Georgia Tech’s second year under Coach Collins started with great anticipation. After a rough first year that saw a major overhaul of the offense, there was a sense that Tech could improve their record from last year with a few more wins, perhaps even sneak into a bowl bid.
Before the expectations could be met there were questions needing to be answered in the Spring and Fall camps. The most pressing being if Graham would remain the starting quarterback or if it would become another rotation early in the year. How much would the quarterback benefit from an offensive line a year wiser and bolstered by two veteran SEC transfers?
The running backs looked plenty deep with the addition of Jahmyr Gibbs. Ahmarean Brown was coming off an impressive rookie season at receiver and Jalen Camp would be back from injury. The pieces were in place for the offense to take a step forward.
The defense had young, unproven talent on the defensive line with transfer Antonneous Clayton ready to break out. David Curry led a thin linebacker group but had a solid safety net in the secondary who should be the best unit on the team.
Another daunting schedule loomed for the Yellow Jackets but there were winnable games between three teams that would be in contention for the playoffs. Yet just as Spring practice got underway the world would come to a stop from the spread of Covid-19.
Fast forward through an uncertain off-season and Tech would be facing a new ACC schedule with limited practices that would cause development to lag. They would claim three wins from FSU, Louisville, and Duke who all finished at the bottom of the conference. The win column matched last year but expectations should have been tempered after such an odd year so let’s review some quick points on how the season went.
Collins is Bringing in the Talent
Jeff Sims and Jahmyr Gibbs were the top two recruits of the 2020 class and they lived up to it in their rookie season. Sims never relinquished the starting quarterback role. He had his share of mistakes but those can be forgiven as a true freshman and being harassed by defensive pressure. His ability to improvise when things went wrong and athleticism should make fans excited for his development going forward.
Gibbs was a star right out the gate with his first touch being a long kickoff return against UCF. Defenses struggled to contain him in both the running and passing game as his ability to weave between defenders added another level to the offense.
Another name that came on late was Jared Ivey. Ivey didn’t see much playing time until later in the year when injuries started to mount but he performed better than some of those ahead of him. He produced steady pressure off the edge in games against North Carolina State and Pittsburgh. That’s a promising development from such a young player.
If Georgia Tech’s recruiting staff can keep bringing in similar classes then we will see this team start to compete for the Coastal again.
Special Teams Still Needs Work
Everyone knows what Presley Harvin III means as a punter for this team. He is a finalist for the Ray Guy Award and should win it. Outside of him, the special teams unit was not good. Field goals and even extra points were being blocked at an alarming rate. Collins did say the way they were practicing before the season may have contributed but many kicks were very low. Gavin Stewart did start to show promise as the season progressed and seems to have earned the confidence of the staff for next year.
Gibbs had some electric returns but there was little else outside of his production. Other returners tried too often to make a play when calling for a fair catch would have been the better choice. Field position is going to help this team as they continue to grow so despite Gibbs being the starting running back the coaches should highly consider leaving him as the primary kick returner. He is just too dynamic not to use.
The most disappointing aspect of this season had to be the play of the secondary and the defense as a whole. There were veterans and talent among the defensive backs but many looked lost in coverage through most of the year. It didn’t help that Tre Swilling missed some games to start the year and Tariq Carpenter appeared to be dealing with lingering injuries.
It wasn’t all their fault though. The front never could find its footing stopping the run game. The pass rush would come and go and usually wasn’t there when the game was close. Maybe Covid truly did stunt the defense’s growth because practices were modified to limit contact. It seemed defenses struggled across the nation this year but still this part of the team needs to refocus and have a better year next season.
Was it a great year for the offense? No, but the metrics were improved and playmakers are emerging. They should continue to develop in a normal season with spring practice.
The offensive line struggled again but freshman Jordan Williams got plenty of experience and this unit really could start to gel in year three.
It can’t be overstated enough how much Gibbs will impact this offense moving forward. He was able to make fools of defenders in his first year so it could become unfair if he gets better and this offense starts to click. There are encouraging signs here.
Penalties Are Trending Up
With four years as a head coach under his belt, Collins has a glaring stat that can not continue to fester. His teams at Temple averaged 8 penalties a game the two years he was there which ranked them among the most penalized teams. His first year with Tech wasn’t as bad with them being one of the least penalized but may have been a product of the previous regime who were some of the least penalized teams for a decade. This year the average was 9 penalties a game which ranked them 125th in the country.
The bigger dilemma came with the types of penalties the team committed. Most were procedural or personal fouls. The UCF and Syracuse games were good examples of two up-tempo teams taking advantage of a young Tech team trying to substitute and jumping offsides. Those penalties should come down next year as they grow.
Personal fouls trended throughout the season and that comes from the “relentless effort” attitude Collins likes to instill. Playing with passion is great and Collins shouldn’t get away from that but some discipline needs to be mixed in with it.