Road games have been brutal for Georgia Tech this season. They hadn’t scored a single point in the first quarter of any road game and tonight was no exception. The offense came out shaky, totaling only 16 yards for their first three drives.
Despite having a chunk of players missing from the defense the younger reserves stepped up tonight and kept this game close until the offense found its footing in the run game. Freshman defensive end Kyle Kennard was one that stood out with 1.5 sacks and was often beating blocks into the backfield. The first sack of his career came on NC State’s third drive pushing them out of the red zone and forcing them to settle for a field goal.
As the game progressed more injuries piled up on the defensive side including some stingers to Juanyeh Thomas and Ja’Quon Griffin that kept them out on a few plays. The defense still looked improved, especially upfront when they forced a turnover on downs in the third quarter by stuffing runs on 3rd and 4th down while one yard away from conversion.
Penalties continued to be a struggle in this game but some were just plain bad calls that did have an impact on the final result of this game. Zamari Walton was picked on quite a bit as he was soft in zone coverage but came up big in coverage on a 3rd and 6 diving for a pass break up. The refs threw a flag though for defensive pass interference that seemed more of a push on Walton from the receiver.
Another blown call was when NC State was backed up on their side of the field after a penalty on the kickoff. Wesley Walker blitzed off the left edge and appeared to have beaten the running back to the inside of the pocket but was grabbed and thrown down in a spinning tackle. No flag was thrown for holding and the play resulted in a 33-yard pass on a drive that would end in a touchdown.
The offense was the glaring weakness on the night and missing Gibbs played a lot into that. Gibbs just adds explosiveness even when the line fails. Mason did have a good night with being just a yard shy of 100 but was caught from behind after he busted through to the secondary. Gibbs could have probably pulled away from the Wolfpack’s slower linebacking core.
The running game held its end of the bargain most of the night save a few mishandled meshes. The passing game just wasn’t there tonight, however. Sims had to elude the rush as delayed blitzes were missed by the offensive line. Sims also didn’t appear comfortable taking deep shots and let a few throws to open receivers go to tuck and run instead.
One big miss was when Adonicas Sanders was open just short of the goal line on a third-down but Sims didn’t pull the trigger and instead tried to beat a defender to the sideline. The attempt failed and the drive resulted in a field goal.
Sanders was a bright spot for the receivers on the night catching seven passes for 105 yards. He managed to find the empty zones between coverage when others were showing poor effort on the night. Even announcer Mark Herzlich stated that most of the receivers looked to be jogging or letting up on their routes.
The Yellow Jacket offense should be credited with not turning the ball over tonight when that has been such an issue in previous games. There were a few times the ball was put on the ground but lucky bounces kept that stat clean on the night.
Another improvement was kicker Gavin Stewart being perfect on two field goals (the first of his career) and his extra-point attempt. They were both short field goals and it appeared Coach Collins wasn’t quite ready to let him try them from deep, but any progress in the kicking game is a good sign moving forward.
Unlike other losses on the year, this one felt like Tech was in it to the end. It was a clean game where even some of the penalties could be called into question and having so many starters out could have swayed the outcome of the game. It’s reassuring to see the freshman make plays showing flashes of potential for next season.
Now, Georgia Tech will try and get ready for Pittsburgh on a 5-day turnaround. It will be a tall task with all the injuries and short rest but will also be the best chance for another win with only Miami looming on the road after.