The 100 Days to Kickoff Series continues this week with a look at five impact players for the 2018 season. The fourth entry takes a look at one of the team’s top offensive playmakers from the 2015 and 2016 campaigns as he aims to return to form in his final season.
Despite the fact that the top three A-backs all returned, Tech’s production at the position dropped sharply from 2016 to 2017 thanks to a troubling combination of issues. Per-game ground production was comparable to the prior season, but the A-backs scored six fewer rushing touchdowns and tended to break off huge gains less frequently. Their production in the passing game, meanwhile, plummeted; the A-backs had just 10 receptions for 203 yards this past season, a far cry from their 31 receptions for 742 yards a year prior.
This was in part due to issues elsewhere in the offense. New quarterback TaQuon Marshall struggled with his downfield passing accuracy and often had little time to throw thanks to ineffective offensive tackle play, and similar blocking issues with the tackles hindered the perimeter run game. But an equally large factor in the drop-off was that the team’s top perimeter playmaker, Clinton Lynch, was not fully healthy all season.
Lynch underwent knee surgery prior to spring camp in 2017 and ended up playing through a hamstring injury, and his production in all phases of the game took a hit. As a sophomore in 2016, he had 905 total yards, 12 touchdowns, and an ACC-leading 17.1 yards per touch; a year later, those numbers dropped to 252 total yards, zero touchdowns, and 8.1 yards per touch. Even with the offensive issues limiting A-back production on the perimeter and in the passing game, Tech definitely suffered from not being able to fully utilize one of its most effective offensive weapons.
That, though, leads to a major reason for optimism in 2018: Lynch is back at full strength. It’s as good a reason as any to look back at what the rising senior can do when he’s fully healthy, courtesy of a highlight reel compiled by user T Haynes.
After emerging as a surprisingly useful playmaker as a freshman in 2015, Lynch followed up by delivering one of the best seasons by a Tech A-back in recent memory. His sophomore campaign saw him average 11.2 yards per carry and 30.6 yards per reception; it was virtually a guarantee that at least once a game, he would turn on the jets for either a long run down the sideline to paydirt or a long reception in the middle of the field.
Lynch’s biggest strength by far (when healthy) is his acceleration. When he gets the ball on a pitch, he makes his cut and reaches full speed seemingly instantly. For evidence, look no further than the very first run in the video above, in which Lynch gets the ball, cuts, and immediately explodes past the three nearby defenders before they can even attempt to drag him down.
He also has reliable hands. A former wide receiver in high school, Lynch adapted quickly to the receiving responsibilities of the position, and he led the team in receiving in 2016 largely because of his ability to break free up the seam and haul in a pass even with a defender in his face.
Lynch’s blocking is not quite as much of a highlight-reel talent, but that’s no knock on his ability; he’s a seasoned veteran who is good at positioning himself to deliver timely blocks. A useful example is this play from late in the 2016 Pitt game, where Lynch (the left A-back in the formation) took out a defender to pave the way for a J.J. Green touchdown:
Perimeter blocking for Tech depends heavily on having the speed to get out wide to make the block, so Lynch’s recovery should pay dividends for him in this arena as well.
Whether the offense can take full advantage of Lynch’s ability will depend in no small part on his teammates getting the job done. Marshall needs to become a more accurate downfield passer, and the tackle play needs to improve to open things up on perimeter runs and give the quarterback time to throw.
Lynch, of course, will need to prove that he’s fully healed by delivering on the field, but everything so far indicates that he has regained his burst. If that’s the case, and if Marshall and the offensive tackles can improve this offseason, Lynch and longtime rotation partner Qua Searcy have the potential to be one of Tech’s most productive A-back tandems in recent memory in their final campaign.