At a bare minimum, Geoff Collins’ tenure as head coach will not begin without an ACC win.
It was a sloppy game against Miami, with both teams making crucial mistakes every step of the way. But in the end, it was Tech who came up big against the Hurricanes, walking away with an overtime road victory in Hard Rock Stadium. How big is that? In Paul Johnson’s 11-year tenure with the Jackets, not once did he beat Miami on the road.
In all fairness to Johnson, the Miami of today is a much different program than the perennial powerhouse he faced annually. But that Geoff Collins has, at last, begun exorcising some of the demons that haunted Tech for the past decade, is a positive sign for the program.
Indeed, there were positive signs all around for the team on Saturday — something you couldn’t have said about any prior game this season. Tech’s defense finally made things happen, keeping Miami scoreless in half of their red-zone opportunities, blocking a game-winning field goal, and forcing a scoop-and-score. The Jackets’ special teams executed the most perfect looking fake punt you’ll ever see. QB James Graham struggled with efficiency but got the job done when he found his man, averaging 10.8 yards per completion. And Jordan Mason, who has been looking like a star-in-the-making all season long, exploded for 141 yards and the game-winning touchdown.
Tech’s loss to the Citadel was damning — it was losing a can’t-lose game. Collins has stolen back what goodwill he lost in that debacle with Saturday, winning a can’t-win game, with solid play-calling. Working with Tech’s roster has had a learning curve for Collins, figuring out how to best use a group of players generally selected for a completely different scheme. If the Miami game wasn’t Collins perfecting the formula, it was a decent approximation, and once Graham and his talented WR corps find the same page, it is not a half-bad outlook for a team that looked unstoppable on the ground against one of the best rush-defenses in the country.
So, have I booked my plane tickets to Charlotte for the ACC Championship yet? Not yet. As I’ve harped on before, it is foolhardy to expect Collins’ outfit to perform anywhere close to the standards of Johnson era in his first season, and equally foolhardy to judge Collins’ hiring by the win/loss column for now. What Collins needs to do this year is help his players take small steps — improving individually before the package of a quality football program comes together. Tech’s players did not only demonstrate just that against Miami, Collins took his own small steps in terms of his play-calling and usage, figuring out the right balance to strike. No matter Tech’s record the rest of the season, Miami was evidence of a positive trend, the kind that can pay dividends down the road in terms of program quality.
The season gets little easier for the Jackets — between UGA, N.C. State, and UVA. It will not be pretty, scoreboard wise. But that’s okay. The Jackets need to learn to walk before they can run, and with the Miami game, they finally took their first steps.
next time the sideline assistants bust out the signs or groan as the student section makes it rain. But at the end of the day, Collins is just trying to remind people that football is, at its core, a game, and games are meant to be fun. So feel free to join in!