Can you give a brief review of the Clemson game from your perspective?
Joey Weaver: It's becoming increasingly apparent to me that this team is very, very different on the road versus at home. In all three road games, the offense has looked like an incompetent mess, even with a home game sandwiched in between where it was actually OK. Likewise, the defense got off to a slow start in all three road games, allowing a long touchdown pass to Notre Dame and a long touchdown run this past weekend, whereas at home they've started out strong (although degrading from there against North Carolina). That bodes well down the stretch, because 4 of their final 6 games are at home.
Kieffer Milligan: My big takeaway here is that this offense crumbles under pressure, unlike last year's unit. Defenses have been increasingly aggressive this year, because they do not fear the consequences of being overly aggressive like they did last year. The team will continue to see these types of looks until they make an opposing team pay. Hopefully that is this weekend.
Benjamin Tankersley: I think one thing is very apparent at this point and that is that we are nowhere close to the team we were last season. Last year, we literally had the most efficient offense in the entire country. This year, we lost virtually every skill position player that had any experience, not to mention their bell cow on the offensive line (or cow bell if you're Cade) in former All-American Shaq Mason. The unit just continued to show how they have not been able to click at all as a unit. For them to have any success whatsoever, they will need to find some way to click. That will start this week with Pitt.
1) Do we look so bad because we are secretly the worst or because we lost a one score game (random) and got crushed by some quality teams? - intrect
JW: I, for one, am still not a believer in Duke, and at this rate I may never be. Their defense is undoubtedly solid, but Georgia Tech's inability to block made them look like a top-5 unit nationally -- which they're just not. The other three teams include a pair of top-10 teams nationally and an always-talented but usually-disappointing UNC team whose only big disappointment thus far has been a bad loss to South Carolina.
All that said, I think Georgia Tech looks bad right now because they're pretty bad, and I think that's due to several things. They've gotten very unlucky with injuries, as they're missing 10 scholarship players this weekend. The offensive line has been surprisingly bad, most of the time looking very discombobulated. The skill position players haven't helped Justin Thomas enough to enable #5 to work his magic. The defense has kept the team in games for the most part, and probably is a bit underrated. The special teams is where there have been the most unforgivable mistakes.
The team hasn't played well, but the difference between 4-2 and 2-4 is surprisingly very, very small. Check out my Friday column for more
KM: Little from column a, a little from column b. Outside of Clemson, we've at least been competitive in most games, but have melted down at the wrong moments. However, there's no hiding how bad we have been at blocking, and how bad we have been reacting to what defenses throw at us. On defense we keep making huge mistakes that lead to big plays, and we aren't forcing turnovers at nearly the same rate we did last year. We've completely lost the identity we had last year, and it's startling.
That's not to take anything away from the teams we've faced. The only team we lost to that we should have beaten is UNC in my opinion. Duke's defense was too aggressive for an offense that is still learning, and Clemson and Notre Dame were just too good.
BT: I don't think we're totally bad on offense, mainly because it's so hard to tell how the offense would be without all of the injuries. I'm not saying we're nearly as good as we were last year, we're not, but I don't think it's as bad as it seems.
However, we have also faced some pretty good defenses this year. Notre Dame is the No. 33 defense in the country in yards per game. Duke is No. 4. UNC is No. 43. Clemson is No. 13. Needless to say, lots of injuries and inexperience plus playing good defenses don't mix very well.
2) After the success of last year, would we still take that season knowing you would get this season in return? - YellowJacketHeritage
JW: I think I would, yes. If the team misses a bowl game this year, it's going to hurt -- badly. But, I would take an 11-win season (featuring wins over all major rivals and an Orange Bowl) followed by a 4- or 5-win season. At least, I'd gladly take that as an alternative to two 7- or 8-win seasons.
KM:I was there in Miami as the Orange Bowl trophy was being presented, and counted down the final seconds of 2014 with the team. That was one of the greatest experiences of my life and I wouldn't trade it for anything. So yes.
BT: Absolutely. Last season is without a doubt the best season of my fandom of Tech. Even though this year has arguably been the worst, I still wouldn't trade last season for the world, unless it meant a national championship.
3) Has any unit shown improvement? And what’s a realistic projection for the second half of the season? - SullyGT
JW: I think the A-Backs are getting a little bit better, although some of that might have to do with personnel changes. I've liked Lynn Griffin with the ball so far, but his knowledge of the playbook has limited what he's been able to do. Clinton Lynch is becoming a threat in the passing game, which should be a specialty of his moving forward after his roots as a high school wide receiver. Last (but certainly not least), I've liked what I've seen from Mikell Lands-Davis so far, although he's very much in the 'still learning' boat as well. As far as improvements go, though -- that group is about it. It's probably also worth mentioning that Harrison Butker is a perfect 4-for-4 since missing his first two attempts of the season against Notre Dame.
I think it's fair to expect this team to win 3-4 games in the second half of the season. It should be noted, though, that by 'fair', I mean they should win that many. That doesn't necessarily mean that they will win that many. As far as how many I think they'll win, realistically? Who knows. I could see them finishing the regular season with anywhere between 3 wins and 7 wins. We've said for weeks now that they'll surely be better than what we've seen, and yet...
KM: Depends on whether you mean improvement over last year or improvement over the course of this year. I'll give an answer for both. In terms of improvement from last year, I'd say the Defensive Line, when healthy. Facing Mobile Quarterbacks the last couple of weeks has stifled the pass rush, but Adam Gotsis has been unblockable of late, and it's quite impressive. Coach Johnson has even noted his impressive play in recent interviews. The Linebackers have really let the DL down in the last couple of games, messing up gap assignments and not getting home on the blitz. Some of the calls from Ted Roof have also been questionable, leading to big plays.
I still believe this team can get to 6-6 and bowl eligibility, but that doesn't mean it will happen. It starts this weekend with Pitt. The team will need to show focus and take care of business. If they can take care of this first step, I'll feel more confident going forward
BT: The A-backs have definitely improved since the beginning of the season, especially some of the freshman that have had to step up with all of the injuries. The two that have stood out to me so far have been Clinton Lynch and Mikell Lands-Davis, which just happen to be the two listed as starters for this week's game. Lynch has been far and away been our best blocker from the A-back position and has also been a pretty solid runner and receiver. Lands-Davis has been explosive as a runner and receiver and hasn't necessarily been a terrible blocker. There have been some blocks that he has missed, but he's been decent.
On the defensive side, I have absolutely loved three-quarters of our defensive line. At end, KeShun Freeman and Antonio Simmons have been killing it, something that has actually been surprising to me as I don't see Simmons as a true strong-side defensive end. At tackle, as Kieffer said, Adam Gotsis has been unblockable. It's going to be awesome to see what he does the rest of the year and as he progresses and moves to the NFL.
4) We have all said that getting the freshmen playing this early is a good thing, but do you think they will improve dramatically so that 2016 will be a special year, or just another eh year? - YellowJacketHeritage
JW: Regardless of what happens the rest of this year, I think you'll see a major step forward from this year to next year for all of the freshmen getting playing time right now. Not only will the experience of playing benefit them massively, but they'll get another several months in a college weight room to help put weight on guys like TaQuon Marshall (who might be a little generously listed at 177 pounds) or Will Bryan (who's starting at OT this week, listed at only 278 pounds). So if nothing else, at least you have that to look forward to.
KM: It's always a good thing to get young guys reps, especially in an offense that has blocking schemes and techniques as difficult as Georgia Tech's. The ABs look to be improved next year, and I'm excited to see what Will Bryan can do at OT this weekend. It's also important that Brant Mitchell and AJ Gray are getting significant snaps on a defense that will lost many starters next year. If both were able to take over starting jobs by the end of the year, the defense could possibly return 7 starters instead of 4, like was predicted before the season(This takes into account Gamble taking over for Hunt at NT in week 2).
That said, I think this season has shown that projecting future seasons is a nebulous art at best. All the pieces can be in place, but they may not work in concert like they were projected.
BT: I definitely don't think it's a bad thing, but what having all the freshman we're having play this year means is that this is legitimately a rebuilding year, which no fan likes to hear or watch. A lot of times it's not something that's fun to watch, as has been shown these last few weeks. I think we'll definitely improve next season as we'll have more experience. Will it be a "special" year? Maybe. That's dependent on how the replacements on the offensive line and defense do. We're losing some serious talent, mainly from the defense, but we have some good young players. They'll need to learn quickly, but I think we could definitely be very good next year.
What are your thoughts on the Pitt game this weekend?
JW: I honestly have no idea what to think of this game. Georgia Tech's offense might get its life together any day now (and we saw those flashes early on against North carolina), and Pitt's offense isn't good enough to run up the score on much of anyone. On the other hand, Pitt's defensive statistics currently look outstanding, although some of that luster is lost when you consider they've played such offensive powerhouses as Akron, Virginia Tech, and Virginia (that's #88, #83, and #80 in yards per play, nationally). Meanwhile, Georgia Tech's defense has been relatively solid, although they were totally outmatched by Clemson, and they wore down over the course of the Notre Dame and North Carolina games.
As cliche as it sounds, the key to this game may very well be special teams. Pitt's defense is certainly good enough to hold Georgia Tech to some field goals. If Butker can convert those, and the Yellow Jackets can avoid another complete and total meltdown when it comes to punting and return coverage, they'll have a good shot to win the game.
With their backs against the wall, I'm going to say Georgia Tech wins this one. Georgia Tech 30, Pittsburgh 24
KM: Unfortunately I have not been able to do any research on Pitt as a team this week. I do know that they have a dangerous receiving threat in Tyler Boyd, and our corners have not been playing nearly as well this year as they did last year. That is a major worry for me. Pitt struggled to defend the option last year and gave up a ridiculous number of turnovers. Don't expect that to happen again. It will be a close game, but I think the Jackets pull this one off somehow. GT 31, Pitt 28
BT: I think the biggest thing we have going for us this week is that James Conner isn't playing. With some potential quarterback controversy between Chad Voytik and Nathan Peterman, along with the lack of a consistent threat other than Tyler Boyd, I think the defense has a chance to have a big day. They'll have to find a way to, at the very least, contain Boyd. If they can do that and show any signs of life, then this game is very winnable. I'll take Tech in a low-scoring affair, 24-20.