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Mailbag 9/29

This week's mailbag covers, among other things, Thomas-Nesbitt comparisons, bye week observations, and crime-fighting in bathing suits. Yep.

Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Of Tech’s future opponents you saw this weekend, who impressed you as dangerous and who do you feel better about the Jackets handling? Thanks.

I think the team that caught my eye most was, predictably, NC State. They looked pretty pumped up playing at home and took it to Florida State. They had the Seminoles on the ropes for a majority of the game before the talent of FSU got them over the hump. That said, as good as NCSU looked, it might have also been some of FSU looking disappointing compared to last year. Either way, I'm not looking forward to taking on Jacoby Brissett.

The two teams I feel better about are Duke and Pitt. Both teams scored 10 points in what appeared to be pretty bad, ugly losses. I didn't watch much of either game, but from the stat sheets, neither team looked remotely impressive in their respective games. That goes especially from a quarterback standpoint, where Pitt QB Chad Voytik went 20 of 34 (59%) for 220 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT, while Duke's QB Anthony Boone was an ugly 22 of 51 (43%) for 179 yards, 0 TD, and 2 INT. Without watching either game I won't know why each team struggled offensively, but those are two pretty bad lines for guys who are going to be relied on fairly heavily in their offensive schemes.

Is there a chance we may be overlooking Miami? They seem to have a decent passing game.

Miami will always be a dangerous game for Georgia Tech just due to the simple talent differential between the teams. Honestly, that's the reason they've won 5 straight in the series. It's not that they're better coached (they're not), and it's not that their schemes are anything revolutionary (they're not). They just have better athletes on the whole, and it helps them to win games that their scheme and discipline would otherwise have lost them. I don't think they're a particularly good team, and I don't think they have been for quite a while. However, if there's one thing they do have, it's talent, and enough of it to win a few games on that alone. A perfect way to see that? As you mentioned, the passing game. That's the phase where the speed and athleticism of four- and five-star receivers can really make a difference for a QB who isn't a great decision maker and can't necessarily make tough throws. Got a guy wide open behind the coverage though? That's an easy decision, and an easy throw.

Your Heisman Watch?

I think it's about as wide open this year as it's been in a long time. There were a few guys listed as favorites coming in that haven't really sustained the hype as much as folks in their position have in the past. Bryce Petty of Baylor is dealing a lot with the injury bug. Brett Hundley has been the same way while dealing with a slow start. One of the trendier picks is Todd Gurley, but I don't see him winning it with as much as he's having to split time with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. I think my favorites at this point are Marcus Mariota and Amari Cooper. I'm still not drinking the Kenny Hill Kool-Aid, even with as strong as it is down here in Aggieland. He'll have a shot at it as well though. There just generally hasn't been that many standout players or teams so far this year in the entire country, and it's a little frustrating as a college football fan, to be quite honest.

Your CFB Final Four?

Again, not a lot of standout teams so far this year in college football. I think the team that's currently my favorite is Oregon (we'll see if Stanford can change that, but that game might turn out differently this year than it has over the last few years). I think Alabama is in the Final Four, although the rest of the SEC West is awfully dangerous this year. The other team that has already lost but probably won't again is Michigan State. They've looked pretty good, and are probably going to have what amounts to a cakewalk through the B1G this year. I also think that Florida State makes it in, not because they're one of the four best teams in the country, but because they're good enough to not lose in ACC play -- at least I think. At this point, who knows? If I had to pick a fifth major contender, it would be Oklahoma, who's been a pretty complete team for a number of games now, going all the way back to their defeat of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

After this past week's game between Duke and Miami, what is your prediction for the game on Saturday evening?

I want to go back and watch parts of that game to get a better feel for it, but I've yet to be impressed by Miami's offense. I think they're pretty one-dimensional with Duke Johnson being the main threat to contain. Their QB, Kayaa, is a freshman, and it shows. I think that the results with him will be similar to the results from Michael Brewer, but the question is whether it costs Miami the game in the way Brewer cost Virginia Tech the game. I think if the Tech defense can keep Duke Johnson around 100 yards and force Kayaa to throw the ball 40 times, they've got a good chance to win. So far this season, Kayaa is throwing a pick about once every 22 attempts. The Duke game was actually his first where he didn't throw any, and that includes the three interceptions he threw between the Florida A&M and Arkansas State games. Long story short, I think the strategy is to force Kayaa to beat you. I think he'll very much be able to one day, but that day isn't Saturday.

What's your favorite tv show, and why is it Hawaii Five-0?

What, I'm not allowed to like a cross between CSI and Baywatch? Do you not watch it or something?

This was a quick stat so I may have missed some games but you’ll get the idea: From Miami 2010-Ole Miss 2013 (non-Nesbitt, CPJ starts), Tech has gone 6-19 (0.240) in games where they trailed at some point during regulation. Nesbitt’s starts during the CPJ era saw Tech go 12-11 (0.522) in games where the team trailed at some point during regulation.

Justin Thomas is 4-0 in all games and Tech trailed in all of them!!! Color me impressed. I think I’m over simplifying the issue by sorting games by QB’s but what do you think has been the SINGLE greatest difference between the Washington/Lee and Thomas eras that has allowed Tech to rally and overcome deficits?

Woah, that's actually a pretty amazing set of stats. As for why, I think it's actually a little bit beyond the names you listed. I think one of the biggest issues with the Tevin Washington era wasn't Tevin himself, but rather an Al Groh defense that couldn't get a stop to save their lives in a clutch moment (also, for the record, it's not an issue of the players. It was the scheme -- and it was an appalling scheme a lot of times). There were quite a few times when Washington had the team in position to win, and the defense ruined it. The offense wasn't perfect, and there were a few games that they came up short, but there were still more that the defense gave up a lead. That said, I think the Lee era was more one of "Vad Lee isn't very good," while Nesbitt's era was one of "Josh Nesbitt and his band of merry men are very good." I think the things you've seen from Thomas so far are much more in the realm of Nesbitt's era. The defense may not be great so far, but the offense has been good enough to score points when it matters. Between their final drive of the Georgia Southern game and final two drives of the Virginia Tech game, their drives were 11 plays for 72 yards, 9 plays for 67 yards, and 7 plays for 33 yards. That's 6.4 yards per play and 17 points on those drives, with that number possibly swelling to 21 points if they had tried to score a touchdown against Virginia Tech instead of just kicking the field goal. Doesn't that sound like something out of the Nesbitt era to you? Because it sure does to me.

Is anyone else as excited for Beesball season as I am? We’re going to have to find a closer and another anchor in the lineup to replace Hyde (Barzelli, maybe?), but we’re looking damn good to me at every other position.

As brought up in the comments, Barzilli won't be here after transferring to TCU. I think the most exciting thing for me is knowing that we had an exceedingly young team last year that did some really great things at times. What that means is that they're going to be a little more experienced, and probably a little more consistent this year. For a team that just went 37-27, won the conference tournament, and put up a fight in a very tough regional, I like how that bodes for the future.

For more, I checked in with Ben Tankersley to give a more detailed opinion.

I'm definitely excited for Beesball to roll around this season (especially after the debacle that was the Braves season, I need some good baseball). Like I said in response to this question, Barzilli is actually no longer with the Yellow Jackets after transferring to TCU after the season. This means that Thomas Smith will likely move back over to 2B from 1B. This will allow AJ Murray to get some defensive playing time at 1B this season, which would leave the DH spot open. One of the likely options to fill this role is an incoming freshman OF named Kel Johnson who brings with him an incredible bat that could give the Yellow Jackets some much needed pop in the middle of the order.

As for who will take over for "Trusty" Dusty, there's not really a name that pops out to me. With "Trusty" Dusty and Sam Clay both being drafted, this leaves a huge hole in the back half of our bullpen. One name that could possibly step in is Devin Stanton, who pitched some in relief last season, but ended up being a very good starter by the end of the season, so I don't think he'll do it. Without those three, I really see two or three possibilities. First is Matthew Grimes. Known mostly as a starter, I feel comfortable with him taking a spot in the bullpen because of the depth which was shown last year with our young starting pitching. Another prime candidate is former midweek starter Zac Ryan. Towards the middle of last season, Ryan was moved to the bullpen and ended up pitching well. I think Danny Hall will definitely experiment with the back-end of the bullpen, though.

Does JT have the best year statistically a QB under CPJ has [ever] had at GT and what is your prediction for the rest of the season now?

I think the year you'd have to compare it to is Josh Nesbitt's 2009 season, which was marginally better than Tevin Washington's 2011 season. Nesbitt threw for, amazingly, 1,701 yards, 10 TD's, 5 INT's, and completed only 46.3% of his passes. He also ran for 1,037 yards and 18 TD's, good for 3.72 yards per carry. Through four games, Justin Thomas has thrown for 610 yards, 7 TD's, and 1 INT, with a 49.2% completion rate. He has 443 yards on the ground and only 2 TD's, but still averages 6.82 yards per carry. From a pure linear extrapolation, if Georgia Tech plays 13 games this year, Thomas is on pace for 1,982 passing yards, 22 TD's, 3 INT's, 1,439 rushing yards, and 7 rushing TD's. If that stands up, the only way that would be worse than Nesbitt's 2009 season is from a rushing touchdowns standpoint. Now, I don't think those are legitimate projections given the strength of schedule behind us and ahead of us, and I also don't think that teams will continue to defend this offense the way that we've seen so far. But yes, I do think that, barring injury or some unpredictable change of course, this will be at least as good as (or better than) any other QB season we've seen under CPJ.

For season results, I still think this is an 8-9 win team. I think beating Miami goes a long way towards tipping the scales to 9. Hypothetically, that leaves us at 5-0 with two games to follow against teams we haven't lost to since I started college.

Is there any team on our schedule that we are going to blow out this year or are they all going to be close and hard fought?

I think there will be one or two games that are blowouts, although I can't really say which one(s) it would be. The one sticking out at me is Duke, who's pretty bad defensively. They sure can score some points though, which is why I'm very hesitant to commit to that game. Same goes for UNC, but with the added caveat that it's on the road.

This has been a really bad month for clarifying how I think the rest of the season will go. If anything, it's made my crystal ball a lot more muddy.

How can SEC teams [struggle], and in some cases lose, and still manage to control so many top spots in the polls? A very mediocre Arkansas team basically blew a game that they had won against Texas A&M, and by virtue of having previously beaten a mediocre South Carolina team, A&M retains their top ranking because, well, the writers already had put them there so they must be good. Meanwhile, Georgia, who lost to a mediocre South Carolina team and who also lucked out against a lousy Tennessee team, hangs in striking distance of the top ten because, why? Because in the preseason they were already highly ranked. So all they have to do is not stumble the rest of the way and they will be in the top ten. If they beat Auburn they will be in the playoffs if the writers continue to rank the SEC higher than their actual ability. Should they lose to Auburn in a close game they could still finish in the top ten. I could go on but it is the self fulfilling prophecy of SEC is so great that losing to each other or struggling against each other never means anything. We call this #goACC in our conference but that is another story.

It's painfully obvious that the poll system is broken, as seen by the effect that SEC propaganda has on it. It's silly that we have preseason polls, especially with how much they can alter the outcome of the season. Luckily, those polls don't matter any more when it comes to determining a champion. It's now up to a committee of people to determine whose resume looks best when put next to the eye test, and to do so independently of what all of these stupid polls say. I'm excited for a new era of determining a champion this fall.

I’ve been very pleased to see Thomas throw the ball away on busted passing situations. I’ve been even more pleased to see him scramble when no one is open and pick up the first down. Both choices show maturity beyond a first year starter. He doesn’t force the ball and get into interception trouble (knock on wood). His choices remind me of a guy long ago named Joe Hamilton. Do you know if Hamilton is coaching Thomas on these two things? How much is Joe involved with the QB’s? I hope I’m not embarrassing myself but I thought I spotted him on the sideline.

No, unfortunately Hamilton isn't allowed to act as a coach except in special cases, such as another coach being absent for one reason or another. It's completely legal for Thomas or Byerly to walk into his office and just chat with him for a while, but to my knowledge he's not around practice much or really getting too hands-on with things at all.

We have seen at least a limited amount of improvement of the defense as the season has progressed. What are the major lessons the defense has learned so far? What kind of improvements still need to be made?

I think the biggest thing we saw in the Virginia Tech game was the limiting of big plays. After the first three games saw, if I remember correctly, four touchdowns of 50+ yards, the Virginia Tech game saw the Hokies' offense go for a maximum of 30 yards on a single play, and the longest scoring play was Michael Brewer's ridiculous scoop-and-score. If this defense can continue to limit those cheap big plays going forward, they're going to have a better shot to stall out drives, cause mistakes, keep the score down, and win games against pretty good teams. For the major improvement that needs to be made, the two things I can think of are better tackling (a few major offenders in particular) and a better job of getting pressure without sending a blitz. I think that continuing to rotate players in on the defensive line will go a long way on that, as it did against Virginia Tech.

Please tell me that our young team can handle the high-stakes, high-profile big game under the lights on Saturday night. I feel very nervous about the Miami game, not because I think da U is back (they aren’t), but because I feel like I’ve seen this movie before and I don’t like the ending. I have a feeling that this team just might be different from those Tech teams that let us down in the past, but I am not 100% certain. What do you think about our team’s chances? Will they be able to handle the white hot spotlight, or will this be our 2013 VT game because everyone is too amped up?

They just went on the road and beat a team for the first time in half a decade, didn't they? I think a major key to this game will be keeping the crowd in it for as long as possible. If they can accomplish that, it will provide two things. First, it'll provide a hostile environment for a true freshman quarterback who's already shown himself to be shaky at times this year. (See the Nebraska game, where he threw 2 INT's and was sacked twice.) The other thing it'll do is keep the defense energized in case they need to make a late-game stop. The other thing I think they need to do is stay focused offensively. So far, Justin Thomas seems very levelheaded, which is more than could be said for Vad Lee, who was much more emotional and excited in big moments. If the offense can stay focused and not get too emotional, they'll have a better time than you saw last year against Virginia Tech.


Nah. They're just not. They haven't had a good quarterback in a while, nor have they had a great RB except for Duke Johnson. It's amazing too, given everything that program has going for it. But no, they're not, and it's gonna take a while it seems.