Justin Fields and the Buckeyes celebrate in the first half of their game against Cincinnati on Saturday. (Photo: David Jablonski, CMGO)

Weekend Reflections: Justin Fields, Julio’s deal, ACC reels, Tech’s ‘D’ is real

What I think about some things I saw over the weekend . . . 

Any Georgia Bulldogs backers who sniffed about quarterback Justin Fields transferring to Ohio State because he fears competition are going to have to find another self-serving narrative. Fields was sensational against Cincinnati Saturday after he was great in the opener against Florida Atlantic. While watching the Cincy game, the ABC crew mentioned something that might explain why Fields picked Ohio State. 

According to ABC, Fields said he consulted with Dwayne Haskins before choosing Ohio State as his destination. Haskins vouched for Buckeyes coach Ryan Day, who had succeeded Urban Meyer. Day was QB coach and offensive coordinator when Haskins set records for the Buckeyes. Washington selected Haskins with the No. 15 overall pick in the last NFL draft. 

Day helped turn a four-star recruit into a first-rounder. Fields was the No. 1 QB recruit in the country. You can see why he’d want to play more and play for Day, who also was an NFL QB coach for two seasons. Now Fields is The Man for the Buckeyes. 

Fields had four total touchdowns against Cincinnati. Wrote Cleveland.com’s Doug Lesmerises: “His stats were similar to a week ago -- 20 of 25 passing for 224 yards compared to 18 of 25 for 234 yards against Florida Atlantic -- but this wasn’t broken plays and easy throws. This was making reads and taking plays in rhythm when they were there, and making decisions and creating plays when they weren’t.” 

Georgia’s coaches never seemed to allow Fields that kind of freedom in games that mattered. Maybe they didn’t think he was ready for it. Perhaps they didn’t want to risk much with freshman Fields when they had Jake Fromm. I get that. As I wrote over the summer: “After all these QB changes in big-time college football, Georgia still has one of the best.” 

But spare me the sour grapes about Fields supposedly running from competition. Fields is getting his chance to shine with the Buckeyes and is taking advantage immediately. Not many QBs with so little experience can do that. The competition will get tougher, but Fields already looks like the real deal. He’s giving Day a lot to work with. 

Julio Jones got paid 

I thought Jones would have to hold out to get the contract promised to him. That’s the only real leverage players have in the NFL system. Or so I thought. Jones got everything he could hope for in his new Falcons without holding out while outflanking Arthur Blank in the arena of public perception.

It turns out it was a master stroke for Jones when told the AJC’s D. Orlando Ledbetter  in June that he wasn’t worried about a new deal because Blank’s “word is gold.” Jones showed up for all the pointless offseason programs and reported to training camp on time. Then he sat back and waited for Blank to make good on the promise to make him the league’s highest-paid receiver. 

The Falcons did that, so Jones suited up on Sunday. If he’d sat because he didn’t have a new deal, it would look like Blank’s word isn’t gold. It would seem the Falcons were nickel-and-dimeing their superstar playmaker after he’d done all the “right” things. 

I don’t know for sure if that factored into Jones getting a contract with more guaranteed money ($64 million) than any non-quarterback. But a constant refrain I heard among Falcons fans about the negotiations was not to worry because, as Jones said, Blank’s word is gold. (Certainly other star players also were paying attention to how the Falcons treated Jones.)

There’s always a PR element to high-profile contract negotiations and Jones’ messaging broke through. In effect, Jones used the affinity that fans have for billionaire franchise owners to his advantage. He showed up and publicly put the onus on Blank to keep his word. 

Maybe Jones would have gotten what he was owed without doing that, but I like to think it helped. 

Tech looked good on defense (!)

Georgia Tech’s defense dominated South Florida, which may have a bad offense. But I think good defense is sustainable for the Yellow Jackets. Most of their best recent recruits play defense and head coach Geoff Collins already has them playing the style he prefers. 

Tech deploys five defensive backs and two smallish linebackers. Its team speed was noticeable even against the Bulls, who have plenty of speedy Florida recruits. The Jackets were running and hitting. 

Defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker sent in waves of reserves so the players could go all out on a very hot day. The Jackets produced four sacks, five other tackles for loss, four pass breakups and one (game-saving) forced fumble. Those are things that Collins defenses regularly do. 

The Football Outsiders “havoc rate” is the combined percentage of plays that result in tackles for loss, forced fumbles and passes defended (including interceptions). As a coordinator for Mississippi State and Florida, Collins’ units ranked 50th, 16th, 21st and 22nd nationally in havoc rate. As Temple head coach his defenses ranked 34th and 73rd. Tech’s national ranks in havoc rate over the previous five seasons: 67th, 123rd, 120th, 109th and 119th. 

Tech’s defense will have problems with big and mobile linemen who can wear out the front. But the Jackets can cause issues with their speed, aggressiveness and sound tackling. If Tech can expand the scope of its offense, which still is very limited, then it might earn some unexpected victories. 

ACC looked like a one-team league

Before the season I opined: “The ACC Network’s debut is a little late for a football league that used to be interesting but now is lopsided.” I didn’t know it would take just two weeks for that to become clear. 

Syracuse, which had been propped up as a potential challenger to the Clemson, lost by seven touchdowns to Maryland. Miami, another candidate for ACC’s No. 2 Team, is 0-2 after a loss at North Carolina. Florida State followed its opening loss to Boise State with an overtime escape against Louisiana-Monroe of the Sun Belt. 

North Carolina looks to be the ACC’s second-best team. The Tar Heels are one of three FBS teams with two victories over Power 5 opponents, along with Clemson and Hawaii. Now I want to see Mack Brown pull off the boss move of leaving the TV studio after five years away and leading North Carolina to a Coastal title. 

My Weekend Predictions were good

My picks against the spread are 7-4 before Monday night’s NFL games. (Hey, Mondays are still the weekend during football season.) I’ve got Houston (+7) and Oakland (-1 ½). 

Taking the Falcons and four points looked like a mistake after about 10 minutes. Tech didn’t cover the six points, but I didn’t mind because it fun watching the Jackets grind out a tough victory. 

I got lucky when Texas A&M covered on a garbage time TD. I’ll take it. Texas is better than I thought but LSU (my preseason No. 5) still covered. I trusted Jeremy Pruitt to coax a better performance from Tennessee in Week 2 and got what I deserved.

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About the Author

Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham has covered the Hawks and other beats for the AJC since 2010.