CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The first three years of Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins’ tenure provided him more than enough adversity. The Yellow Jackets will try to use that as fuel.
Meeting with media Thursday at the ACC Kickoff, Collins made repeated mention of his team’s focus and edge after its 3-9 season in 2021, the Jackets’ third three-win season in a row.
“I think just the edge, the demeanor, the workmanlike focus, having an edge, having a chip on their shoulder, as we all do, and just want to represent Georgia Tech at the highest level every single time that we play,” Collins said. “And I think that demeanor, that attitude, learning through tough times, has galvanized that focus, and now we’ve just got to continue to build upon that.”
Ever positive but perhaps toned down from previous seasons, Collins touted different aspects of his team and the development of various players as he enters a season in which he’ll be under scrutiny to field a more competitive team.
New offensive coordinator Chip Long will run a scheme heavy on varied personnel groupings, formations and motions that will be complicated for defenses, Collins said, but that rely on simple terminology for offensive players “so they can execute at a high level, play fundamentally sound, play physical.”
Defensive end Keion White, a highly touted transfer from Old Dominion a year ago, is at full health, unlike a season ago.
“I think he’s weighing high 280′s right now, and I get to see the Catapult numbers at the end of every team run, and his Catapult numbers are really good – his speed, his acceleration, all of his explosiveness,” Collins said, referring to the team’s GPS technology that it uses for measuring training.
Working with new quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke, quarterback Jeff Sims has “poured himself into everything coach Weinke is teaching him – fundamentals and eyes and progression, leadership – all of those things.”
Running back Dontae Smith, the team’s leading returning rusher at 378 yards, is “one of our hardest workers, most competitive, dynamic players on the team.” He’ll be challenged for playing time by transfers Dylan McDuffie (Buffalo) and Hassan Hall (Louisville).
“His speed, athleticism, his work ethic has been really good,” Collins said of Hall.
Fans who have heard Collins’ enthusiastic evaluations of his team could be excused for taking a wait-and-see approach. It was last year, after all, that Collins used “WIN21″ as a team slogan.
Collins made an oblique reference to that, actually, saying that the team trained in the offseason in plain-gray workout gear, a statement by not making a statement.
“We didn’t have logos,” Collins said. “We didn’t have flash. It was all about just getting in there and going to work.”
Dressed in a blue and light-red plaid suit, Collins returned to the idea of trying to gain from the failure that the team has experienced. There is plenty to draw upon. In finishing 3-9, the Jackets ranked 117th (of 130 schools) in FBS in total defense and defensive third-down efficiency. Tech was tied for 92nd in total offense, 100th in third-down efficiency and 81st in turnover margin.
They lost six games in which they had a fourth-quarter possession with a chance to tie or take the lead and lost the three others (ACC champion Pitt, 11-game winner Notre Dame and national champion Georgia) by a combined 152-21.
“Those common experiences at times have been very painful, but not letting those painful experiences go to waste,” Collins said. “And try to find a way to learn from them and take the next step forwards so we can play really good ball. And times (when) there is some adversity, how can we snap out of it and get the result that we want to make all the Tech fans proud and happy and all those things.”
Smith, representing Tech at the event with tight end Dylan Leonard and cornerback Zamari Walton, put a finer point on the edge that his coach described.
“It’s definitely different,” he said. “You can tell just by the way we interact with each other and how we practice and lift with each other. Spring was different from (last) season. It’s just the mindset. The mindset that you must win. Not, ‘We should try to win this year.’ It’s winning. It’s about winning.”
Asked what should give fans optimism going into the season, Collins mentioned the changes to the coaching staff, new players (freshmen and transfers), added depth and experience and the work ethic of the team.
“The big focus since the end of last season is how can we play the best brand of Georgia Tech football on college football Saturdays,” Collins said. “That’s been the focus of everything that we’ve done, all the changes that we’ve made, all the deep introspection on how we do things and why we do things.”
Asked what changes have been made as a result of that introspection, Collins referenced the coaching changes and transfers.
“And a lot of things are internal as well,” he said. “Just trying to find every single way so that the product on the field, the way we play the game, the way we represent the institute, how we get better every single day, play a tough, physical brand of football, guys play with great energy, great effort.”