Unlike quite a few major college teams, Georgia Tech came away on Saturday with a fairly comfortable win over an inferior opponent -- but there were still areas of concern.
After a slow start in which Mercer took an early lead and held a tie into the second quarter, the Yellow Jackets used a balanced rushing attack to open up a solid lead on their way to a 35-10 win.
Justin Thomas had a nice first half -- including some impressive throws to Ricky Jeune -- but he didn't return to action in the second half. Thomas appeared after halftime with some type of wrap around his right leg and a slight, but noticeable, limp. Matthew Jordan replaced him.
"(Thomas) was dinged a little bit, but he could've played," Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. "We didn't need him to win the game. I've got faith in Matthew Jordan. He's been around for a couple years, and the way the game was going for him running the ball ... he's a downhill runner. I knew he would go in there and run the ball hard."
Jordan first appeared in the game in the second quarter. Assuming his role as the new goal line vulture, Jordan came in for Thomas when the Jackets moved the ball to the Mercer 6-yard line. After a 5-yard run, Jordan easily converted a quarterback follow play for a 1-yard touchdown run to give the Jackets their first lead at 14-7.
Still up only seven points, Tech put together its most important drive late in the first half. Deep in their own territory with 2:55 on the clock after a Mercer punt was caught at the 9-yard line, Qua Searcy delivered an explosive run on the outside for 31 yards to the Tech 40-yard line. Just four plays later, Marcus Marshall used a quick cutback to find the end zone on a 10-yard touchdown run. The drive took just 1:38 off the clock to put Tech up, 21-7, going into halftime.
Searcy's explosive run was one of quite a few on the afternoon. He displayed his top-line speed and impressive elusiveness on the perimeter while hurdling and spinning out of tackles. Searcy finished with seven carries for 91 yards and was given high praise from teammates and Johnson after the game.
"Qua has had two back-to-back really nice games," Johnson said. "I'm really pleased with him. I think he's become a real playmaker for us. His run right before halftime was a nice run. We had some numbers, it should've been better than what it was, but we were able to go the length of the field and that was big with them getting the ball to start the second half."
Jordan got his second touchdown run right before the end of the third quarter on another QB follow that put the Jackets up, 28-10. He got a heavy workload in the second half, carrying the ball 12 times in the game before being pulled for TaQuon Marshall, who got his first work under center as a Yellow Jacket. Jordan showcased his ability to run downhill strongly as he picked up medium, yet consistent, yardage on most of his runs. Marshall quickly showed his speed and agility that have many raving about his future in the triple option. He took a snap late in the fourth quarter and sprinted to the outside for an 11-yard touchdown run to give Tech its final score, a 35-10 victory.
"I thought Matthew did a really good job," Johnson said. "At times he might have gotten downhill a little too much because I was getting on him to get downhill so he was trying to do what I asked him to do. TaQuon didn't really have a lot of decisions other than to take the snap and run. He's got good quickness and speed. When he got outside, he made a nice run."
While the offense was very clean and efficient other than a couple of fumbles by Marshall and Quaide Weimerskirch, the defense struggled throughout the game. Even though Mercer managed just 10 points in the game, it held the ball for just fewer than 30 minutes and gained more than 300 yards offensively. With Tech punting just once and converting 6-of-8 third downs, the even time of possession is a cause of concern for the defense. Mercer used a screen-heavy passing attack with quick releases to eliminate the threat of pass rush. Bears' quarterback John Russ completed 24-of-38 passes for 225 yards and zero turnovers.
"It was a struggle to get (Mercer's offense) off the field," Johnson said. "I thought they did a nice job with their scheme and staying on the ball. When you look at it, they didn't score a lot, but they were able to keep their defense off the field. The time of possession was even and we punted once. It shouldn't be that way, not with us. We've been bend but don't break for two weeks, we need some three and outs."
Overall, the Georgia Tech offense provided some reason for optimism with an efficient showing after a rough week one. Though the opponent was much worse, the Yellow Jackets seemed to clean up some blocking and assignment issues. However, the defense possibly regressed in week two. With another fairly weak offense in Vanderbilt coming to town next Saturday, Tech will get one more chance to clean things up before the Tigers head to Atlanta.
Still, everyone is just happy to be 2-0.
"I would hope that we would have played better," Johnson said. "But we won 35-10. We've got a lot of room to improve ... we've got a lot of things to get better at, but it's a process. Hopefully we'll keep working and we'll keep getting better."
Notes and Opinions
- Ricky Jeune is very, very good. The passing game in 2015 was missing the connection between Thomas and a receiver like 2014 had with Smelter and Waller. Nobody ever completely meshed last season. That seems to have changed. Jeune has shown a fantastic ability to control his body on routes so far. He also possesses very strong hands. I've seen throws from Thomas that shows he has a lot of trust in Jeune, and that's incredibly important as the season moves along. The back shoulder pass and comeback route may be back in action more consistently this season.
- The pass blocking helps that connection. Thomas has had plenty of time to throw the ball on passing situations so far, which is something we saw little of last season. It's only two games, but everything becomes more efficient when Thomas can step up and throw without worrying about deflections and pressure. The line will have another stiff test with a good front seven in Vanderbilt next week.
- Though the pass blocking has been good, the run blocking has left plenty to desire. The line has struggled to get to the second level to allow for explosive runs. Johnson and Freddie Burden agreed they did better than last week, but they both would like to see more improvement as they go along. Burden said that Parker Braun impressed him in his first action on the line. He said that Braun absolutely popped somebody on the first play.
- The defense has to get much, much better, and the talk after the game concerned me. Even though it seemed like Tech wasn't very prepared for all the screens due to a ton of soft coverage, all of the players said after the game that they knew that was what Mercer would run. The gameplan didn't seem to be there to defend a quick passing team, which makes me put the weak effort defensively on the coaches instead of the players. With that being said, the tackling and swarming to the ball could still get much better.
- Thomas will be fine. He did limp quite a bit during the second half and even during the walk to the locker room after the game, but it seemed to be very minor and maybe just some type of contusion. There's no doubt he would've been in there in a closer game with no problems. It's also nice to see the backup quarterbacks look comfortable in backup action.