Posted: Thursday, December 5th 2013 at 7:10pm
Red Elephants' offensive train keeps rolling (up points)
By Jeff Hart Staff
Gainesville's Deshaun Watson leaps over a Heritage defender earlier this season. / photo: David Weikel
GAINESVILLE at TUCKER
-- WHAT: Class AAAAA football semifinal
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: Hallford Memorial Stadium, Clarkston
-- RADIO: 1240 AM
-- GAINESVILLE (12-1, No. 1 seed Region 8-AAAAA): Defeated Mundy's Mill 42-28 in the quarterfinals
-- TUCKER (13-0, No. 1 seed Region 6-AAAAA): Defeated Ware County 29-0 in the quarterfinals
-- HISTORY: This is the first meeting between the two teams.
-- WINNER PLAYS: Kell vs. Creekside winner in the Class AAAAA title game at 8:30 p.m. Dec. 13 in the Georgia Dome
GAINESVILLE -- Last season, the Gainesville offense was one of the most feared units in all of Georgia high school football.
The Red Elephants, behind Class AAAAA Player of the Year Deshaun Watson, averaged 45.3 ppg while scoring a school-record 680 points on the way to the Class AAAAA state title.
Gainesville coach Bruce Miller at the time said he wouldn’t want to have to face it as a defensive coach. He’s changed his mind, however, after watching the 2013 group work between end zones.
The current unit already has scored 641 points in 13 games (49.3 ppg) and Miller said Watson has improved with age and the offense has matured along with him.
“We are much more potent this year,” Miller said. “Deshaun is just as good as he was last year and all of our skilled guys are making plays this year. Last year, it wasn’t until about the eighth or ninth game that we started to get contributions from more than just a few people. I thought last year they were real good. This year they’re just scary.”
Miller hopes that Watson and the rest of the Red Elephants offense can put a scare into Region 6-AAAAA champ Tucker, which plays host to Gainesville Friday in the semifinals of the Class AAAAA playoffs. The winner will take on the Creekside-Kell winner in the championship game next week.
Tucker (13-0) will have by far the toughest defensive unit the Red Elephants have seen since suffering their only loss to Buford in the second game of the season. The Tigers are allowing just 12.7 ppg on the season but have been even tougher in the playoffs allowing just 27 total points (9.0 ppg) with one shutout in three games.
Miller said unfortunately Tucker reminds him a lot of Buford.
“They are a tough group,” Miller said. “They are very physical like Buford and come after you like Buford. We will need to be on our game for sure. But I have a tremendous amount of confidence in our guys.”
Watson wasn’t shy about saying how he feels about the improvement of the offense since the Buford game.
“We’re so much better than when we were then; that was only the second week. We’re just getting better every week,” he said. “I have so many weapons I can rely on and throw the ball to that can make big plays. There’s 6-8 guys that can make plays. You can’t eye on one guy or you’ll get hurt.
“Tucker and Buford are similar on defense. But you have to beat the best to be the best. We’ve just got to go in there and play.”
The Red Elephants versatility and depth can cause defensive coordinators sleepless nights trying to decide how to defend them.
Watson has thrown for 3,560 yards and 46 touchdowns so far this season and run for a team-high 1,016 yards and 13 TDs and caught two touchdown passes. Michael Byrd is just 10 yards shy of 1,000 rushing and has 563 yards receiving and 17 combined touchdowns. Jay Gaudlock has 87 receptions for 1,217 yards and 14 TDs. In fact, 13 different players have scored offensive touchdowns for Gainesville so far.
They will match-up with an explosive Tucker defense that features a fearsome mix of size and speed, including defensive lineman Elisha Shaw (6-foot-6, 299 pounds), who holds offers from every major program in the nation. Linebacker Detric Dukes (Georgia commit) and defensive back Kirk Tucker (Stanford commit) also feature, as well as junior defensive back Duke Shelley (who holds an offer from Clemson).
Buford coach Jess Simpson, whose Wolves have been the only team to slow down Watson and the Gainesville this season, said it wasn’t an easy task.
“To be successful against them, you’ve got to be sound because they’re very well coached and they know how to attack you,” Simpson said. “And if you have a weakness, they’re going to find it. In preparing for them you have to be willing to pick your poison –- and which poison you’re going to pick at which time, because you can’t stop it all.
“Deshaun as a runner –- and he’s a great thrower -- I think for us that’s where it started. Can we make him one-dimensional. That gives you your best chance. Then you’re hoping you get lucky they don’t complete 100 balls on you, because with their scheme and skill players, they’re capable of doing that.”
Dropped passes played a factor in Gainesville’s 38-14 loss to Buford and Miller feels they stop themselves more than the opposing defense does. The key is just taking what is offered.
“People think we’re a throwing team but basically we have two 1,000-yard rushers,” he said. “The key for us is to just take what the defense is giving. If they crowd the box, we throw. If they play back, we run. It’s not real complicated. What makes it work is we have guys that really understand the offense and execute it near-flawlessly.”
They will need as close to flawless as they can get against Tucker, which is in its third semifinal appearance in the last four years. The Tigers won the Class AAAA state title in 2011 and 2008.
“They are experienced and have been here before,” Miller said. “But so have we so it’s going to come down to execution. They way we have been playing lately, I’ll take our guys. They are hungry to repeat and have been more focused the last few weeks than I have ever seen them. (Friday) can’t get here soon enough.”
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