Last week the Jackets took on a conference opponent Boston College in Ireland surely it was easy to get up for that game. After such an eventful week it presents a unique challenge, getting the team motivated and focused on a smaller opponent in a meaningless game. The Mercer Bears’ of the (SoCon) Southern Conference a Football Championship Subdivision team from across town. This is a game you are supposed to win before the whistle blows, easy for your players to look past them or not take it seriously. It’s a serious game for the Bears as it represents perhaps one of the most generous gestures in sports, Revenue Sharing for the smaller less funded school. It also exposes FCS Players to the level of completion in the Power Conferences, a measuring stick if you will. It also gives NFL Scouts a head to head view of an outstanding player against another at this level of competition. Clemson University plays South Carolina State of the MEAC in the same capacity. Head Coach Dabo Sweeney made an astute comment last year referring to, two-time MEAC Defensive Player of the Year, Javon Hargraves “I don’t care what conference he plays in that’s a real man”. Javon was a third round draft pick, 89th in the 2016 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
This type of game is truly amazing, it’s so amazing to most it doesn’t make sense, and it’s like getting paid handsomely by the bully to get beat up. Let me clean that up a bit, compare it to the Boxing Heavy Weight Champion of the World paying his sparring partner. In this case, the big dog has everything to lose, in the corporate world; realistically your competitors are nowhere near this generous.
Essentially this is a tune up, as a coach, I would rather play this type of game as the opening act of the season, at home because the players will be automatically dialed in. Instead of beating up on each other at summer hot practices and long hours of preparation they are so excited to play someone else to see the fruits of their labor.
However Kickoff Weekend for ESPN/ABC was their best ever reaching more than 81 million viewers featuring such games as Notre Dame vs Texas (a total live audience of 11,139,000 average viewers, the most-watched college football kickoff weekend game on record across all networks**, in both total live audience and TV audience (10,945,000 viewers on ABC*)
Monday night’s Ole Miss vs. Florida State game (8 p.m. on ESPN) audience was substantial with a total live audience of 8,585,000 average viewers. ESPN’s television audience of 8,354,000 average viewers was the second most-watched game of the weekend across all networks,
“It’s a time of great change in our industry but one thing remains constant: the power of live sports,” ESPN President of Global Sales and Marketing Ed Erhardt. “Offering advertisers this kind of reach across all screens is unmatched and we look forward to this momentum building through the College Football Playoff National Championship.” Source ESPN Press Release
It started like maybe a jinx was in the air. On the opening kickoff, the clock was not set so they had to re-kick. Justin’s first pass was complete and the Jackets were moving methodically down field but (34) Marshall fumbled giving Mercer the ball at the 25-yard line. Mercer meant business taking full advantage of the gift putting together a four minute, 9 play, 75-yard drive to get the first score of the game on a 32-yard touchdown pass from (7) John Ross to (84) Avery Ward.
OMG the little dog is on top 7-0. My mind went to the South Alabama vs Mississippi State upset, then further back to the Appalachian State vs Michigan the nationwide shocker. I dared not say anything, but I wonder if I was the only person thinking along these lines. Perhaps surprising themselves their exuberant kicker (85) Tyler Zielenske, kicked the ball out of bounds on the kick off giving GA tech the option of a re-kick or possession at the 35-yard line. They chose the latter. The Yellow Jackets were putting together a solid drive on their own before they got assistance from Linebacker (51), Kyle Williams. He got aggressive committing a personal foul allowing GT to advance the ball down to the red zone, 20-yard line. On the next play AB (28) JJ Green had a blocking in the back penalty on what appeared to be a broken play moving them back to the 30-yard line. At this stage, it was tit for tat play. Then the trigger man (5) QB Justin Thomas tore off the right side on the option. He faked the pitch paralyzing the defender before he dashed around him for a beautiful 13-yard touchdown run to tie the score 7-7.
Head Coach Paul Johnson had to be thinking “that’s just the way I drew it up”.
Kicker (87) Harrison Buckner booted the kickoff completely in the end zone for a touchback giving them no chance to return it. Just before the end of the quarter Justin struck again this time on a 31 yard run down to the Mercer 49 yard line. He rode the ball into the belly of the running back, pulled it out, his eyes bucked wide open when he saw the Red Sea part and down the field, his feet went dancing to music. The Rambling Wreck Band took the tunes from there.
With momentum on their side they put together an 11 play, 80 yard drive that resulted in a 1 yard touchdown by backup QB (11) Matthew Jordan. The key play on the drive was made by WR (2) Ricky Jeune on a beautiful 17 yard catch when he used his body like a basketball player boxing out a defender as he went under to attempt the interception but Justin threw the ball over and Jeune used his body to shield the defender from the ball. After a successful kick for the extra point the score was 14-7. The Big Dogs from the ACC were asserting themselves, their level of play was on the rise and they were starting to separate.
The defense dominated Mercer on their next possession forcing them out after 3 plays for 4 yards.
It looked like things were about to get ugly but (1) Qua Searcy lost nine yards because he had to recover his own fumble. The offense couldn’t overcome the self-inflicted wound that drive ended after 3 plays for minus 8 yards.
Mercer couldn’t do anything on their next possession before giving it back. The Yellow Jackets superior talent reared to create a major gap in a big play drive that featured double trouble. (5) Justin Thomas came down the line in the triple option; he held the ball forcing the defender to commit to tackling him at the last second he pitched it to (1) Qua Searcy who darted down the sideline for 31 yards.
(22) Clinton Lynch took off for 16 more yards. Then Justin Thomas connected with (2) Ricky Jeune on a beautiful back shoulder throw for 31 yards. There was nothing the defender could do. They executed the play well. The defensive back was looking forward trying to catch up Jeune simply put his hands up at the last second the ball came right over his right shoulder for a completion. That play set up (Marcus Marshall for a 10-yard touchdown run. The game was getting away from Mercer at this point and there was nothing they could do about it. At the half the score was 21-7 and the team stat totals were just as lopsided 275 yards for GT and 162 Yards for Mercer.
With nothing to lose in the second half, Mercer went deep into their bag of trick plays trying to pull out another score. The reverse pass to ( ) Josh Jones fell short. Then the throwback pass was read well by the corner back as he played good disciplined football, he was Johnny on the Spot. Mercer managed to get a field goal kick through the uprights for 3 more points. The game was really over at this point. Justin Thomas was replaced by (11) Mathew Jordan for the rest of the game causing speculation that he may have been injured. When asked, Head Coach Paul Johnson set the record straight “he didn’t play because we didn’t need him to win the game”.
Following suit for trickery (48) Chase Alford successfully ran a fake punt for 21 yards to pick up the first down that sealed the game in two ways, time off the clock and another 1-yard touchdown by (11) Mathew Jordan that made the score 28-10 in favor of GT.
Though the mountain was too high to climb Mercer showed heart, they continued to fight going for a field goal that was blocked. They recovered a fumble on their own 3-yard line after (22) Clinton Lynch stepped out of bounds at the 3-yard line before crossing the goal line on what appeared to be another touchdown.
They did what they had to do, but they found themselves with possession at their own 3-yard line, that trouble goes from one extreme to the other, first fighting to restrain them then fighting to get breathing room for oxygen to survive another play without giving up a safety or a touchdown. I guess it’s like hanging off the side of a cliff or holding back water you do everything you can to avoid the inevitable then you get exhausted, one little crack and it’s all over.
Proving to be just too much for the FCS team third string QB (16) Taquan Marshall scored behind two blockers escorting him into the end zone on an 11-yard run. There was a 3 way QB Celebration on the sideline as this one was sealed Georgia Tech 35, Mercer 10
Next up for the Yellow Jackets, Vanderbilt of the SEC, at Bobby Dodd Saturday 9-17-2016