Countdown to Kickoff: 91 Days
The “100 Days to Kickoff” series continues this week with a look at a few players who will be crucial to the team’s success in 2017. This particular feature began a few years ago and was inspired by the NCAA Football video game series, in which each team would have one or two “impact players” on offense and defense based on talent, production, and big-play ability. In that same vein, this series of articles will look at players who are both talented and likely to put up big numbers this fall.
A-back Clinton Lynch
Class: RS Junior
It’s weird to consider that in Tech’s 2014 recruiting class, Clinton Lynch wasn’t even the most celebrated A-back commit from his own high school. That honor went to Myles Autry, the four-star recruit (at the time) who led Norcross High to back-to-back state championships and chose Tech over Florida State in a hat ceremony on National Signing Day. Autry never enrolled at Tech... but the Jackets still got the playmaker from Norcross that they wanted. Over the past two seasons, Lynch has emerged as one of the most dangerous big-play threats in the ACC.
2016 Rushing Stats: 37 car, 415 yds, 2 TD
2016 Receiving Stats: 16 rec, 490 yds, 6 TD
Lynch was pressed into duty in 2015 after injuries and departures gutted Tech’s A-back depth, and his playmaking ability quickly became clear. After recording a handful of long runs and receptions early in the season, he had a breakout game against Virginia, racking up 132 total yards and three touchdowns.
In year two, he got even better. Here’s just a sampling of Lynch’s accomplishments in 2016:
- Led the team in yards from scrimmage
- Led all A-backs in rushing yards
- Averaged 11.2 yards per carry, highest among all ACC running backs
- Led the team in receiving yards
- Averaged 30.6 yards per reception
- Caught two-thirds of the team’s passing touchdowns (granted there were only nine but still)
- Averaged 17.1 yards per touch
That last point basically sums it up—if Lynch got the ball on a given play, there was a pretty good chance that something special was about to happen. If nothing else, he’d probably at least find his way past the marker for a first down.
Lynch’s biggest asset is one of the most crucial qualities for a ball-carrying A-back: quick acceleration. It’s what enables him to avoid the initial defenders on a rocket toss, to get a few extra yards on a well-covered option pitch, and to blow past the defender assigned to mark him on a pass play. An example is Justin Thomas’s final touchdown pass in Bobby Dodd Stadium (0:38 in the video below), where the Virginia defender gives Lynch a huge cushion off the line and still gets burned badly.
Another thing visible in that video is that he subtly fakes an outside move to get the defender out of position. Lynch, who played wide receiver in high school, has as complete of a receiving skillset as any A-back that Paul Johnson has had in Atlanta. Perhaps most importantly, when Lynch ends up in tight coverage, he attacks the ball in the air rather than waiting for it to come to him. He did just that when he scored the game-winning TD in the Duke game (2:02 in the video below), going up and pulling the ball down before the defender could swat it away.
(Bonus for anyone who opens the second video: Justin Thomas wizardry occurs at 0:15 and 1:46.)
The A-back corps took a hit with the departure of Isiah Willis, one of the unit’s best blockers, but the trio of Lynch, Qua Searcy, and J.J. Green will return. Others, including sophomore Nate Cottrell and redshirt freshman Xavier Gantt, have an opportunity to work their way into the rotation. But while Searcy has a very similar skillset to Lynch and Green is a versatile back who is an effective perimeter blocker, Lynch—the only A-back with two full seasons of play under his belt—remains the most proven and experienced player at the position. He cracked 900 yards from scrimmage this past season, and he has a real chance to be the first A-back to reach 1,000 yards in a season since Robbie Godhigh, who had 1,215 yards from scrimmage in 2013.
Exactly how the A-backs factor into the offensive gameplan will depend on who ends up at quarterback, but regardless, Lynch will be a vital component of the offense as the 2017 campaign rolls around. The QB situation may simply affect whether he does more of his damage on the ground or through the air.