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The Upper North Perspective: What to Watch After the Bye

The Perspective is keeping its eye on a few main areas as GT takes on Duke this weekend.

Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch After the Bye

Back for another week; let’s hit the ground running. Welcome back to The Upper North Perspective after the bye week hiatus.

A lot has happened since the last time I wrote.

Georgia Tech beat Georgia Southern to go into the bye week on a high after a three-game losing streak. Paul Johnson uncharacteristically made a podcast appearance on "We Never Played the Game" with Jeff Schultz and Zach Klein, and it was simply fantastic. If you have not listened to it yet, stop what you are doing, and listen immediately. No matter how you feel about Paul Johnson, it will be an enjoyable listen.

Something else resulted from the podcast as well. A certain writer for the hometown newspaper got all up in his feelings and delivered not just one, but two, articles last week spouting off a bunch of things intended to rub CPJ and Tech fans the wrong way. It was comical and, quite honestly, a bit sad.

What did I forget??? Oh yeah…that’s right. The team down 316 in Athens lost a home game to…wait for it….Vanderbilt. Yes, that same Vanderbilt team that had lost every road under coach Derek Mason to that point. Yes, that same Vanderbilt team that lost to this year’s edition of GT 38-7 back in September. Those top 10 recruiting classes just are not talented enough to overcome adversity. That’s what Kirby told me.

I am sure there is more that I could cover, but I think I hit the high points.

That brings us to this week, and the Duke Blue Devils are coming to town. As I have said multiple times this year, this game is a huge game for GT and its perception. Back in June, I actually rated Duke my fourth most important game of this season behind only Clemson, Georgia, and VPISU (you can look back at that here).

I obviously think this game is very important for many reasons and have for a while, so let’s dive in and see what I am looking for on Saturday.

OL Play

The very first thing I am interested to see coming out of the bye week is the offensive line play of this group. It sounds as if all the guys should be back, and even with that, two true freshmen, Jahaziel Lee and Parker Braun, will be starting on Saturday. Braun has played brilliantly all year, and Lee did a very solid job in his first start against Georgia Southern. However, this is a step up in play. For this reason, these two will get a massive amount of my attention.

It won’t just be them on the OL though. Marshall, Devine, Fromoyan, Bryan, and Burden need to all bring their A game this week. This is a tough defense that played very well against Louisville and Heisman frontrunner, Lamar Jackson. Establishing their presence early and often will be the key to get the offense rolling. If the OL plays well, Thomas, Mills, and the gang will have a field day.

Safety Involvement

Something happened in the Georgia Southern game. It is almost as if Tech remembered that the best defensive player on the team should not be positioned twenty yards away from the ball every play. It is like Ted Roof woke up and said, "You know what? Let’s roll AJ Gray and Corey Griffin up every now and then and see what happens when two of the more impactful players are closer to the ball."

Needless to say, I think the experiment went over well. Corey Griffin made plays all game long, and we also saw AJ Gray give his best effort of the season to this point. Getting those two closer to the ball and allowing them some leeway to take chances and make plays could change the identity of the defense.

I want to see this aggressive tendency continue. AJ Gray needs a little more freedom to make plays and use his instincts. The guy has a nose for the football, and anything that allows him to use that ability is preferred. I will be interested to see how Ted expands upon what he started before the bye.

Bye Week Adjustments

To build on top of that, I want to see what changes and adjustments were made over the bye week. A bye week is great for many reasons. Players can rest and get healthy. Coaches can get back to the basics, self-evaluate, and find tendencies to exploit. It also provides the time to add some more wrinkles.

There are already rumblings out there about Marcus Marshall getting some more playing time. I do not know that I necessarily want this to be at the expense of Dedrick Mills, but Marshall’s speed and athleticism is a weapon to use. I want to know exactly how he will get more involved. Disclaimer: This was written before Mills was declared out for Saturday. We will fully see what Marshall can do with the starting job back in his hands on Saturday.

Will there be adjustments to get Jalen Camp and Brandon Adams, among others, more involved? Will Ted Roof expand upon the defensive adjustments he made against Georgia Southern?

I think we all know to expect some changes from what we were seeing before, and I am excited to see exactly what they are.

The Fight and Attitude

Coming out of the bye week, this team is 4-3 and still has a lot to play for. This group won three games to start the year but followed that up with three straight losses to conference opponents. However, with the Coastal being the Coastal, anything can still happen.

So what will the fight and attitude look like this week from the team? Pat Gamble said exactly what he expects earlier this week. The expectation set forth by the seniors is to close out this year winning every game and finishing 9-3. There have not been a lot of teams in Tech history to accomplish that feat, so it is a bold stance.

It does tell you that this team is still saying and thinking the right things. The drive is still there to fight and make this season memorable. But what will we see when the Jackets take the field? Will we see them come out with their hair on fire? What will they do the first time they get punched in the mouth? How will they fight in the fourth quarter of a close game? Can they come out and bury a team early?

The fight and the attitude to close out this year strong needs to be on full display Saturday. There is a lot this team can still accomplish. The Coastal is not necessarily out of reach. A win against a rival is not out of reach. A return to a bowl game to build towards a better 2017 is not out of reach. The team has so much left on the table to accomplish, and the talent is available to get there.

This is the first week of the rest of the season. A win this week will make every goal for the rest of the season attainable. Beating this Duke team after two straight losses to them would be huge. Georgia Tech cannot waste any more time getting beaten by Duke. That cannot become the standard. This week, and this win, is very important to the rest of 2016 and moving forward.

What are you watching for specifically this week? What one thing will make you feel more optimistic for the rest of the season?