Trust among Georgia Tech’s problems needing to be fixed

After seven games, Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins believes that the Yellow Jackets could be so much better than the 3-4 record that is their bottom line. To that end, Collins devoted part of the team’s preparation time for its Saturday home game against Virginia Tech to urge players to be more committed and also met with the Jackets secondary to help foster trust within the unit.

Speaking Tuesday at his weekly news conference, Collins returned to a theme that he has hit upon through much of the season in which the Jackets have alternated between winning and losing each game – consistency. As the team improves, Collins said, it becomes even more vital for players to practice attention to detail and adhere to prescribed routines “because we are so close to being really, really good.”

Collins interrupted the team’s stretching period Tuesday morning to deliver an exhortation on the topic and spoke more on it after practice. He referenced the blocked point-after try in the first quarter of the Jackets’ 48-40 loss at Virginia on Saturday, a failure that put the Jackets in position of having to make up for the lost point later in the game.

“Imagine if we had had attention to detail and understood how huge of a play that was,” Collins said. “It’s not just a throwaway play. There’s zero throwaway plays in this game.”

Collins indicated that players’ actions to prepare and succeed were not complete. He said that players are “picking and choosing which parts and roles of our culture to do, and it takes all of it.” Collins has spoken of processes, such as watching game video during the week or staying after practice, that are necessary for players and the team to reach their peak.

“You’ve got to do all of it,” he said. “You can’t pick and choose which part – here’s what you have to do to be successful in the game, here’s what you have to do to be successful in life – and it takes what it takes.”

While declining to cite examples, Collins said the picked and chosen behaviors related to “preparation, the attention to detail, the certain things that we do in our program that are the little details that show up on Saturdays, individually and collectively.”

Collins also is trying to address the substandard play of his secondary, which was on the receiving end of the Cavaliers’ dominant passing performance – 396 yards and four touchdown passes with no interceptions. Collins said that players began to press and tensed up as Virginia built its lead and riddled the Jackets with completions and big plays. It was similar to coaches’ explanation for the defense’s play in the 52-21 loss to Pitt – that players did not respond well to adversity by not playing with full effort and trying to do too much. Against the Panthers, Collins said that players “let go of the rope against a really good team, and you can’t do that.”

Against Virginia and quarterback Brennan Armstrong, Tech defensive backs made technique errors, did not play their assignments and did not trust one another, leading to Collins stepping in.

“I met with the DB’s for a long time on Monday, and those were some of the biggest pieces, is the trust in yourself and the trust in your teammates and the communication piece, are the biggest things that we’re lacking right now on the back end,” Collins said.

“So just talking with them, I have complete faith in them. We have some really good players, but the collective trust and the individual trust and confidence in their abilities – and granted, they’ve played four straight games against four of the best offenses in college football – but I think we’re pretty good, too, so the standard and the expectation is really high for that group.”

The secondary wouldn’t seem to be the position group most likely to suffer from a lack of trust or poor communication. The Tech secondary – headed by safeties Tariq Carpenter and Juanyeh Thomas and cornerbacks Tre Swilling and Zamari Walton – has made 144 combined career starts, third most among all power-conference teams. Asked if he could put his finger on how that could be, Collins replied that “I put my finger on it very well” but declined to explain out of a desire not to be publicly critical of his players.

“I believe in them, I love them, I’m blessed to coach them every single day,” Collins said. “But they know exactly what needs to be fixed.”

Before the season, Collins might not have anticipated problems relating to a lack of trust or attention to detail. Coaches and players had raved about the team’s chemistry, and Collins had spoken of how the team had become more mature and focused. The team’s slogan for the season “WIN 21″ is an acronym referencing the necessity of staying focused – “what’s important now.”

The secondary was hardly only the position group needing attention. The defensive line did not create enough pass rush to upset Armstrong, and blitzes were not effective. Virginia, last in the ACC in rushing offense, ran for a season-high 240 yards. Defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker listed failures in technique, communication, playmaking and tactical adjustments as part of the problems against the Cavaliers.

“We had no identity,” Thacker said. “We didn’t stop the run, we didn’t stop the pass, we didn’t create negative plays and they made plays over us. So we’ve got to be better in all phases – coaches and players.”

For the season, Tech is tied for 11th in the ACC in scoring defense, 10th in total defense, tied for eighth in turnovers and 14th in third-down defense. But the performance against the Cavaliers may have scraped bottom. Jackets fans would hope so, at least.

“We’re channeling a lot of energy, a lot of frustration, a lot of anger, a lot of resentment, and we’re channeling that energy into what’s next,” Thacker said. “That’s Virginia Tech.”