You're hearing it here first: our game against Clemson in two weeks will be the fork in the road that determines how our season ends up. Win against Clemson, and we give ourselves a chance at some sense of redemption in ending the season strong with anywhere between 8-10 wins (nope, not even ruling out the last one). Lose against Clemson, and we can only hope to make it to 8 wins before Bowl Season. All of a sudden the BYU game will look tougher, as will the Boston College and UNC games.
The only reason any of that is relevant is that this weekend's game against Middle Tennessee State is our tune-up session heading into Clemson. MTSU is a better opponent than most of our fans will give them credit for, but still shouldn't be much of a challenge for our Yellow Jackets and should give us a chance to straighten out the things that went horribly last week against Miami. So what exactly should we be watching during this game? Glad you asked.
1. How will Georgia Tech's secondary respond?
After giving up over 400 yards through the air, I can pick out 3 guys in particular who had a pretty rough game on Saturday. Without naming names, they're all of the starters not named "Thomas". We came into the season thinking the secondary may have been our deepest, strongest unit on the team. 4 games in, they've been rather unimpressive as a whole. Rod Sweeting in particular is an NFL prospect as I understand it, and his performance to date has been pretty terrible to say the least. Jamal Golden is still doing his best to hold down the strong safety position while Fred Holton recovers from injury, and he's done a decent job of it, but on Saturday he really messed up some of the fundamentals, such as tackling. Isaiah Johnson had multiple plays where you couldn't even tell he was covering someone because they were just that wide open. These three need to sort themselves out, or it's going to be a long season for our pass defense.
2. What impact will true freshmen have on the team going forward?
We saw some of Adam Gotsis early in the season and saw Ryan Rodwell on Saturday after Sean Poole had a nasty collision while defending a punt return. Now, Johnson will be playing D.J. White to help with a secondary that's missing Fred Holton and likely Louis Young, as well as Anthony Autry to help boost perimeter blocking and the passing game. Other than that, the rest of the freshman class should be redshirted.
3. What will we see from the B-Back position going forward?
We started the season with Charles Perkins as the starter. That didn't last long, as Perkins is going to be out for a while with an upper body injury. David Sims has been playing a good bit ever since, although he's still recovering from surgery. Zach Laskey has been shouldering most of the load while Sims hasn't been 100% (and doing a damn good job of it, I'll add). Now Broderick Snoddy is working his way into the mix, although his blocking still needs some work. I don't really mind having the B-Back as a "by committee" position, but I'd really like to see someone with the whole package as opposed to one guy who's a pretty good runner, one guy who's a pretty good blocker, and a third guy who's a pretty good receiver.
4. How will Vad Lee's development continue?
He made it into the game for a play or two last week (seriously, we need some damn Gorilla Glue or something for these helmets), and did a good job while he was in. This week he should get some more playing time, ideally some of that coming in a more important situation than those he saw against Presbyterian and Virginia. I'm looking for him to continue getting more time as the season progresses -- this guy is our program's future at QB and needs plenty of reps. It makes me think of Louisville in the mid-2000s, who started Stefan Lefors at QB but made sure that true freshman Brian Brohm got at least 1-2 series per game. That game time in significant situations prepared Brohm to take over as starting QB as a true sophomore.
5. Will our special teams finally break one and take a kick/punt back for a touchdown?
No doubt, our return units have been impressive so far relative to last year, and have had a few very long returns that were only one or two blocks from going all the way. It's been 174 games since Dez White last took a kickoff to the house for Georgia Tech. Is MTSU the team we finally take one back against?
Let's hear it, readers. What are you watching for this weekend? Watching the line play on both sides? The linebackers to stay organized?