A mix of emotions -- frustration, disappointment, anger -- swirled inside Georgia Tech's locker room Saturday after Miami dominated the Yellow Jackets. After their second straight Atlantic Coast Conference loss, Georgia Tech players faced their coach, Chan Gailey, who offered a distinct message.
"I really wasn't paying attention," senior free safety James Butler said of Gailey's words. "I was so mad."
But the message, clear and concise, continues to be, as teammate Nate Curry said: "We have to get a win and do it now."
A sense of urgency, not panic, exists among players and on campus.
"My peers in classes all have been positive," Butler said. "I'm surprised they are not being negative."
Granted, the Yellow Jackets began last season 1-3 before rallying to reach a bowl game for the seventh consecutive time, a school record. And, yes, Georgia Tech (2-2) on Saturday will face Maryland, whose last conference loss was to the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta last season.
But there is ample reason for concern in the Georgia Tech camp. For starters, the Yellow Jackets could be without two offensive linemen for Saturday's 3:30 p.m. game at Byrd Stadium. Guard Brad Brezina (head injury) is out; center Andy Tidwell-Neal (ankle) is questionable.
The injuries could force two redshirt freshmen into the lineup for their first career starts. What's more, the questions at offensive line could hinder the return of P.J. Daniels, the running back who led the ACC in rushing (1,447 yards) last year and who was sidelined for the Miami game because of bruised quadriceps. The junior practiced Tuesday but not at full speed. Georgia Tech needs Daniels; the Yellow Jackets won their first two games this season, beating Samford and Clemson, when Daniels rushed for a combined 272 yards.
The 5-foot-10, 210-pound back suffered the injury against Clemson, and it go worse during a 34-13 loss to North Carolina the following week, Gailey said, adding Wednesday he would like to see Daniels practice at full speed before he can accurately assess his status.
An effective Daniels would alleviate some of the burden on sophomore quarterback Reggie Ball, who has thrown six interceptions and one touchdown pass in the past two games, both losses. Ball, who has eight interceptions this season, completed only 8 of 25 passes for 68 yards in the 27-3 loss to Miami.
Less than a month ago, Ball was celebrated in Atlanta, after throwing three touchdown passes in the final five minutes, including the game-winner with 11 seconds left, to lift Georgia Tech to a surprising 28-24 victory at Clemson.
The Clemson game also was the showcase for freshman wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who caught eight passes for 127 yards and three touchdowns against the Tigers. At 6 feet 4, Johnson ranks first in the country in receiving yards and touchdown catches by a freshman. But opponents have begun to adjust. North Carolina and Miami often double-teamed the Tyrone, Ga., native, and the Hurricanes even put vaunted cover man Antrel Rolle on Johnson as a sign of respect.
The offense, though, has been the team's nemesis. Georgia Tech has 12 turnovers and is the only conference team with fewer than 10 offensive touchdowns.
"We were projected to be 2-2 at this point," said Curry, a senior wide receiver. "We won the game we weren't supposed to win [Clemson] and lost the game we were supposed to win [North Carolina]."
What particularly concerns Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen is the Yellow Jackets' defense. Defensive end Eric Henderson, an all-America candidate who missed the first three games because of injury, made five tackles in his return against Miami and leads a defense that appears to blitz every bit as much as it did last year.
"The thing you really have to prepare for is the speed at which they play," Maryland offensive line coach Tom Brattan said. "I think that is what last year really opened our eyes, just how fast they were. I don't know if we really were prepared for that as much as you'd like to think you are."
Last year, Georgia Tech knocked Maryland quarterback Scott McBrien out of the game, and the Terps finished the 7-3 loss with Joel Statham, this year's starter. Maryland hopes Statham can exploit Georgia Tech when it blitzes and defenders move out of position.
It won't be an easy task against these Yellow Jackets, who view every remaining game on the schedule, not just this one, as a must-win situation. Players said they adhered to Gailey's 24-hour rule, which stipulates that emotions from a loss are flushed within a day.
"We're confident," Curry said. "We lost two conference games. I feel we'll be dangerous."