Spring games aren't the best venues to make definitive judgments about special teams
Whenever Georgia Tech punted in the first half -- and there were a lot of punts -- it was a simple case of one squad executing a long snap/punt, amid no oncoming rush, and the other calling for a clean fair catch.
On the place-kicking end, Harrison Butker nailed field goals of 54 and 40 yards and missed one from 45.
With substantial changes on defense and at quarterback, Georgia Tech has a few viable concerns heading into the season. Butker should be a rock-solid asset at kicker, though, building off a freshman campaign that included 10 of 14 field goals (including five from 40-plus yards) and converting on 53 of 54 PAT attempts.
4. Expect Quayshawn Nealy and Isaiah Johnson to be omnipresent defenders this fall
It's difficult to compile official stats from a spring game played in wretched weather. But the Tech p.a. announcer certainly did his part to keep Nealy on the minds of those who braved the unsavory conditions at Bobby Dodd.
The senior linebacker was seemingly part of every tackle, while displaying sublime sideline-to-sideline versatility whenever the opposition ran wide.
Last season, Nealy tied for second on the team with 66 tackles (along with Brandon Watts). He also tallied two interceptions (tied for the club lead) and two fumble recoveries (tops among Tech defenders).
Johnson's Friday contribution was easier to quantify: In the second quarter, with the White team rolling into the red zone, a wayward fumble dropped right into the waiting hands of Johnson, who broke free the other way for an 86-yard TD return.
In the postgame media scrum, Johnson expressed happiness for getting back on the field, after missing the entire 2013 campaign to injury.
"It's been a long time, but now that we're done with spring (drills), it doesn't seem like I've been out for a whole season," said Johnson, who anchors a Jackets defense that surrendered 25 or more points six times last year. "I'm just excited to be back (on the field)."
Johnson was similarly buoyant about the fumble recovery/touchdown return, which may have clinched an important competition among Georgia Tech's spring defenders.
"We have a point system for takeaways, and I believe that (touchdown) put me in the lead," said Johnson. When asked how many points count for that particular takeaway ... the fifth-year senior quickly proclaimed, "Six!" while wearing an ear-to-ear grin.
Overall, Johnson seemed pleased with how things progressed -- especially since the weather regressed through the evening.
"(The players) competed pretty good under miserable conditions," said Johnson, who guided the Yellow Jackets to a 7-6 season last year, capped by a Music City Bowl defeat to Ole Miss. "They played through it. It was less than ideal."
5. The Yellow Jackets might not incur back-to-back losses until their final two games
With 14 teams in the super-sized ACC, not to mention Notre Dame's extended cameo (five "league" games per year), Georgia Tech can only squeeze so many rivalry outings into eight conference tilts.
That said, it's impossible to miss the omissions of Florida State, Boston College, Syracuse and newcomer Louisville from the Yellow Jackets' 2014 slate.
Digging deeper, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Miami, North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Georgia -- all Tech opponents in the fall -- will be breaking in new full-time quarterbacks.
Put it all together, Georgia Tech might have the rare dual capacity for rebuilding and competing for the Coastal Division title at the same time.
That doesn't mean the ACC will be down, per se, especially with Florida State (and reigning Heisman winner Jameis Winston) likely opening the new season at No. 1 in the country.
It's more indicative of Georgia Tech drawing Miami (Oct. 4), Duke (Oct. 11), Virginia (Nov. 1) and Clemson (Nov. 15) at home ... and catching two lucky breaks with rivalry games -- in the form of getting "byes" between the Virginia Tech/Miami and Clemson/Georgia game blocks.