Howard looks for much more production from offensive line

ATLANTA — Cord Howard chose his words methodically and meticulously, because behind them was an emphatic message he wanted his teammates to hear.

“We are yet to have our best game as an offensive unit,” the senior offensive guard said Tuesday afternoon.

Spoken without hesitation, he was unwavering in his belief that while good, Georgia Tech’s 532-yard, 49-point showing Saturday against Florida State was far from the dominance he believes he and his teammates possess.

“We’re steadily improving,” Howard said, “but no, I don’t think (we’ve had our best outing).”

That news could come as a shock to some, including Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson.

“On Saturday night, our offensive line probably played their best game of the year,” Johnson said during his weekly news conference. “We didn’t have any penalties on offense that can bog down a drive, so they helped Josh (Nesbitt).”

The line opened up holes that allowed Nesbitt to rush 27 times for 140 yards and three touchdowns. The most clutch set of blocks likely came on Nesbitt’s final run, when the quarterback sprinted through and around Florida State’s secondary for a 22-yard score that proved to be the game-winner.

Co-offensive line coach Mike Sewak said Nesbitt’s touchdown runs were, in part, the product of better blocking techniques along the line.

“As the season has gone on, (the linemen) have been hammered pretty good and our pad level has seemed to be getting a little bit lower, and we seem to be operating where we need to get to establish (B-back) Jon (Dwyer) and let Josh get out on the perimeter without having people laying around their legs,” Sewak said.

It wasn’t just the Florida State game in which he witnessed this increased production from the line. Although the Yellow Jackets’ linemen have had their struggles keeping certain defenses out of the backfield this season, they have still been able to help their running backs rush for more than 200 yards in five of the six games they have played this season. They have surpassed the 300-yard mark in four.

Sewak hopes his players are able to continue to build upon the success they enjoyed last week. Against No. 4 Virginia Tech this week, they cannot play poorly.

“That’s going to be another huge concern of ours this week, as (the Hokies) do a nice job of getting penetration,” Sewak said.

Led by veterans Cody Grimm, Kam Chancellor and Jason Worilds, the Hokies have a defense that has proven it knows how to get to the ball.

Expanding further on his own comments about seeing Georgia Tech’s best offensive performance on the horizon, Howard said his teammates ought to be wary of their next opponent.

“Playing against a team like Virginia Tech, they’re a lot different on defense as a team than like Florida State,” Howard said. “They’re disciplined, and they’re quick. So, some of the mistakes you made, you can’t make mistakes against a team like that.”

While he could beg to differ, Howard’s performance last week was among the best for any ACC lineman this year. At least the conference thought so.

The senior from Phenix City, Ala., was awarded the conference’s offensive lineman of the week award for his efforts in helping lead the Yellow Jackets to victory. His 13 knockdowns in the game likely played a big role, as well.

“The more people down on the ground, the less defenders you have that can get to the football,” Howard said.

The Yellow Jackets have been recording knockdowns in practice much of the year, Sewak said. As a result, he and co-offensive line coach Todd Spencer have seen a noted shift in intensity in his players.

“In practice, we’ve recorded knockdowns and we’ve put it up on the board, because a lot of times our guys will throw, but they won’t get them on the ground,” Sewak said. “So now, we’re getting ourselves in position to where we’re doing the technique correct and stepping on people’s toes and going through them.”

What is the effect of such positive work unit-wide? It is increased confidence, and a hunger to continue to play as perfectly as possible.

“The O-line altogether, even my backup — Omoregie Uzzi — and Joseph Gilbert are having good seasons,” Howard said. “Everybody is steadily improving weekly. But everyone has yet to see our perfect game, because that’s what we’re constantly seeking.”