ATLANTA — It can be easy for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets to take a glance down the schedule, past this week and toward the three weeks following it.
Looming large on the horizon are three big ACC games that could help dictate their fate in the conference, and potentially, postseason race.
But if they look ahead toward them, they also know they run the risk of watching a third loss appear in their record before even seeing either of those three teams take the field.
“You just have to have tunnel-vision,” Georgia Tech linebacker Steven Sylvester said. “We have to focus on the task that we have at hand.”
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That next task is Middle Tennessee State.
With the Yellow Jackets and Blue Raiders meet Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium, it will mark Georgia Tech’s second-to-last non-conference game of the regular season, with the contest against rival Georgia occurring in late November.
Asked how he prevents his players from approaching this game with any emotion other than urgency, Johnson said they ought to be aware how good this team — which won 10 games last season — can be.
“All you can do is talk about it, and you hope that we learned lessons early in the year about that,” Johnson said. “You never know when you’re dealing with 18- to 22-year-olds.
“I can tell you this, Middle Tennessee is talented enough to beat us if we don’t play; I can promise you that.”
Earlier this season, the Yellow Jackets lost to a Kansas team that had lost the week before to FCS team North Dakota State 6-3. The week after the Kansas game, the Yellow Jackets had a date with ACC foe North Carolina.
To some Yellow Jackets fans, the midseason, Georgia Tech-Middle Tennessee State matchup may have smacks of the Yellow Jackets’ October 2008 meeting against Gardner-Webb.
With injuries ransacking the quarterbacking unit that year, the Yellow Jackets were down to their third-string signal-caller, a pocket passer who barely fit into their then-newly installed run-based scheme. As a result, the offense had trouble moving the ball and it took a last-minute blocked field goal by defensive end Derrick Morgan to preserve a 10-7 Georgia Tech victory.
While Johnson doesn’t see any similarities between that contest and this year’s game against Middle Tennessee State, he admitted that he expected the Georgia natives on the Blue Raiders’ roster to play like those that attended Gardner-Webb in 2008.
“One thing where I would draw the comparison is the (players) from Gardner-Webb who were from Georgia came in here to play. And that’s what these (Middle Tennessee State players) are going to do,” Johnson said. “They’re going to show us that they should’ve gotten recruited here. I’m sure they’ll come in with a chip on their shoulder.”
In all, the Blue Raiders have 26 players from the Peach State—22 scholarship players—on their roster.
Of those from Georgia, some are from Middle Georgia including Phillip Tinsley (Dodge County), Jadareius Hamlin (Mary Persons) and SaCoby Carter (Hawkinsville).
Quarterback Dwight Dasher, a former Charlton County standout played against Yellow Jackets quarterback Joshua Nesbitt in the Georgia Dome in the 2005 GHSA Class AA semifinals. After beating Nesbitt’s Greene County team by one point, Dasher’s group went on to beat Calhoun in the championship the next week.
Yellow Jackets place-kicker Scott Blair played for Calhoun that year.
UGA’s troubles no concern to Tech
In the wake of the 11th player arrest at Georgia this year, Johnson on Tuesday was asked if the news of the Bulldogs’ off-field problems had any affect on how he ran his program.
“Not really. We’ve got enough concerns of our own. I don’t worry about other people,” Johnson said.
Bulldogs running back Caleb King was arrested Monday morning for an outstanding warrant stemming from his failure to show up to court to contest a speeding ticket. In addition to his arrest, and receiver A.J. Green’s widely-publicized troubles for dealing with agents and runners, the Bulldogs have had a tough year in the legal system.
“We worry about ourself,” Johnson said. “We talk about doing things the right way. But it doesn’t ever come up.”
Only twice in the last three years have legal matters been issues for the Yellow Jackets, as Hawkinsville native Robert Hall was arrested earlier this summer for alleged battery, and safety Jerrard Tarrant was charged with rape. Initially, when charges were filed in both cases, Johnson suspended indefinitely the players.
Both cases, however, were later dropped, and they were reinstated with the team where they continue to be big producers.
Offensive tackle Phil Smith remains questionable to play against the Blue Raiders, but his prognosis appears to be improving.
After sporting crutches Monday afternoon and missing practice, he was back out, without crutches and participating in non-contact exercises. He donned a red, injured player jersey, although Johnson is hopeful he will be out of it by Thursday.
The Yellow Jackets rank third nationally in rushing offense, averaging 328.0 yards per game. Middle Tennessee State ranks 94th nationally in rush defense, allowing 185.4 yards per game.