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Sunday Evening Quarterback: Georgia Tech Defeats Pittsburgh 56-28, Attains Bowl Eligibility

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It was a weird game at Heinz Field, but luckily a lot of the weirdness would end up benefitting the Yellow Jackets. (Which was also part of what made it weird.)

#Snoddy4Prez
#Snoddy4Prez
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Quarterback

Justin Thomas had a fairly good game, going 5-10 passing for 147 yards and a 79-yard touchdown pass to Charles Perkins. He also picked up 92 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. Thomas appeared to struggle for a majority of the game, be it due to injury or just feeling sluggish. (He did come off the field early in the game with an apparent arm injury, but would soon return.) He didn't seem as fast and elusive as normal, but it was still a solid effort without any major mistakes. It was interesting, too, because without being at top speed, Thomas almost seemed more elusive in ducking and diving through the defense.

Tim Byerly also got a lot of work in this game, and was pretty decent. His one pass was incomplete, but he carried the ball 7 times for 34 yards and did a nice job of running the option. The offense was clearly a little slower and less effective with Byerly in the game, but it was with a lot of backups for a majority of the time. I think a healthy Thomas is still clearly the better QB in our system, but having someone with Byerly's capabilities as a backup is an encouraging feeling.

Not an outstanding game from these guys, but very solid overall.

Grade: B+

B-Back

I thought Synjyn Days made a strong case to be named offensive player of the game. He led the team with 110 yards on 22 carries, and did all of that while filling in for an injured Zach Laskey. He stepped into a spot he's shown to be a little uncomfortable with, and delivered like he'd been doing it for years. Very strong showing from Days, I was thoroughly impressed by him.

Matt Connors also may have had the best game of his career, with only 5 carries but turning them into 56 yards and a touchdown. The senior walk-on was ripping off big gains against an admittedly tired Pitt defense late in the game, but he showed Tech fans that there's another reliable option behind Laskey and Days, just in case.

Pretty solid game from a unit missing its best player. I was very happy with them.

Grade: A

A-Back

The other player that made a strong case to be named offensive player of the game was Broderick Snoddy. The last few games, Snoddy has looked outstanding at A-Back. He's always been fast, but now he's finding holes to run through and staying on his feet through significant contact. All of that resulted in 6 carries for 82 yards and 3 touchdowns -- his career-best performance.

Early in the game, Charles Perkins had a 79-yard catch-and-run on a great third down call. Later in the first quarter, he left the game with a nasty-looking leg injury. Hopefully that won't be too serious of an injury, as Perkins is likely Georgia Tech's best A-Back when it comes to carrying, and certainly when it comes to blocking. That said, even without its leader, the unit as a whole blocked well on the perimeter, again, continuing a trend that's been a great change this season from previous years.

This group was down its best player (and also missing Synjyn Days, who was playing a different role), and still had a solid game. Broderick Snoddy stepped up, and others contributed heavily as well. Color me impressed.

Grade: A

Wide Receivers

In what may have been the epitome of wide receivers in this offense, the crew of DeAndre Smelter and Darren Waller didn't see a ton of action in this game (combining for 4 catches), but what they did see was significant. Those four catches were good for three first downs, and all of them went for at least 10 yards. The only pass that didn't go for a first down was a 13-yard completion to Darren Waller on third and 15 -- a mental mistake by Waller to break off his route short of the first down line.

It was a good game from this unit. It wasn't great, but it also wasn't bad. This group is coming into its own, and instilling more confidence in Tech fans each week. It's great having wide receivers as reliable as they have been -- again, a nice change from recent years.

Grade: B

Offensive Line

This group had a great game. They did an awesome job of blocking in the run game, opening up holes constantly for Synjyn Days to run through the middle of Pittsburgh's defense. They also did a great job in pass protection, yielding no sacks or even much pressure to speak of, even for a quarterback that wasn't at full speed. They did a great job, too, with getting downfield on some of the longer runs the offense produced.

The one guy I want to take a second here to point out in Bryan Chamberlain. After last season, I wasn't very much of a fan of Chamberlain. He's got all sorts of physical tools, but was making mental mistakes frequently enough for plenty of fans to take notice. Coming into this year, he was named a starter, and again, I wasn't thrilled. I wanted to take a second here and point out that through 8 games, Chamberlain has been a strength on this offensive line and has thoroughly impressed me. I was excited to have him back for this game, and he once again performed very well.

I don't know what else there is to say. Great game by this unit.

Grade: A+

Offense

The most valuable part of the offense's performance in this game was how opportunistic it was in the first quarter. Presented with five golden opportunities off of Pitt turnovers, it only needed 9 plays to rack up 167 yards and 28 points. The fifth Pitt turnover resulted in an 11-play, 49-yard drive that would've been extended if not for a missed read on the first time a snap was actually taken on the "Freeze Play" since last year. (The "Freeze Play" referring to one of Paul Johnson's favorite tactics on 4th and short early in the game -- run each A-Back in motion and try to draw an offsides call before using a timeout or taking a delay of game penalty.)

There was a slower part of the game where the offensive production slowed down (the second quarter in particular). In three drives, only one yielded more than one first down, and the one that did ended with the offense stalling in the red zone and a missed field goal. However, the group recovered well, with its first three drives following halftime going for 200 yards (an average of over 8 yards per play) and 14 points. Overall, they scored touchdowns on 4 of 6 drives after halftime, and another resulted with the clock running out.

It was a great day for the offense given Thomas was not looking like himself, they were missing their top B-Back, and they were missing their top A-Back for a majority of the game. If this group can get healthy, any defense will have some trouble stopping them.

Grade: A+

Defensive Line

The defense struggled at times, but this unit wasn't bad. Adam Gotsis was a force like we haven't seen yet this year, except for maybe the Virginia Tech game. KeShun Freeman played another good game, making only 3 tackles but creating a lot of pressure and drawing plenty of uncalled holding penalties.

The unit stayed fresh with plenty of player rotation. The starting lineup of Freeman, Gotsis, Shawn Green, and Kyle Travis was supplemented by Rod Rook-Chungong, Pat Gamble, Francis Kallon, Antonio Simmons, and Tyler Stargel. That had an effect as the line was continuing to get pressure and penetrate into the backfield even late in the game. It doesn't hurt that they had a lead and didn't have to play conservatively, but in any case the results, while not statistically impressive, were still decent.

Grade: B

Linebackers

Just looking at the stat-line, P.J. Davis was probably the defensive MVP. He recorded 5 solo tackles and another assisted, including 3 tackles for loss, a sack, another QB Hurry, and most importantly two forced fumbles. Davis was all over the field, playing aggressive and fast football, and making a large defensive contribution to the win. He pretty generally played a great game.

As for the unit, there are still some concerns evident. Pitt rushed for nearly 200 yards, including 120 from James Conner, who missed a significant portion of the game early on with an injury. Even with a third linebacker on the field for much of the game, this unit struggled to contain Pitt's offense (the running game in particular), including lots of missed tackles.

Overall, it was an okay performance against a subpar offense. Hopefully we'll see more in future weeks.

Grade: C+

Secondary

I thought this unit struggled quite a bit for a majority of the game. There were certainly some great moments, and they combined to force three fumbles and recover two. D.J. White may have made the play of the game and singlehandedly changed the game for good when he made a huge hustle play to run down James Conner from behind. White forced a fumble that would result in a touchback and a change of possession, when otherwise Conner would have scored a 75+ yard touchdown. Isaiah Johnson had some great stats as well, leading the team with 14 tackles, forcing a fumble, and recovering a fumble as well.

That said, there were still some rough moments involving a lot of missed tackles and a lot of very open Pittsburgh receivers. Chad Voytik finished 15 of 20 passing, and of those incompletions I can think of at least two that were just bad throws and should have been completed to open receivers. Sure, a majority of the game, Georgia Tech had a 3 touchdown lead or better, and so they weren't going to try to completely lock the Panthers down. But Pitt benefitted from yards after the catch constantly, typically due to the secondary missing the first tackling opportunity. The combination of soft coverage (by design) and poor tackling is a lot of passing yards for the opponent, even at times they weren't really planning on it. That's very worrisome, and a bad trend to have seen over the last few weeks.

Some great individual performances here, but overall a bit of a lackluster performance by the whole group.

Grade: C-

Defense

The 6 turnovers they created were outstanding, and a mark that won't be matched for a while by Georgia Tech. As with the secondary, there were individuals that had huge performances, but overall it wasn't totally encouraging to see them give up over 300 yards passing and nearly 200 yards rushing to an offense that's averaged well under 400 yards against other Power 5 competition. There were times in the first half, too, the Georgia Tech fans were making very uneasy-sounding comments on Twitter and the GameThread. They had watched a 28-point lead shrink into a 14-point lead very quickly.

It feels wrong criticizing the defense after a 6-turnover performance, but that 4 out of 6 Pitt drives that didn't end with a turnover ended with a touchdown is...worrisome. Maybe I'm just cynical, though.

Grade: C

Special Teams

Offensively, Georgia Tech only used its special teams unit on three drives, all before halftime. Twice, Ryan Rodwell punted for 40+ yard, which was pretty good. The third time, Harrison Butker missed a 37-yard field goal to end the first half on the end of a 12-play, 60-yard drive. He fell to 1 for 5 on field goals between 30 and 39 yards, where he's 6 for 7 from any other distance -- a pretty bizarre statistic that's probably enough to change Paul Johnson's decision-making in future games. Jamal Golden had two kickoff returns for a total of only 33 yards -- a poor mark that's more a reflection of the regression of his blocking from what it was a few weeks back. The kickoff coverage was solid, with three Pitt returns resulting in only 60 total yards.

It wasn't a pretty day from the special teams side of things. In a close game, this performance could have been the difference in a win and a loss. Luckily, it was uncharacteristically bad, and in a game that didn't hinge on their performance.

Grade: D+

Overall

Even missing a couple of major offensive weapons, this team was able to score plenty of points and take advantage of opportunities they were presented with. They went on the road and maintained composure through a few struggles in the middle part of the game, coming away with a big win against a division opponent and getting back in the win column after two losses. It was a strong performance that showed area for improvement, but one that was enough to make me feel guilty for complaining about. I'm looking forward to seeing how they take this performance and build on it against Virginia for Homecoming next week.

Grade: B+