ATLANTA — Brief and blunt, the 139-character statement got the point across.
Anthony Allen and his teammates are watching. They have heard the chatter. They know the load on their bandwagon has gotten lighter.
And they’re determined to fill that bandwagon back to the brim once again.
Last week, as the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets began licking their wounds over a loss to Clemson the previous week and began turning their focus upon this Thursday’s nighttime showdown at Virginia Tech, Allen went online to air certain player grievances.
“Dear GaTech fans, don’t talk bad about my team,” he tweeted from the Twitter handle @Ant_Allen18. “We see every word you say. I have enough trouble trying to keep their heads up now. Thanks.”
Agree with the message or the method it was delivered or not, it nonetheless provided a glimpse into one player’s frustrations as he and others try to keep a fledgling program afloat.
“We’ve just have to make sure that nobody gets their heads down and their hopes down and starts giving up on the year, because everything is right there for us to take,” Allen said in person to a reporter late last week.
“We’ve just got to take it one game at a time, and we write our own destiny right now. I know we say that a lot, but if we win out and a couple of things happen in the ACC — which has been shaky this year — we can still win out and go to Charlotte.”
If the Yellow Jackets (5-3, 3-2) can pull off an upset of No. 20 Virginia Tech (6-2, 4-0) in Blacksburg, Va., on Thursday, they keep their Coastal Division championship hopes alive. They still would need to win their next two conference games — home against Miami and Duke — and pray for at least one other Hokies loss in order to go to the ACC title game for a second straight year.
But on the heels of a 27-13 loss at Clemson that seemed worse than it was, the Yellow Jackets found it initially hard to maintain that optimism.
“We have a lot of young guys on the team that are playing and oftentimes they get lost in certain game situations and don’t know what’s going on, and we’ve got to do a better job as older guys getting them ready to play and helping them understand the magnitude of what we’re walking into,” junior A-back Roddy Jones said. “Blacksburg on Thursday night is going to be crazy. It’s going to be even more crazy than Clemson.”
Against the Tigers, confusion and lack of execution exposed the larger problem of rising to the occasion of playing with big-game nerves and jitters for many of the freshmen and sophomores the Yellow Jackets have been forced to play, Jones said.
He wasn’t alone.
“That Clemson game kind of opened up a lot of people’s eyes and maybe got them a little more comfortable with the noise factor and TV games and things like that,” said safety Mario Edwards, a Virginia Tech transfer who remembers well the hostility of Lane Stadium on a Thursday night. “Hopefully it’ll transition over to the Virginia Tech game, and more guys will be more confident and more comfortable out there. If you play comfortably, then you make more plays.”
In addition to posting statements to Twitter — posts that drew mixed responses from fans — Allen has tried to motivate his teammates in more traditional settings.
While he and others have talked to younger players about expecting one of the more ferocious crowds they have ever seen, they also have broken their teammates into position-specific meetings to discuss ways of playing better and executing more.
“Guys like me and (quarterback) Joshua (Nesbitt) and “Gladiator” (senior linebacker Brad Jefferson), we came out (last) Tuesday when we started practicing and we were going 110 percent in practice,” Allen said. “The young guys, they started seeing that and then they started going 110 percent. We’re trying to spread the message out that way, trying to make sure everybody goes hard in practice.”
According to various players, the message was received — at least on the practice field.
“We’ve been a lot more uptempo,” Allen said. “Guys have been a lot more excited up there. They’ve been making plays, making noise. The whole atmosphere feels a lot different than what it did before.”
One of the young players who has made plays at times this season, Phenix City, Ala., native and Yellow Jackets sophomore Orwin Smith, said it has to do with mindset.
“With games like (Clemson), or with anything, when something happens, you can’t change the past. You just keep moving forward,” the A-back said. “We have plenty more games. We still can win the championship at the end of the thing.”
But with Virginia Tech, Miami, Duke and rival Georgia still on the horizon, much work still must be done before that can happen.