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Georgia Tech vs. Jacksonville State Game Preview

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Tech will look to improve to 1-1 on the season against a very tough FCS opponent. What will need to happen for the Jackets to avoid an 0-2 start?

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Georgia Tech Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The taste of defeat is still fresh for Tech fans everywhere, but the time has come to put the past behind us and move on to what will be a much more daunting task than many are willing to recognize: defeating Jacksonville State in Atlanta. The Gamecocks, one of the most dominant teams in the entirety of the FCS, come into Bobby Dodd Stadium at 1-0 following a victory over UT-Chattanooga and will be a tough customer for Paul Johnson and company. What do the Jackets need to do to make things go as smoothly as possible? Let’s take a look.

Three keys to victory for Georgia Tech

  1. Finish drives in the end zone. Let me preface this by telling you to close your browser if you want to blame last week’s loss on walk-on kicker Shawn Davis. Harrison Butker is an NFL kicker as we speak and expecting anyone in the realm of college football to step in and be just like him is absurd. That said, the offense needs to finish drives with touchdowns until consistency has been established with the special teams unit (and then beyond). They did a fine job of this against Tennessee for the most part, but the fact is that kicking field goals against JSU won’t get it done. Look for Paul Johnson to be even more aggressive on fourth down in opponent territory.
  2. Limit yards after the catch. Solid production from the secondary will be a necessity in this game. Jacksonville State’s playbook will rely heavily on establishing the run and killing you with quick passes, something that the Tech defense struggled mightily with against Tennessee. You can’t take bad angles so consistently and expect to have success against an offense that that relies so heavily on halfback screens and the short passing game.
  3. Don’t get caught napping. When the FBS and FCS meet on gameday, the results are normally not pretty. Unfortunately, most FCS programs can’t even sniff the consistency of Jacksonville State under head coach John Grass — whose 33-6 cumulative record includes a tight loss to Auburn in 2015 and a solid showing against LSU a year ago. In fact, the Gamecocks have lost exactly two games every season since Grass took over the reigns and those two losses have been formulaic every single year: one loss against an FBS powerhouse and one loss in the FCS playoffs. He’s never lost a regular-seasons FCS game.

Three keys to victory for Jacksonville State

  1. Look at what Tennessee did and do the opposite. This is a strange comment to make considering the outcome of the game, but the fact is that Tennessee came out looking undisciplined and unprepared both for Tech’s offense and for their own. There were drops on drops and plenty of silly mistakes that only hurt their chances of winning, but that’s something that JSU can’t afford. They need to come out ready to make every play and consistently execute on the offensive side of the ball. Otherwise, Tech’s offense will be on the field far too often.
  2. Pound the Roc (and others). If there’s an MVP from JSU’s week one win over Chattanooga, it’s running back Roc Thomas. He ran for well north of 100 yards, with most of his production coming on inside zone-reads (something that Tech defended well against Tennessee early on), and was also the team’s leading receiver. However, Jacksonville State had three players carry the ball over 100 times last season and will still rely on a balanced attack this time around.
  3. Limit turnovers (to zero, preferably). Part of the absurdity of last week’s game is that Tennessee never even turned the ball over yet still got doubled up in time of possession. That’s a testament to how Georgia Tech’s offense will look under the leadership of Taquon Marshall: three yards and a cloud of dust to the absolute max. I personally don’t have much confidence in JSU’s ability to consistently stop the option, so maximizing offensive possessions is a must.

This is a winnable game, but don’t expect a 56-0 blowout. In fact, just play it safe and don’t expect anything at all. Here’s a good rule of thumb for when you think a game in Atlanta is under control: if the win probability is over 95% before the fourth quarter, you’re going to lose every single time. It never fails.