ATLANTA — When it comes to picking post players for a pickup basketball game, Julian Burnett’s name may be among the last called.
For a while during his football recruitment, the linebacker listed at 5-foot-10, 222 pounds, experienced much the same ostracizing, as most assumed he was too little to fit a defense’s interior scheme.
Apparently, that didn’t matter to Paul Johnson. And as a result, the head coach seems to be reaping the benefits.
“He isn’t the prototype in height and weight and all that,” Johnson, Georgia Tech’s head coach, said about his inside linebacker, Burnett, “but when he gets out there, somebody forgot to tell him that because he flies around, he makes plays and he’s a good player.”
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
That “good player,” a former Westside standout who took his Seminoles to a string of playoff appearances during the Macon years of Middle Georgia coaching veteran Robert Davis’ tenure, recorded eight tackles, forced a fumble and intercepted a pass in Saturday’s 42-14 Georgia Tech win over Middle Tennessee State. It was just Burnett’s second start of the season and the third consecutive game where his presence seemed to provide a jolt to the Yellow Jackets’ once troubling defense.
“It’s just guys getting more reps and getting better. It’s probably a lot of things go into it,” Johnson said, asked about the coincidence of the defense’s success timed with Burnett’s more expanded playing time. “Certainly the more you do anything, the better you should get at it. We’ve played seven games, you would hope they would be much more comfortable now than when we started. So maybe they can play faster and do those things.
“(But) getting Julian out there has helped us, because like I said, Julian’s a really good player.”
After witnessing first hand some of Burnett’s more impressive tackles Saturday, Yellow Jackets cornerback Dominique Reese — a listed 5-foot-11 defensive back — joked about how both his and Burnett’s relatively smaller size can be misleading.
“Me and Julian always joke around that we’re the “5-9 brothers,” Reese said, likely more accurately depicting both their heights. “Although, I think I’m 5-10 and I think he’s 5-8.
“But we just try to go out there and play hard regardless of what people think about you. Just go out there and play as hard as you can and give it your best.”
Blair dissects kicking performance
When Scott Blair completely shanked a first-half field goal attempt against the Blue Raiders, it snapped his string of nine consecutive successful tries.
But it wasn’t the fact that he missed the kick that was so alarming, it was how he missed it.
Following what Blair called a “perfect” snap and hold, he approached the ball, hesitated, got thrown out of rhythm and tried to hit the ball awkwardly late. Instead of booting it into the uprights, the ball wobbled wide on a low line drive arc.
“It was a miss-hit,” Blair said. “By miss-hit, I mean it started out with no chance and it went further away. … It’s just something that happens sometimes and so my new goal for the season is to make more than nine in a row.”
Despite his miss, Blair had a reasonably productive afternoon on kickoffs. On six tries, he knocked three into the end zone for touchbacks, while another three were returned. In all, the Blue Raiders returned four kicks — backup David Scully had a kickoff late in the blowout — but averaged just 20 yards per return.
During his weekly teleconference Sunday, Johnson said he had learned little about the prognosis of defensive end Jason Peters. The junior left Saturday’s game in the first half with an undisclosed injury, following a hard collision with Blue Raiders quarterback Dwight Dasher.
During the call, Johnson said Peters had a sprain. When asked where the sprain was, he said he “can’t tell (sic) that.”
Peters’ injury seemed to be the only uncertain one, as the Yellow Jackets expect to get offensive tackle Phil Smith back in practices this week. Smith missed the Middle Tennessee State game with an ankle injury.
Upon further diagnosis of tape from the last game, Johnson was pleased with the turnovers his defense caused and he was excited over every series his defensive starters had but one.
On the offensive side of the ball, however, it was a different story. Particularly, Johnson was unimpressed by his offensive line play.
“It wasn’t very good. I didn’t think it would be,” Johnson said.
He added that everything from the scooping techniques, to releasing off the line and off blocks and downfield blocking looked poor when he looked back at film of the game. Last week, he intimated that the tackles were the ones who had the most difficulty, while guard Omoregie Uzzi shined.
This week, “the whole group didn’t play very well,” he said.
David Sims’ fourth-quarter touchdown run marked the first touchdown of his career.