Between the offensive transition and the departure of four-year starter Brad Stewart, the Jackets face a lot of question marks at wide receiver. The only truly proven returning player is rising senior Jalen Camp, who is in line to start and should offer a physical presence on the outside. But the returning receiver who makes the biggest impact may well be rising sophomore Malachi Carter, who saw significant playing time as a rookie and flashed considerable pass-catching abilities. He may have been recruited for Paul Johnson’s system, but as Tech moves to an offense that demands more from the receivers, Carter seems to be an ideal fit and is poised to emerge as one of Tech’s biggest offensive threats in 2019.
As the third receiver in the rotation, Carter saw little action in the passing game and finished the year with three receptions. Over the entire Johnson era, there was only one instance when Tech’s third wide receiver finished with double-digit receptions (Michael Summers in 2013, with exactly 10), so this is no cause for concern. The fact that Carter got the nod as a true freshman over several more tenured players was a testament to his abilities as both a blocker and pass-catcher.
Regarding those receiving abilities... considering there were only three receptions, we might as well go back and look at each of them.
The first was a 13-yard catch against USF on fourth-and-13, which was a solid conversion in an essentially hopeless game situation:
Carter’s route is fairly straightforward: run straight to the marker, then cut to the sideline and look for the ball immediately. The problem is that TaQuon Marshall is forced to rush his throw and the pass ends up a bit short, but Carter manages to turn that to his advantage. He comes back to get it, deftly sidesteps the cornerback who’s right on top of him, and lowers his shoulder to power through the safety’s tackle and get the last couple yards that he needs. Not bad for a first career reception.
His second catch came a week later—and once again it was a timely snag to pick up a first down with Tech in a desperate situation in the fourth quarter:
Carter is running a 12ish-yard comeback route, which Tech has relied on heavily at times—particularly two years ago with Ricky Jeune as the top receiver. Marshall’s throw is slightly off target as he rolls to his left (tangent: even if everything related to the offense is a disaster in 2019, at least the QB will no longer be doing that bizarre face-left-first rollout that Johnson always loved for some reason), but with the corner giving a large cushion, Carter has room and manages to make a diving catch, barely landing his elbow inbounds to pick up the first down.
The third and final reception was his most fun and most controversial in equal measure—a game-tying 32-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter against Duke. It involved... more than a little contact:
Whether or not it was offensive pass interference is, perhaps, in the eye of the beholder. The nearest referee did throw a flag but then waved off the penalty. That decision may have been in part because the Duke defensive back appeared to be holding Carter’s jersey just before the (alleged) push-off, but as usual, no explanation was given.
It went in the books as Carter’s first career touchdown, and overall the freshman did well on the play. He tracked the ball well the whole way downfield while jostling with the corner for some 15 yards, and when the ball arrived, he went up and put his hands out to grab it, making the catch at a point where it might have been tough for the defensive back to make a play even if he were still on his feet.
For a bonus highlight, Carter already has a spectacular reception under his belt for 2019 from the spring game:
The only knock on quarterback Ryan Lantz’s throw is that if he got a little more air under it, this 26-yard reception could just as easily have become a 28-yard touchdown catch. But it’s still a very good throw, and Carter takes advantage of freshman cornerback Jordan Huff never turning around by going up and over him to make a sprawling catch.
Carter was able to run the full route tree in Johnson’s offense; admittedly it was not the most complex route tree, but it was still a good sign for a true freshman, and it’s especially valuable because adapting to the greater variety of routes in Dave Patenaude’s system will be one of the major determining factors for who gets most of the playing time. It’s still early, and like everyone he’s still figuring out all of his new responsibilities, but Carter has already put himself in position to be one of the primary threats in the passing game for the 2019 campaign.