For the third time in three years, Georgia Tech employed a different defensive coordinator and ran a different defensive scheme. Through the transitions from Ted Roof’s 4-3 to Nate Woody’s 3-4 to Andrew Thacker’s 4-2-5, the Georgia Tech linebacking corps has had to adjust as they have been asked to do different things in each of these schemes.
Finally, they will have the same position coach, defensive coordinator, and scheme two years in a row. At the same time, the linebacking corps will welcome two newcomers who will bring athleticism and aggression. Tyson Meiguez and Khatavian Franks are promising additions who show specific promise to shore up two of the key defensive weaknesses of the last few years.
The two statistics I want to highlight are havoc rate and stuff rate. Havoc rate is the percentage of plays on which the defense records a tackle for loss, a forced fumble, a pass break-up, or an interception. Stuff rate is the percentage of run plays the defense stops at or before the line of scrimmage.
To put it bluntly, Georgia Tech has been abysmal in both areas the last two years. GT ranked #119 (out of 130) in havoc rate in 2018 and creeped up to #101 in 2019. The stuff rate was virtually unchanged, shifting from #115 in 2018 to #116 in 2019. To be sure, some of this weakness is connected to the injuries, losses, and overall struggles on the defensive line, but the linebackers did not shore up the weaknesses.
Georgia Tech returns all five linebackers who received significant time at the position last year: 6th Year Senior David Curry, Jr. Charlie Thomas, Jr. Quez Jackson, So. Demetrius Knight, and Sr. Bruce Jordan-Swilling, whom many expect to move to the offensive side of the ball. The emergence of Charlie Thomas over the course of last year offers encouragement for the next two years, as he led the linebackers with 13.5 havoc plays last year (even as he missed portions of a few games due to injury). David Curry is a steady leader and is deeply knowledgeable about the defensive schemes, but he lacks the top end athleticism to create the kind of havoc plays the defense has been missing.
Enter the two linebackers in the 2020 class. Tyson Meiguez and Khatavian Franks come to Georgia Tech with a deep friendship and a great working relationship on the field. They started next to each other at linebacker at Creekside High, and their connection with one another is immediately evident when turning on the film. Creekside employed countless stunts where Franks and Meiguez twist around one another, use cross fire blitzes to get space in the A gaps, and occupy blockers to free one another up. The result: lots of run stuffing and lots of havoc. The senior film for both is littered with interceptions, tackles for loss, broken up passes, and forced fumbles, not to mention open field tackles and impressive shedding of blocks to quickly reach the ball carrier.
Check out Meiguez’s senior film here:
And Franks here:
Franks is rated as a three star on Rivals (5.6) and the 247 Sports Composite (0.8837). Meiguez checks in as a three star on Rivals (5.7) and the 247 Sports Composite (0.8721). Meiguez is an inch shorter (6-2) and a bit thicker (currently listed at 210 pounds vs. the 6-3 205 pound Franks), and they both use their length extremely well in getting their hands on passes and tracking down the ballcarrier.
Meiguez plays a more traditional middle linebacker role, occupying blockers in the middle of the field, making solid run fits, blitzing in the A and B gaps, and occasionally dropping into pass coverage. During his senior season, he had four sacks and three interceptions to go with 196 tackles. His solid presence in the middle allows his teammate Franks to roam, get good width in coverage, and play downhill fast.
Franks comes out of his stance like a track star when he blitzes. Whether coming off the edge or through an A gap, his senior film shows countless instances of him getting to the quarterback untouched. He shows great vision and hip flexibility when dropping into coverage, confusing quarterbacks and jumping passing lanes. During his senior season, he recorded a jaw dropping combination of 18 sacks and five interceptions.
Outlook: If I’m a GT defensive coach, I look at Tyson Meiguez and see the stuff rate improving, and I look at Khatavian Franks and see the havoc rate skyrocketing. I would anticipate the coaches getting Meiguez his four games before taking a redshirt, allowing him to learn the ins and outs of the position behind David Curry before taking on a major role in the center of the defense in 2021.
As the Georgia Tech defensive coaches try to create more havoc plays, I foresee Franks getting ample opportunity to play this season. He will likely share some of the outside linebacking reps with Thomas and Jackson, and I can picture him getting pass rushing reps in the speedy Cheetah pass rushing package that Thacker showed several times last year. Freshmen linebackers are sure to make mistakes, but Meiguez and Franks up the athleticism and aggression of this position group and will be key cogs in creating stuffs and havoc for years to come.