ATLANTA — Well, someone’s got to win.
Georgia Tech has lost three consecutive games, a skid that prompted coach Paul Johnson to fire his defensive coordinator in the middle of the season. Boston College is mired in a four-game skid, a stretch that has really turned up the heat on already embattled coach Frank Spaziani.
Two struggling teams will be looking to turn things around when they meet today in an Atlantic Coast Conference game.
The Yellow Jackets (2-4, 1-3 ACC) dumped defensive coordinator Al Groh last week after giving up more than 40 points for the third game in a row. The Eagles (1-5, 0-3) have yet to beat a top-level opponent and are coming off their worst loss of the season, a 51-7 blowout at Florida State.
“We’re getting crushed right now,” said Boston College offensive tackle Emmett Cleary, referring to all the negative publicity about his team. “We’ve just got to win.”
The Yellow Jackets know how that feels. This was a team that expected to contend for an ACC title. Now, all it’s looking for is enough wins to make sure it’s bowl eligible.
An off week came along at just the right time for Georgia Tech, giving everyone a chance to regroup.
“It’s very hard when you’re 2-4,” right tackle Will Jackson said. “You hear it everywhere you go. You’re not happy about it. It’s disappointing.”
After a 47-31 loss at Clemson, which marked the first time in school history that Georgia Tech had surrendered more than 40 points in a three-game stretch, Johnson fired his defensive coordinator, promoted Charles Kelly to the post on an interim basis.
Now, it’s time to see how the players respond to all the changes.
“I’m sure this has bothered a lot of them,” Kelly said. “But I’ve always had a saying: coaches coach and players play. That’s the way this business works. They better get used to it.”
While Kelly is technically in charge of the defense, the offensive-minded Johnson has made it clear how he wants to do things on the opposite side of the line. He felt Groh’s defense was too complicated, so he’s ordered a more basic approach with little signaling once the call goes in and far fewer variations for the players to remember.
“What I want is less mistakes and guys knowing what to do,” Johnson said. “To me, you learn how to play defense by putting your eyes on the other guys. They’ll tell you what they’re doing, instead of trying to recognize 82 different plays.
“You can’t always outsmart people,” he added. “Sometimes, you’ve just got to beat them.”
Georgia Tech has been to a bowl 15 years in a row, currently the fourth-longest postseason run in college football. If the Yellow Jackets don’t win this week, they can pretty much write that streak off.
“We’ve got a great tradition of going to bowl games,” Jackson said. “We don’t want to be the team that breaks that streak.”
Boston College has a new athletic director, Brad Bates, who was on hand last week in Tallahassee to see the Eagles get shredded by Florida State. With the team off to a 1-5 start for the second year in a row — its lone victory coming over FCS opponent Maine — Spaziani surely knows that his job is on the line the rest of the season.
Like Georgia Tech, he’s telling his players to forget the first half of the schedule. Approach the remaining games like this the opener.
“Certainly, there is no other way to look at it,” Spaziani said. “You have to be optimistic, even though our huddle (of supporters) is getting smaller and smaller. Our guys are disappointed, so we’ll see how they come out this week, but they haven’t disappointed me in my 16 years here, so I don’t see that changing right now.”
The players are aware of their coach’s plight.
“You hear it,” Cleary conceded. “But it’s not something you worry about. We all know the criticisms only matters from within that (locker) room. There’s a lot of uninformed opinions flying about.”
While Georgia Tech has been a very one-dimensional team, Boston College isn’t doing much of anything right. The Eagles rank near the bottom of the conference is just about every major category.
“I wouldn’t blame anything that happened this season on any of the coaches,” receiver Spiffy Evans said. “They’re not out there playing the game. The wins and the losses, we take full responsibility for it as a team.”
The Eagles can start to turn things around with a win over Georgia Tech.
Of course, that’s exactly what the Yellow Jackets have in mind.
“They’re very much in the same boat as us,” Cleary said. “They’re a good squad that thinks, rightly so, that they’re better off than they’re sitting. I know how angry we are. So we’ve got our hands full on Saturday.”