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Monday Afternoon Quarterback: Georgia Tech Loses to UNC 48-43, Defense in Question

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Georgia Tech lost its second straight game on Saturday. It's becoming clear where this team's problems are.

Grant Halverson

Quarterback

Justin Thomas had a few rough moments in this game, but overall I was pretty impressed with how he played. The second snap of the game saw him pitch to Charles Perkins quickly, but unsuccessfully, resulting in a turnover. I thought early on he struggled with some reads as well -- although some readers pointed out that they could have been designed hand-offs. Overall I thought Thomas settled in nicely though. He went 8-16 passing until the final drive (which saw two desperation incompletions) for 235 yards and 3 touchdowns. He made some good reads too, distributing the ball nicely to the A-Backs in particular, and scoring 57 yards on 15 carries of his own.

I'd say that the other thing that should be pointed out is how much of an escape artist Thomas is when under pressure. It's almost Manziel-esque how he uses his speed and agility to make defenders miss and extend plays. That athleticism is priceless as Thomas operates the offense and has saved countless yards so far this season.

Overall a pretty good performance from Thomas, though there were a couple of tough moments there.

Grade: B

B-Backs

I thought Zach Laskey played a pretty nice game, too, up until he was knocked out of the game with a shoulder injury. He had 15 carries for 74 yards (a yard short of 5 yards per carry) for two touchdowns, and any time he had room to run it seemed like he was gashing the UNC defense for 7 or 8 yards. (The times he didn't, he was stopped for a yard or two.) He ran really hard and did a lot to open up the outside run.

Matt Connors replaced him and didn't record a carry or a catch. The worrisome part of that, to me, is that if it turns out Laskey is injured and can't go for a few weeks -- who replaces that production? Time will tell what exactly happens at B-Back.

Grade: B+

A-Backs

The A-Backs are starting to establish themselves as one of the strongest units on the offense. Perkins, Deon Hill, and Tony Zenon in particular have been really consistently good this year, including blocking, running, and receiving. The trio combined for 127 yards on 12 carries, plus another 84 yards on 3 catches. These senior A-Backs are having a pretty great season as a unit.

The other guy who quietly had a great game was Broderick Snoddy, who finished with 5 carries for 42 yards and a catch for 33. Where contact has been a problem for him in the past, Snoddy was physical and got some tough yards on Saturday. If he can have performances like that, he'll continue to be a go-to guy going forward.

Grade: A

Wide Receivers

Without looking, how many touches would you guess this unit had in this game? Probably between 7 and 9 if I had to guess.

That would be wrong. They had a grand total of 4 touches.

Oh, and those 4 touches? They resulted in 188 YARDS AND 3 TOUCHDOWNS.

You know, for a group that doesn't get its hands on the ball too often, they sure made an impact on this game. DeAndre Smelter's reverse that went 75 yards for a touchdown was awesome, and actually disappointing in the sense that we haven't seen any more of that. Darren Waller's touchdown was a nice grab after the defender badly misplayed the ball in one-on-one coverage. Smelter's touchdown catch-and-run to start the fourth quarter was another brilliant display of athleticism.

Get these guys the ball some more. They're pretty good.

Grade: A

Offensive Line

If any group on offense had a tough night, it was these guys, but even then they were still pretty good. For the most part, they did a nice job handling a talented UNC front and creating running room, particularly for Laskey. The pass protection struggled at times, particularly when the Tar Heels sent blitzes and were able to find holes quickly. Thomas was sacked twice and hurried a number of times throughout the night as pass protection continues to be a bit of an issue for this unit. Also tough to ignore is the false start that one could argue ended up costing the team 6 points over the rest of the game. No, one penalty (in the first half, no less) isn't the sole reason that the team lost, nor should it be. But it undoubtedly changed the rest of the game.

Not a great game from this squad, but not a particularly bad one either.

Grade: C

Offense

Not counting the two drives that ended the first half and ended the game, they scored touchdowns on 4 of their 5 drives after halftime. Of 10 true drives throughout the game, they scored 6 touchdowns and a field goal, punted twice, and had one turnover. They scored 43 points. I don't think that we can reasonably ask a lot more than that.

Grade: A-

Defensive Line

It wasn't good. Adam Gotsis continues to be effectively non-existent. Shawn Green was OK with 3 tackles and 1 TFL. Kyle Travis had 3 tackles. Freshman DE KeShun Freeman was probably the bright spot on the line, and that's with only 4 tackles (including 2 TFL) and a quarterback hurry. This group was getting constantly gashed, especially up the middle, by North Carolina's running game. They struggled a lot to get pressure on Williams, and just not very much worked. Right now, the only thing about this group that excites me is the potential of Freeman over the next three and a half years. Hopefully Gotsis can get back into the form he was in last season, or this unit is going to continue to struggle.

Grade: D+

Linebackers

Quayshawn Nealy and Paul Davis were probably the bright spot of the defense, and that's saying something. The two combined for 23 tackles and the only sack Georgia Tech had on Marquise Williams. They seemed to have some difficulty in dealing with UNC's balance between running and passing. The Tar Heels' quick passing to the outside led the linebackers to spread out, leaving the defense vulnerable to runs up the middle. Beau Hankins and Tyler Marcordes got in on the action too, but this group just generally looked like it was reeling all night trying to keep the defense from falling apart entirely.

Grade: C-

Secondary

It wasn't a good night for this group. It saw a lot of missed tackles, some blown coverage, and few highlights to speak of. Jamal Golden made an athletic interception early in the game reminiscent of the one Isaiah Johnson made against Miami a couple of weeks ago. Johnson had a couple of pass break-ups throughout the game. Overall, the unit played poorly though. I don't know if they got tired throughout the game, or if the scheme was a poor one for defending the Tar Heels' offense. It just wasn't working though, and it had a lot to do with the outcome.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of this group is that I like the talent a lot of them have individually. Isaiah Johnson and D.J. White should end up in the NFL in some capacity, and Jamal Golden very much has that potential too. Knowing that, though, and then seeing what happened Saturday, is really frustrating. Honestly, it's conflicting enough to make me think that there's some other root cause, perhaps going back to the scheme or other coaching gaffes. It's got to get better, though, if this unit is going to hold it together against Pitt, Clemson, or uga this year -- not to mention UVA and NC State.

Grade: D-

Defense

It was a really promising start, with UNC's first two drives ending on a punt and then an interception, all for a combined 22 yards. The problem is that from there, the following 9 drives resulted in 7 touchdowns and 544 yards. They went 10 for 13 on third downs after the first quarter. They even held onto the ball for 28:30 -- well over their season average for Time of Possession.

It wasn't fun. It wasn't good. There's not a lot of positive that can be said about the performance.

So far this season, we've seen a trend with this defense that we were expecting, but not to the extent that we've experienced. They replaced a bunch of starters and dealt with attrition on the side. It was a bad situation to start with, and hasn't been redeemed past that -- on the contrary, it's gotten worse than we thought. As I was saying with the secondary, I actually at point s unit has quite a bit of talent. There are a few guys there with real NFL potential on that side of the ball. At that point, struggles start to look more towards coaching as being the source. I'll leave it at that.

Grade: D

Special Teams

Special Teams weren't particularly good in this game, either. Jamal Golden and Broderick Snoddy had a decent day returning kickoffs, but the blocking wasn't always set up the right way leading to those getting cut short. Ryan Rodwell had a good punt of 41 yards, and had another punt of 19 yards that probably would have made Coach Johnson go for it on fourth and 10 if he had known what was coming.

Then there was the onside kick. Let's get one thing straight: that was a good call. It worked. UNC's front line retreated to go set up a return, and there was a 5-yard window where Georgia Tech could have reasonably, legally fallen on the ball. They just didn't. The idea was great, the call was perfect. The execution wasn't there. And damn, that's frustrating. (Result of that was that UNC starting at their own 48. They got 16 yards, and then on 4th and 6 bombed a pass down the left sideline that was caught for a touchdown, completing a sequence that was a pretty great microcosm of this game.)

Grade: D+

Overall

We're going to have to figure out something on defense going forward, because performances like this flat-out won't cut it. There are morons out there who blame Paul Johnson's offense for Georgia Tech's lack of big-time success. At the end of the day, it does all come back to Johnson, but to suggest that his offense is the problem is an idiotic notion when you consider it produced 43 points and is 32nd nationally in points per game against FBS competition at nearly 34 points per game. No, it's clear where the issues on this team are and aren't. Now it's a matter of whether they're going to be fixed.

Are there any grades here that you disagree with? Was the defense that bad? Was the offense that good? What does this team have in store for it moving forward? Let's talk about it.