0-for-Georgia to be part of Ball’s legacy
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Athens — Reggie Ball was checking his e-mail as he walked into the interview room. Perhaps he found encouraging words therein. Perhaps he found an answer for what has become — and will forever be — unanswerable: How could the quarterback who has presided over 29 collegiate victories never win the game that matters most to his constituency?
Not that Ball was willing to concede the point. “I want to win every game,” he said. “I don’t buy into that ‘rivalry game’ — that’s for [the media] to do. I go out [and] I don’t care if it’s two old ladies playing flag football — I want to win.”
He wants to win. Nobody disputes that. But this much is likewise indisputable: Handed chances to win against Georgia each of the past three seasons, Ball and Georgia Tech lost instead. What transpired Saturday wasn’t his most egregious moment in the series — that remains the fourth-down throwaway in 2004 — but it was his worst overall performance against Georgia and among the worst of his strange career.
Ball’s numbers this forlorn day: Six completions, 16 incompletions, 42 yards passing, minus-10 yards rushing, three second-half turnovers. This from a fourth-year starter. This from the guy who has Calvin Johnson at his disposal. (Johnson had two catches Saturday, neither in the second half, for 13 yards.)
Asked if Georgia had become a personal speed bump, Ball said: “Come on, dog. It’s a game. Georgia’s Georgia. They’re a good team, but they’re no speed bump.”
Ball finishes his career 0-for-Georgia. Chan Gailey, who hitched his program to the true freshman four years ago, is the first Tech coach to lose his first five games against Georgia, and at some point we need ask: Is Gailey a great coach for having won so many games with such an inefficient quarterback, or is he a silly coach for having gone so long with such an inefficient quarterback?
Of Ball, Gailey said Saturday: “He didn’t play as well as he has … I don’t think he was in sync.”
Yes, Tech still has a chance to win the ACC championship and play in the Orange Bowl, but a goodly quotient of luster fell away from Gailey’s best season Saturday. The Jackets absorbed a curious haymaker — Tony Taylor returning Ball’s fumble for a go-ahead touchdown seemingly hours after the fact — and took a fourth-quarter lead. When finally Tech’s defense buckled, the Jackets still had time to answer. They could manage only one first down on their final possession, that courtesy of a Quentin Moses personal foul, and then the chance died. Throwing off his back foot yet again, Ball was intercepted by Paul Oliver.
“We were trying to make a play on the next snap,” Ball said of the Moses penalty. Was he pressured on the throw? “That’s what happens in football.”
It would be easy to feel a twinge of pity for Ball — Georgia students mocked him Saturday with chants of “Reg-gie, Reg-gie” — but he makes it apparent he wants no one’s sympathy. He suffers media inquiries with something approaching scorn, and maybe we shouldn’t blame him. Few collegians have ever been held up to such scrutiny.
Still, that’s the price for playing quarterback at a school that takes football seriously. Ball has had splendid moments in his career — two victories over Auburn, two over Miami, one over Virginia Tech — but he has never beaten Georgia and never will. Said Tashard Choice, who accounted for 151 of Tech’s 188 total yards Saturday: “Sometimes things don’t go the way they’re supposed to. You have to roll with the punches, and we roll with [Ball]. And we’re going to take it as far as we can go.”
If Tech wins its next two games, Ball will match Shawn Jones as Tech’s winningest quarterback. But Jones won a national championship and beat Georgia twice. For the Jackets as led by Ball, it’s clear now that this was as far as they could go — they could win big games but never the biggest game on their schedule. Never even once.