When Georgia Tech committed a game-changing turnover last week against Pittsburgh, coach Geoff Collins witnessed what he considered to be the ideal reaction.
His young team didn’t sulk. They didn’t hang their heads. They didn’t point fingers at their offending teammates. They dug in and faced the adversity head-on. Even though the Yellow Jackets lost the game, Collins considered it a positive step forward in the continuing development of the program.
“We learn from those things and we build from those things,” Collins said. “Just really proud of that group of guys and I know they’re going to come back with the right mentality to get better.”
That reaction would not have occurred six months ago when Collins was just getting the team accustomed to the new way of doing things. The turnaround began when he put them through something called the “Program Workout.” It shined a light on areas of weakness and forced the team to grow closer.
“Our preseasons are pretty intense,” Collins said. “We do a lot of things to build a culture and build a program. The first night of the ‘Program’ we put them in some situations that were going to be very hard to accomplish and they weren’t able to do them. The chaos we created and the things that were happening forced them to crack. They were bickering with each other, they were losing their composure.”
That gave Collins and the staff an idea of where they needed to head. Strength coach Lewis Caralla put the players through some intense workouts over the summer that were designed to help them deal with specific issues. The change has been encouraging — and impressive.
“Coach Caralla and our staff has done an amazing job,” Collins said. “Our practices are chaotic. There’s a lot of things that are going on that six months ago I don’t know if we would have been able to handle the situation that we ran into (against Pittsburgh). But they did.”
In a span of seconds against Pitt, the Yellow Jackets went on an emotional roller coaster, from being inches away from tying to game to hurrying the defense on the field and defending their own goal line. In that difficult situation, the Georgia Tech defense limited Pitt to a long field goal.
Sophomore safety Juanyeh Thomas said the reaction would not have been as positive had the bad luck occurred earlier in the season.
“Six months ago, if that would have happened, it would have been a whole bunch of chatter,” Thomas said. “But over those six months we grew a bond and became tighter. If offense messes up, we are going to go out there and put the ball down. It’s life. It happens. We’ve just got to have faith in people and if a person messes up, the defense is going to pick up the slack for them. It’s what coach Collins has been preaching the whole year.”
The Yellow Jackets (2-6, 1-4 ACC) play their final road game of the season. They travel to play Virginia (6-3, 4-2) in Charlottesville. Georgia Tech is 4-12-1 when playing at Virginia and hasn’t won there since 2013. Georgia Tech beat Virginia 30-27 in overtime last season.
“All we can is worry about us and focus on us, and just every single day fight and scratch and claw to give ourselves a chance to play really well as a Georgia Tech football team going on the road,” Collins said.