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Tuesday Thoughts 12/15: 2020, Not with a Bang but with a Whimper

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In which we reflect on the season that was

Georgia Tech v Boston College Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images

Well y’all, it’s over.

We’ve cancelled our rescheduled game against Miami due to injury concerns and that’ll leave us with a 3-7 record over 10 games in 2020. Let’s take a quick look at the Pitt game and then dive into some wrap-ups of the season that was.

Quick Pitt Recap and Thoughts

Overall I thought the Pitt game was pretty similar to NC State - a winnable game where we committed too many mistakes. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the 2020 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets had too many turnovers, too many penalties, and let an opposing RB have a career day. If anything, this game showed us just how vital Jahmyr Gibbs is to the offense; without him the ground game really struggled and the passing game sorely missed his outlets. Overall the offense was pretty lackluster with five drives of 3 or fewer plays. The defense did a decent job with the passing game, but ended up giving up 250 yards to Vincent Davis on the ground in the process. Pressley Harvin continued to shine with a 51 yard average on 5 punts.

Kinda like last week I think I’m just too burnt out to really get mad here, but it still sucks to lose a winnable game through the same mistakes we’ve seen all year.

2020, Not with a Bang but with a Whimper

With the season officially over it’s time to look back and assess how we did.

Record

Record: 3-7 (3-6 ACC)

Home Record: 2-4

Away Record: 1-3

Points For /game: 23.9

Points Against /game: 36.8

In a vacuum this could be summed up as “very not good”; three wins for the second year in a row is not a great start to the Collins era. Obviously a lot of things have to be taken with a grain of salt given that 2020 was relentlessly wonky, but I think this was an underperformance of a season.

2020 actually handed us a pretty easy schedule despite it being nearly all conference competition; we played the four bottom teams in the ACC along with lackluster Boston College, Pitt, and NC State. If this team had played at its potential for the whole year (2020 potential mind you, I’m not talking about future stuff) I think 6 or 7 wins would easily have been in our grasp. Syracuse comes to mind as the big letdown here - the Orange went 1-10 in one of their worst seasons ever with us being their single win. That’s a huge whiff from us, harkening back to (TRIGGER WARNING) The Citadel in 2019. Two years, two horrific statement losses.

That touches on one of my biggest frustrations with the 2020 season. I don’t expect us to be great in our second year, and I don’t expect us to compete with teams like Clemson and Notre Dame. But when we routinely lose winnable games against equal or lesser competition it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I’ve said this a thousand times: you have to win the games you’re supposed to win. I can absolutely excuse some growing pains, but it’s disheartening to see the program shoot itself in the foot with things like losses to Syracuse. 2020 presented us with a golden opportunity to improve to at least 4 or 5 wins and we failed to take it.

If we were to lose every game by 20+ then I’d buy into the “greatest transformation ever” thing and could stomach the losses as long as we showed improvement. But showing me a team that consistently wastes winnable games just tells me that nothing is changing because we’ve been losing winnable games since I started following Tech. I’m still waiting on that culture change.

Offense

Points /game: 23.9 (2019: 16.7)

Yards /game: 389.9 (2019: 286.5)

Passing Yards /game: 199.1 (2019: 133.9)

Rushing Yards /game: 190.8 (2019: 152.6)

TDs /game: 3.2 (2019: 2.2)

First Downs /game: 19.9 (2019: 15.1)

Turnovers /game: 2.5 (2019: 1.7)

If there’s one area of improvement between 2019 and 2020, it’s offensive production. A full touchdown and 100 yards more per game is a massive jump over a 2019 offense that was painful to watch. Improvements were seen in both passing and rushing, driven largely by our two star freshmen, QB Jeff Sims and RB Jahmyr Gibbs. Seriously, these two guys were essentially the entire offense (see that last Pitt game without Gibbs…). Without them I think this would have been a very different looking season.

Gibbs is without a doubt the offensive MVP of 2020 in my mind. He was dynamic with the ball in his hands (recall that his very first touch was a 70 yard kickoff return) and explosive in the open field. Over the season (6.5 games for him) he attained 460 yards on a 5.2 average with 4 scores. Obviously that’s awesome by itself for a true freshman, but on top of that he added 24 receptions for 303 yards and 3 more scores. Again, so much of the offense went through him this year and he handled it brilliantly.

A close second in my MVP race, Sims also showed great potential in 2020. He proved to be a massive improvement at the QB position, throwing for nearly 1900 yards and 13 TDs on a 55% completion rate (again, all as a true freshman!). And, like Gibbs, he was a two-pronged attack and added 492 yards and 6 touchdowns rushing. His one issue was a big interception problem - he threw 13. He was asked to do a lot as a true freshman and it showed at times. Still, he showed us a massive amount of potential that will keep me excited for 2021.

Receiver-wise, 2020 was a bit of a letdown; no one really jumped off the page as a huge threat. Jalen Camp was the leading receiving, catching 27 passes for 417 yards and 4 touchdowns. Malachi Carter was close behind with 20 passes for 290 and 3, but after that it’s a bit of a wash. The big disappointment was a huge role reduction for Ahmarean Brown, my favorite player from 2019. Brown played in just 7 games, catching only 11 balls for 183 yards and a lone score. I was surprised by this given how amazing his 2019 was; I figured we were going to try to get him the ball as much as possible this year. It’s puzzling that we didn’t use him more given all the improvements in the passing game. Now he’s played his last game for us (he entered the transfer portal next week) and we wish him nothing but the best!

Overall I’d say I’m pretty pleased with the offensive development in 2020. Every area saw improvement and emerging stars like Sims and Gibbs had solid debuts to what are hopefully great careers. Turnovers and penalties were definitely huge problems though and I’m hoping that they get worked on a lot leading into 2021.

Defense

Points /game: 36.8 (2019: 32.4)

Yards /game: 459.3 (2019: 423.3)

Passing Yards /game: 270.1 (2019: 207.7)

Rushing Yards /game: 189.2 (2019: 215.6)

Third Down % allowed: 46.7% (2019: 44.7%)

Turnovers /game: 1.8 (2019: 1.3)

To put it bluntly, I don’t think I have anything good to say about the defense. It was pretty terrible in 2020. Three opponents had their highest scoring game of the season against us and six opponents scored well above their points-per-game average on us. UCF, Clemson, Syracuse, and Boston College were all especially bad defensive games. I don’t even want to tally the number of QBs/RBs that had career days against us; we’re certainly the opponent in a lot of highlight reel tape now.

Defensively there was a clear regression from 2019 and that side of the ball became an enormous weak point. There were some good quarters here and there, but by-and-large the defense never played a complete game and in fact often totally disappeared for long stretches of game time. The frustration here is that this is supposed to be a defense-oriented staff and the offensive transition has nothing to do with the defense. Countless assignments were missed, wrapping up tackles was a foreign concept, holes were wide open, the list of grievances runs long. Again, to put it bluntly, I expected a lot more out of the staff and defense and they severely underperformed those expectations. Over the last five seasons of the Johnson era the team averaged 26.4 points allowed per game. 32.4 last year and 36.8 this year are incredible failures begotten with the same or better talent.

Yes I know I use this gif a lot - it very appropriate describes my feelings towards many things about this program

Special Teams

Special teams, like the defense, were pretty disappointing. Blocked kicks plagued the early part of the season, and overall we finished 3-of-8 on FG attempts. Yuck. XPs were 26-of-29 but I’m pretty sure all 3 misses were blocked. This continues to be another weakness of the team, and is another huge frustration given how often the staff says that they “emphasize” special teams. Better start emphasizing more.

The saving grace here is Pressley Harvin (as always). Harvin’s final season was his best by far and he currently is second in the nation with a 48.0 yard average (the guy in first only punted 10 times in 3 games). He’s got a real shot at the Ray Guy award this year and it would be highly deserved. He’s been a hugely productive player in his time on the Flats and holds the 25th best career punting average in all of college football (since 2000).

Revisiting Season Predictions

Let’s see how I did on various predictions that the staff put out before the season.

Season Predictions:

  • Wins against Syracuse, Louisville, Boston College, and either Pitt or Duke
  • Correct on three of these (Louisville and Duke)!
  • > 300 yards per game of offense
  • Correct with very comfortable breathing room!
  • < 350 yards allowed per game
  • Hugely wrong!
  • > 32 total offensive touchdowns
  • Close, we scored 29 but an 11th game could’ve added 3 (maybe)
  • Ahmarean Brown earns All-ACC honors
  • *sigh*
  • 4 QBs gets at least 10 snaps
  • Close, it was three QBs (Sims, Graham, and Yates)

Okay so these were pretty so-so. Defensive yards allowed and AB stand out as the yuckiest misses.

Bold Predictions:

  • PHIII wins the Ray Guy Award
  • Yet to see but he is a semi-finalist and like I said, he has a great shot
  • We see a new uniform combo that evenly divides the fanbase between loving and hating it
  • B L A C K W A T C H
  • We don’t make it to November
  • Technically we made it to December, but we didn’t play our full schedule
  • Jeff Sims, QB1
  • Yup!
  • Fans will no longer be able to attend at some point, likely the week before the season gets cancelled
  • Nope, we successfully stayed at lowered capacity all season
  • Not only is AB All-ACC, he is first team
  • *bigger sigh*
  • Geoff Collins describes the program as “attacking COVID-19 with GriT and UNMATCHED INTENSITY”
  • Not actually sure, but I’m gonna say that this totally happened
  • The defense forces 20 turnovers
  • Close, the final tally was 18 and an 11th game could’ve gotten us over the line
  • There is a beer-being-sold-at-the-stadium related incident early in the season
  • No incidents that I know of, but a lot of mask-down-drinking-beer memes
  • A team will have a COVID-related turnover prop
  • I’m not aware of a football team that did this, but our very own Josh Pastner did so I’m counting myself as correct

Well, if you win ‘em all they ain’t bold. A few big misses here, but overall not bad.

Revisiting My 2019 End-of-Season Wishlist

In my 2019 wrap-up I had a list of four improvements I wanted to see in 2020. They were:

  1. A much much better offensive line.
  2. A better run defense.
  3. A less stubborn offensive game plan.
  4. A larger focus on fundamentals and decision making.

Of these, #3 is probably the only one that happened. Play-calling opened up more in 2020 and we ran some more creative and intuitive things. The rest of this list are all still massive problems. The offensive line did improve some but it still ranks as one of the worst in the nation according to PFF and made things much more difficult for Sims and Gibbs than they should have been. The run defense improved slightly when you just look at yards-per-game, but that’s marginal at best. Opposing running backs were still able to gash us game after game and we gave up multiple rushing touchdowns in 8 games.

#4 is making me quite sad to read because we may have actually regressed in terms of fundamentals. Watching this team average over a fumble per game, miss blocks, miss defensive assignments, commit silly penalties, have multiple kicks blocked, whiff on sacks, and commit turnovers in the red zone was painful.

Overall Thoughts

I don’t think I’d quite label the 2020 season as a “failure”, but I’ll readily call it a disappointment. As I said before, we were presented with many opportunities this year and it just doesn’t feel like we appropriately took them. A regression in defense and special teams basically nullified any offensive improvements when it came to wins and losses. Simple mistakes and turnovers were killers for much of the season and we really struggled to play our best for consistent stretches of time. These kinds of things are the things I really expected us to improve on from 2019. I’m fine with being a work-in-progress offensively, but silly turnovers and missed defensive assignments should be easier to cut out.

Two straight 3-win seasons is not a good look for the staff. Of course no one expects results right away, but you should be able to expect an improvement from the first year to the second and that just didn’t happen at a team level. The 2020 results just put a lot more pressure on this program in 2021 to show that things are indeed changing.

Looking Ahead to 2021

So what am I looking for in 2021? I’d like to see some improvements in a few different areas. Like last year I’ll list four major things we need to have or improve on to have success in 2021:

  1. Do the “little things”. Penalties and red zone turnovers are the big ones, but whiffs and missed assignments are also huge problems. I’m going to set stretch goals of <5 penalties and <1.5 turnovers per game in 2021 (also 0 blocked kicks please). We cannot keep being our own worst enemy - we have to start doing the little things right if we want to start winning the winnable games.
  2. Better offensive line play. The OL really needs to get better to both protect Sims as well as open up more rushing lanes for the RBs. They shouldn’t have to create their own opportunities as much as they had to in 2020.
  3. A more disciplined defense. I really believe the talent is there on the defensive side of the ball but they have yet to play at their potential. We need to get under 30 points-per-game in order to have a winning season, plain and simple. In particular we need the LBs and DBs to step up.
  4. A true receiving threat. Brown transferring is a big loss. The passing game desperately needs a go-to receiver that can catch 40/50 balls and be dangerous. Camp can be that guy (if he stays), as can Malachi Carter. Incoming recruit James BlackStrain will also have a chance to contribute right away.

Looking at the 2021 schedule, we’ve got our work cut out for us. An out of conference slate that includes Notre Dame and UGA is tough, but both NIU and Kennesaw State should be wins. The ACC slate is the same it’s always been, although this time we may have to deal with competent UNC. Clemson is Clemson, but I think the rest of the regulars are all beatable if we make the necessary improvements. As far as early expectations go, I think I’d be very disappointed with under 5 wins. Improvement really needs to be shown in the third year if the program is to turn the corner. I think a stretch goal of making a bowl with 6 wins isn’t unreasonable. NIU and Kennesaw are must-wins while none of Duke, BC, Pitt, VT, or UVA are particularly menacing. 2021 has to be the year we start winning the winnable games, otherwise patiences are going to start wearing very thin.

Until September 4th, 2021 we’ll just have to be content with the promise of what can be. Here’s to hoping we can get some wins and maybe a new adidas alternate. Merry Christmas everyone!