As always, the winner of Georgia Tech’s spring game is optimism

Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins keeps it light with linebackers Khaya Wright (37) and Cole Neuber (26) during Friday night's spring game. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins keeps it light with linebackers Khaya Wright (37) and Cole Neuber (26) during Friday night's spring game. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

There at the lightly guarded border between optimism and self-delusion is where you’ll find every spring football game. You can make of these offseason intramurals whatever you wish. And if you are Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins, you always will choose to fashion something that’s as promising as the closing kiss of a first date.

Ever quirky, Tech exited spring with a Friday evening game, showing off downtown Atlanta at twilight. It’s a flattering light. And it was a fine and hopeful exhibition, filled with the kind of everyone’s-a-winner energy found in many of the better-run subdivision swim meets.

First encouraging sign: People. Actual humans filled in a lower-bowl section of Bobby Dodd Stadium to share in the possibilities of 2021. The Yellow Jackets following had survived both the pandemic and losing to Syracuse last season. The cheers of those estimated 5,000 season-ticket holders and students allowed to attend added a hint of authenticity to the event. Far more than the non-stop music – none of it Brahms – accompanying every play.

Buzz entertains fans during the 2021 Spring Game at Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta on Friday, April 23, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Buzz entertains fans during the 2021 Spring Game at Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta on Friday, April 23, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

You want hope? How about the sight of Tech basketball coach Josh Pastner on the sideline “guest-coaching” the defense without need of his ever-present, virus-blocking face shield. Or the scene of players jumping into the end-zone stands to co-mingle with fans and belt out a fight song without having to be hosed down with hand sanitizer afterward.

Second encouraging sign: Quarterback Jeff Sims in full quick-twitch mode. It’s always about the quarterback, isn’t it? And for this one, it was important that he show signs of decisiveness and accuracy that often eluded him last season.

Senior lineman Ryan Johnson has a term for losing composure in the heat of competition. He calls it “doing the loser’s dance.” Sims and the offense around him are really trying to eliminate those steps from their game-time choreography.

Stats at a spring game aren’t worth the time and guesswork it has taken for some poor intern to compile them. So, we’ll ban the numbers and stick with impressions. Let’s say that the sophomore Sims just looked more composed and more apt to throw to the right people Friday, as should be expected. He’s too good – and he’ll get too much push from the likes of redshirt freshman Jordan Yates and early-enrollee freshman Chayden Peery, both who looked kind of slick Friday – not to take another step.

Sims should take great confidence into the summer, boosted at the outset Friday when the entire defense ran east while he ran west for a long touchdown.

Overall, as for the gains made and the prospects revealed during the spring, Collins, in his third year, declared, “I’m really fired up.” Of course, if we have learned nothing else about the man, it’s that he gets fired up only if the sun rises.

ExplorePhotos from Georgia Tech's spring game

Much of the spring dealt with the errors that were so instrumental in losing seven of 10 games last year. The Jackets ranked 111th in turnover margin and 119th in fewest penalty yards per game a season ago. We’re told that players couldn’t round a corner of the facility without being reminded of the mistakes they made at the preceding practice, the shaming relentless. For what it’s worth, there didn’t seem to be the kind of pre-snap foolishness that has tormented Collins’ teams.

With some time left over to address a defense that ranked 109th in yards allowed and the same in points per game allowed. Collins has pointed to a combination of fresh-blood leadership by transfers such as linebacker Ayinde Eley (Maryland) and senior returnees such as safety Tariq Carpenter as a key unifying factor on defense.

Carpenter, who intercepted a gimmick pass during the spring game, used the COVID-19 exception to return for another season. He and the handful of Tech seniors who chose that route personify the hope of spring. Why else return unless there is belief that both player and team can improve?

So, Carpenter has cut out the sweets, cut the wasted pounds and bought into an elevated sense of purpose in the weight room.

“We’re doing everything we can to get better,” Carpenter vowed earlier in the week. “We’re coming in early, staying after late. In a big change for us, on Sundays the whole team is in the weight room getting extra work. Years before that wasn’t happening. The drive on the team has elevated drastically.”

Players celebrate during the 2021 Spring Game at Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta on Friday, April 23, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Players celebrate during the 2021 Spring Game at Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta on Friday, April 23, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

This first page in the diary of a season has been written, and the tone was expectedly upbeat. All of this, of course, happened in a vacuum, apart from the very real demands that Collins (6-16, 5-12 in the ACC thus far) starts winning more. And far removed from the truth that it will be Clemson and Notre Dame and Georgia and North Carolina across the way in a few months, not the Gold team. And those teams have had good springs, too.

So, pack away Friday’s enthusiasm for a couple of months in the Styrofoam peanuts of goodwill, and hope all stays intact until the fall.

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