I thought Justin Thomas played an incredible game last night. What's interesting about that is that the stat sheet makes it look like he was hardly there at all. He went 4 of 7 passing for 53 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions. He also had 13 carries for 27 yards and 1 touchdown. From a stats perspective, that's pretty weak. What he did well, though, is what won't show up on the stat sheet, and it comes in two forms. First, in distributing the ball, Thomas was on point all night. There were only a couple times here and there that Thomas made a bad read, and often it meant a 1-2 yard gain instead of 4-5 -- and if that's as bad as your bad reads get, you're doing alright. The other thing I thought he did was play with poise and stay away from making the big mistake. He refused to make dangerous pitches. He threw the ball with plenty of space and (generally) accurately. He didn't put the ball on the ground or try to do too much. He just played within the framework of the offense and was fantastic.
After 4 games, a lot of folks were wondering where Zach Laskey had been. Sure, he hadn't been bad, but he hadn't really broken out yet either. Well, tonight was the night for that. Laskey went from back-to-back 17 carry, 80-yard performances and turned in a 29 carry, 133 yard performance. The White Stallion was a constant force all night, getting the ball both inside and occasionally on the outside too. He did a great job running the ball between the tackles, and also did a really nice job of running in space. Once or twice he had to get 5 or 6 tough yards, and he was able to get them. Also, his success on the inside stood to set up the A-Backs on the perimeter, which would end up being a huge theme throughout a majority of the game and a big reason for why Georgia Tech came out with the win.
Synjyn Days also got to contribute a little bit here, scoring 19 yards on only 3 carries. I thought both of these guys were pretty awesome tonight.
This may have been the best game we've seen the A-Backs play in a number of years. These guys had 4 carries for 7 yards and one catch for 19 yards against Virginia Tech (a function of the Hokies' defensive scheme, mind you), but were generally pretty solid. Last night, they racked up 17 carries for 133 yards and 3 touchdowns, plus Tony Zenon's 2 catches for 39 yards and a game-changing conversion on third down and very long. They got the ball in their hands and were finding lanes constantly, averaging nearly 8 yards per carry with a few big plays thrown in there too.
Oh, and they were great without the ball in their hands too. The perimeter blocking was pretty fantastic in general tonight, again a major contributor to the win. They weren't really getting defenders to the ground, but they were occupying them just enough to keep them from cutting a play short. It was a lot of small plays that really added up.
Not too much to say here as the group had a grand total of 2 catches for 14 yards on a night when throwing the ball was not really a common occurrence. It was a rare occurrence that Thomas was targeting a wide receiver, and even then a couple of passes were off-target. Miami's secondary was also playing a physical game and got away with what should have been pass interference on more than one occasion.
In the run game, these guys were awesome. Only real mishap of the night was Darren Waller getting called for holding in the second quarter, but the Jackets would recover and score on the drive anyways.
Overall a really good night for this group. They could have been better, but they didn't need to be.
This group was awesome. They did a great job handling Miami's front 7 all night, opening up holes and getting defenders down or otherwise out of the play. One of the interesting adjustments (or maybe wrinkles) that Miami's defense made was having middle linebacker Denzel Perryman sit back about 8 yards off the line, making it harder for Georgia Tech's linemen to shoot out and take him out of the play and leaving him free to roam the field. That said, Freddie Burden still did a nice job of occasionally getting to him, and otherwise finding ways to minimize Perryman's impact on the running game. He still made a lot of tackles and was a major piece on defense for Miami, but his impact wasn't as big as it could have been without the effort made by the offensive front.
If I have a complaint about the offense at all in this game, it's (unsurprisingly) in the passing game, particularly with pass blocking. It again proved problematic a couple of times tonight, with Miami getting pressure consistently in the passing game, and even recording a sack that stalled out the Jackets' drive just before halftime. On the whole it was pretty good, but there were a couple of bad moments in there that will be problematic if (and when) Georgia Tech is put into a must-pass situation down the road.
This group scored 28 points and racked up over 300 yards on the ground on only 7 drives (not counting the two kneel-downs at the end), all while holding onto the ball for over 40 minutes. This was the group that single handedly suffocated Miami's offense and wore out their defense. By holding onto the ball and running slow, methodical drives, they managed to run 70 offensive plays and limit Miami to 44 snaps. It's one thing to run more plays than your opponent does. It's another thing to run 59% more plays. The Miami defense was exhausted at the end of the game, and the offense was never able to get in rhythm with such lengthy stretches on the sidelines. Overall a masterful game by the offense and its leader, Head Coach Paul Johnson.
This group didn't have a ton of success out there, but I will say this -- they're some fighters. They actually seemed to get better as the game went on. Early in the game, they were getting pushed around as Miami ran the ball at will. However, as the game went on, the D-Line was able to tighten up and get some pressure on Brad Kaaya as the Hurricanes were forced into more passing situations. KeShun Freeman recorded his second sack of the season, and joined Adam Gotsis in recording a tackle for loss. The unit as a whole combined for only 5 tackles, but still had impact on the game with the above stats and Roderick Rook-Chungong's pass breakup on a nice display of patience midway through the second quarter.
Again, not an amazing game from this squad, but a solid one that showed a lot of resiliency after some early struggles.
I thought the duo of Paul Davis and Quayshawn Nealy played a pretty great game last night. Davis in particular lead the team with 9 tackles, including a sack of Kaaya that killed a Miami drive with around 10 minutes left in the game. That proved to be a pretty pivotal, major play in sealing the game. Nealy also had a pair of pass break-ups and 4 tackles. For a guy that opposing offenses are keying in on as one that they have to pay extra attention to, Nealy's done a nice job of still making an impact and making his presence known this year. The other thing I'd like to mention here is that this duo didn't really make any major mistakes. There weren't any times when they were caught out of position. They didn't miss a whole bunch of tackles. They made sure to do all of the little things right, and it paid off.
This was similar to the defensive line in being really good but not outstanding, but Paul Davis having a legitimate case for defensive player of the game gives this unit a higher grade.
Miami scored touchdowns on two of their three drives in the first quarter (largely through a lot of success in the passing game), and it looked like that was going to be the tone for the game. As it turned out, the secondary had different ideas. Of Miami's final 4 offensive drives, two would end in turnovers as Jamal Golden picked off Kaaya in the end zone to seal the win, and Isaiah Johnson made a phenomenal play in the second quarter to tip a pass up in the air and then concentrate enough to catch it and run with it for a while. Miami got its yards, as was to be expected, with 245 coming through the air on only 16 completions. (It was nearly 10 yards per attempt, and just over 15 yards per completion.)
I thought Jamal Golden and Isaiah Johnson separately played their best games this year since returning from injury, and as a unit had a huge impact on the game, especially in run support where they were able to help contain Duke Johnson. They combined for 9 tackles, 2 interceptions, and another pass break-up, and overall played a really good game as a tandem.
The Hurricanes' athletes proved problematic, as we thought they would, but the secondary did a nice job overall of not getting beaten too badly. Combine that with their help in the running game and clutch plays to kill two crucial Miami drives, and this group grades out pretty well.
Miami only ran 44 plays from scrimmage and still managed 352 yards of offense. Allowing 8 yards per play is not good, especially over the course of the game. That said, I think it's important to look at trends in the game too. One thing you'll notice is that Miami had 169 of those yards on the 12 plays that made up their first three drives, all in the first quarter. (For those keeping score, that's over 14 yards per play, on average.) Over the last 3 quarters, it took the Hurricanes 32 plays to get their last 202 yards -- a drop to 6.32 yards per play, which is a staunch improvement. Also to be noted there is that on those four drives in the final three quarters (yes, you read that right), Miami managed just 3 points, 2 turnovers, and punted once to cap off a 5-play drive. Needless to say, there were some issues with containing Miami's offense early in the game that were remedied.
The start of the game was a bad one, even with the only three-and-out of the night coming on Miami's second drive (between the two touchdowns). But that improvement and tightening up on defense is a good sign to me, and the turnovers were massive as well, especially against a team with as much offensive firepower as the Hurricanes have. That's why this group still grades out well.
Man, what a game for the special teams. There are three elements that I want to hit on here. First is the kickoff coverage, which was a bit lackluster this week and included a lot of missed tackles. Luckily they were able to keep Miami from really breaking one, but Stacy Coley ended up with 83 yards on just 3 kickoff returns. He's a really good athlete, but that's still a bit disheartening. This unit is probably the one that needs the most work on this team.
The second thing I want to hit on here is our kickoff returns, which were vastly improved over what we've seen in the previous few games. Jamal Golden actually had some room to work and showed us what he can do when given that opportunity, coming up with 67 return yards of his own on only two attempts. It's clear that blocking for these returns was a point of emphasis on the bye week, as we predicted and was confirmed by the coaches earlier last week.
The final thing I want to hit on is, quite obviously, our punter. Ryan Rodwell did a phenomenal job last night, beyond his awesome fake-punt-turned-bone-crunching-spinebuster. Yes, when not carrying the ball like he's trying to take Zach Laskey's job (because seriously, he broke two tackles on that run), Rodwell was on point with his punts. He averaged 38.3 yards per punt, and dropped all 3 of his kicks inside the Miami 20. Though this game didn't feature much punting, Rodwell did a nice job of putting Miami into positions where they would have to really earn points offensively with long, drawn-out drives. (The Hurricanes ended up moving the ball pretty well anyways, with Rodwell's punts spawning drives of 3 plays for 92 yards and 9 plays for 74 yards, but Rodwell did his job nicely all the same.)
A couple of tough moments on kickoff coverage, but other than that a really good game on the special teams end of things that saw improvements off of prior weeks.
What a win. To be 5-0 at this point is huge for two reasons. First, it involved defeats over Virginia Tech in Blacksburg (first win over them since 2009) and Miami at home (first win since 2008). It's nice getting the monkey off of our backs in both of those two series, but at the same time it also puts this team in the driver's seat in the ACC Coastal Division. They have 6 conference games left, and while there are a couple of potential land mines there, the schedule sets up nicely for this team to make a run.
Speaking of which, the second reason being 5-0 is huge is because this is the best start we've had since the 6-0 start in 2011. However, I think this is a lot different from 2011, and I'll tell you why. Through six games that year, the team was unbeaten, but showing a lot of cracks in the armor and almost degrading in a way. I was at a point where I knew the loss was coming, it was just a matter of when.
This year, it's almost the opposite. These first five games have seen this team improve significantly. Think back to the Wofford and Tulane games, which had some pretty sloppy moments. Think back to the second half against Georgia Southern, where both sides fell apart and needed heroics at the end of the game to salvage the win. Then think back to Virginia Tech, where they were good and made plays but still had room for improvement. Now think of last night, where this team controlled the opponent more or less from wire to wire. They played their game and played it to near perfection. They made plays when it counted and had no trouble moving the ball offensively. The defense continues to be a work in progress but certainly has some pretty bright moments.
I like what I saw last night. I like it a lot. I like where this team is at, I like the direction it's moving, and I like how the obstacles in front of it set up. We could be seeing the budding of another magical run for Georgia Tech.
And that's a great thought to have.
How would you grade the team on this game? Was I too harsh or lenient on certain groups?