Al Groh Blitzes at Worst Possible Time, Condemns Georgia Tech to Year of Mockery
Georgia Tech is an anomaly in the college football landscape.
For one, they are the only team with BCS conference talent that runs the flexbone offense, or the "triple option" as it is commonly known. Two, they're one of the few early 20th-century powerhouses to survive the test of time. Other early 1900s warhorses like Army, Harvard, Fordham and the like have since been relegated to lower levels of competition.
For this accomplishment, Tech is rewarded by being treated as the bastard stepchild of modern-day college football, due mostly to Paul Johnson's run-heavy, team-oriented system. As Brandon Spano so eloquently puts it, "people hate different!"
For the last five years, the Ramblin' Wreck has been an anti-big media juggernaut, racking up points, wins and derisive smirks from the usual talking heads. All winning and no big-hype guy makes the media a dull bore.
Tech fans have heard it all—gimmick offense, throwback to rugby days, can't win the big ones, fall behind and they're dead. But in 2012, a seasoned Tevin Washington, a crack offensive line and an improved defense has offered hope in the land of Heisman.
Maybe the Ramblin' Wreck could firebomb the ACC and maybe, possibly win a BCS bowl. As conference champs, Tech could lead a renaissance of old-school football that would finally force cynics to admit that Johnson is onto something.
Monday night, against Virginia Tech, the head coach at last appeared to have his ducks in a row. The Yellow Jackets defense, a crippling weakness for years, played lights-out for 59 minutes and 47 seconds, allowing Johnson to work the kinks out of his running attack.
Down 14-10, GT unveiled a new Pistol formation that allowed Washington to display his passing arm. The senior QB did brilliantly, finishing the game 10-of-15, completing a fantastic scramble-throw on 4th-and-6 with three minutes left and throwing a touchdown pass with a scant 44 seconds on the clock.
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With a play or three left in the game, Tech D-coordinator Al Groh, as respected a name as there is in college football, made one of the worst blunders the Geek has ever witnessed, single-handedly losing the game (and probably the ACC) for the snake-bitten Jackets. He blitzed.
There were 13 seconds on the clock. Home-standing Virginia Tech faced a fourth down on the GT 47-yard line. The Hokies' mountain of a QB, Logan Thomas, had struggled up to that point against Rod Sweeting and the Jackets' talented secondary. VT kicker Cody Journell had missed a 38-yard FG earlier in the game. There was absolutely no way that the hosts could move the ball into reasonable field-goal range, even with two quick passes and two quick timeouts.
That is, until Groh decided to play Russian roulette. With five bullets.
On the next play, Groh inexplicably rushed five defenders, brought half of the secondary up in press coverage and gift-wrapped the game for the Hokies. Thomas, like Giant Baba on Christmas morning, made a routine slant throw to open WR Corey Fuller, who evaded two out-of-position tacklers and rambled to the 24. Two Journell chip shots and a Washington OT pick later, Virginia and the national football media celebrated as the Rugby Rats were vanquished again, 20-17.
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Well, the easiest way for GT to lose with 13 seconds left was to give Thomas a chance to make a play downfield, without having to stand in the pocket and use time. A "prevent" defense, the butt of throwaway jokes by armchair coaches, is an underrated weapon when there's Hail Mary time on the clock and an opponent far from field-goal range.
As big (and I do mean BIG) of a force as the 6'6", 260-pound Thomas is for the Hokies, throwing hurry-up check-downs in six seconds or less is not his strong suit. There was simply no way VT could have completed two passes for 25 yards in 12 seconds if Georgia Tech simply chose the sane option of dropping back in coverage.
Blitzing was more than GT's easiest way to lose—save a miracle jump-ball in the end zone, it was the only way they could lose.
Now the pundits and cynics can have their fun again. Whenever a glamor team from the ACC visits Bobby Dodd Stadium, analysts will smirk at one another, make a few cliche remarks about the triple option being hard to adjust to and insinuate that the best scenario would be for hyped superstar X to go ahead and outscore the Yellow Jackets so that we can all get on with real football, where QBs compete to see who can complete more bubble-screen passes in one game. Unless the Hokies lose a couple of conference games and allow GT back into the hunt, this will be hard to take.
With all due respect to Al Groh, who has rebuilt the Georgia Tech defense, on Monday night there was exactly one losing move on the chess board—and he made it. For that devastating blunder, he should be forced to watch every rerun of ESPN's The Experts during the 2012 season, especially for the 15 seconds of each episode where Georgia Tech is brought up and sneered at again. It's only fair.
Follow Kurt Boyer on Twitter at @thegridirongeek
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