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October 4, 2006
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Patrick Nix still talks to his old Auburn teammate Frank Sanders regularly.
As a matter of fact, the former quarterback and his favorite target spoke on Monday night.
"I've told Frank this, and it's no disrespect to him because he was a great player, but personally I think Calvin is as good as any receiver in the world," Nix told Rivals.com.
Calvin, of course, is Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson. Nix is in a position to get the ball to Johnson, albeit not in the same way he got it to Sanders.
Nix is the offensive coordinator for the Yellow Jackets (4-1), and he is in his first season calling the plays for the unit. Head coach Chan Gailey relinquished the duties in the offseason, saying he had gotten too "closed-minded" and that he believed Nix was ready.
Nix's troops looked ready last Saturday as Georgia Tech stunned previously unbeaten and then-No. 11 Virginia Tech 38-27 in Blacksburg, Va. The Hokies entered the game ranked second in the nation in scoring defense and seventh in total defense. They left bruised, battered and saddled with their first loss.
Yellow Jackets quarterback Reggie Ball had 210 total yards. Johnson had a 100-yard receiving day, and running back Tashard Choice topped the century mark on the ground. Add it up and you get Nix as Rivals.com's National Coordinator of the Week.
Illinois quarterback Juice Williams is Rivals.com's National Freshman of the Week. He passed for 122 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 103 yards as the visiting Illini stunned Michigan State 23-20.
Nix and Ball directed an 80-yard touchdown drive on the opening series, and followed it with two more first-quarter scoring drives to give Georgia Tech a 21-0 lead.
"I'm not sure it's anything I'm doing," Nix said. "I just think our players are playing really well. Reggie Ball is executing well. We have arguably the best player in America at wide receiver. We have a running back who is third in the ACC in rushing. The offensive line is doing well. It's all coming together and enabling us to win some games."
Nix said he was "ecstatic" when Gailey gave him the play-calling responsibilities. Truth is, Gailey had been widely criticized for his play selection. Johnson finished last season with only two catches in each of his last two games.
Nix has made sure he gets the ball in Johnson's hands. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound junior already has seven touchdown receptions through five games; he had six TDs all of last season. Johnson entered the 2006 campaign on a streak of seven games without 100 receiving yards; he already has three 100-yard games this season.
"We move him (Johnson) around everywhere," Nix said. "We try to challenge the defense, make them adjust, work, try to find him.
"The biggest thing that's helping, especially when teams try to double him, is that our running game has been really effective. If they double, Reggie and Tashard can beat them."
Choice and the ground game have been a surprise to some, but not Nix. He said he honestly believed Tech would have an excellent running attack this season.
Nix also believes in Ball. They've been together for four years, and there have been some rough spots for the QB. He was turnover-prone in his first couple of years - marvelous one moment and maddening the next.
But Nix says he and Ball are on the same page.
"He and I, we pretty much know what each other is thinking," Nix said. "I know when he might want take a chance and force something, and I try not to put him in a bad situation. We have to be smart, but we will take chances here and there, too.
"His maturity is the biggest difference. He understands what we're trying to do and when he can be aggressive, and he knows how to manage a game. He gets in trouble because he's too competitive. He wants to win on every single play. But it's not about winning plays, it's about winning games."
And that's something that Tech has been doing with welcome regularity in Atlanta this season.
Other freshmen considered for the Rivals honor this week were: