It has been 8-1/2 months since Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins was hired, and the time in between has seemed to fly by in some ways and drag in others.
“So it’s a little bit of both, but I’ve loved every minute of it,” Collins said Sunday at his first weekly news conference of the season. “It’s great being back home in Atlanta and so I’m just fired up about it.”
Thursday, the buildup and anticipation to Collins’ first season will finally peak with the Yellow Jackets’ season opener at defending national champion Clemson. Collins’ news conference was a signal of sorts in turning attention from the preseason and the development of the team to an actual game and opponent.
“I’m excited,” Collins said. “We’ve just been playing against each other, and so once we put the ball down and there’s a really good team across from us, we’ll kind of get an even better sense of who we are.”
Collins said that being able to lead the team that he has dreamed of coaching will be a surreal moment. But more than that, he said he was eager for the moment because of the connection that he and his staff have built with their players.
“And I think that’s the part that I’m the most excited about, is those men that I get to look in the eye everyday and coach every day and have such a strong affection for — I get to be out there with them and compete with them,” Collins said.
Beyond that, so much will be uncovered for the first time. How will offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude use quarterbacks Lucas Johnson, Tobias Oliver and James Graham? It won’t be a surprise if all three take snaps, perhaps not all at quarterback.
“We have a base offense that we can run with all of them,” Collins said. “But there are some specialized things that we already have in the works to be used for each different guys and I’m excited about it.”
It will be the first time since 2007 that Tech employs a pro-style offense, a point made by Collins tongue in cheek.
“There’s a new position on the Georgia Tech depth chart,” he said. “It’s called the ‘tight end’ position, initials ‘T’ and ‘E.’”
For Patenaude, the opener will be the first steps in trying to gain yards and score points in that scheme after a spring and preseason teaching his new spread scheme. Patenaude said that, technically speaking, his quarterbacks “look like they’re totally different. Guys that were a little skittish in the pocket and not real comfortable were standing the pocket and slinging the ball around and having more confidence making more plays.”
The offense has gotten plenty of practice against its defensive counterpart, which runs a multiple-look scheme similar to Clemson’s.
“We’ve grown so much and our understanding is so much better and our execution is so much better that it’s going to be cool to put it out there against the defending national champions and see where we are,” Patenaude said.
How will the press coverage style that Collins and defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker use with their cornerbacks fare, lining them up tight against the opposing wide receivers to challenge quarterbacks? Tech will have its hands full with Tigers receivers Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross, two of the most dangerous wideouts in the ACC and in all of FBS.
“That is our base way of playing, press, but they are elite on the perimeter,” Thacker said. “We feel very confident in our personnel and who we have.”
Thacker gave an indication of the progress that he believed his unit has made in explaining the move of Antwan Owens from defensive tackle to end. It was made in part because coaches felt comfortable with the depth that they had at tackle, which is significant because it’s one of the least experienced position groups on the team.
Collins praised the work of defensive line coach Larry Knight and defensive ends/outside linebackers coach Marco Coleman for developing the line as a whole. Collins said that Tech should be able to rotate up to six players at both end and tackle.
“That gives you a chance on any college football Thursday or Saturday or whenever we play, because that is the position that’s got to play at a high level, especially when you get against spread/tempo teams that are going to push the pace and wear the big guys down,” Collins said.
The answers provided by Collins, Patenaude and Thacker on Sunday track with the sort of optimism that coaches and players across the country are generating as the first full week of football opens. But, with Tech, with a new staff implementing new ideas and schemes, the uncertainty, hope and eagerness might be deeper and felt more strongly.
“Every single day is a new day to get better and better at every single phase of who we are — fundamentals, techniques, schemes,” Collins said. “It’s always a brand-new experience. That’s why we’ve stuck to our processes and taught them our processes throughout, so that they get better every single day.”
How much better? The Jackets will find out in a matter of days.