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Back Seat Coacher: UCF and Syracuse

Let’s take a look back at the ugly loss to UCF, and ahead to a must-win against the Orange.

Georgia Tech v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

As you know, Georgia Tech started off the 2020 season with a major road upset over the Florida State Seminoles. The final was 16-13 and in order to beat a high powered offense like UCF’s, the Jackets were going to have to put up points in droves. The final was 49-21 and while three touchdowns might beat anemic offenses in the ACC Coastal, the top Group of 5 teams know how to run up the scoreboard in a hurry (UCF, Memphis, Boise State).

In the rearview

The offense

Jackets offensive line coach Brent Key has worked miracles with the O-Line. Key’s group, which has been a hodgepodge of transfers and underclassmen- held an aggressive UCF defense to zero sacks and only four hurries. On the ground, the big fellas paved the way for Jeff Sims to average 5.1 yards per carry (includes sack yards) and freshmen sensation Jahmyr Gibbs ran for 4.4 yards per carry as they both scored on the ground.

Above- A concept I love, especially for Sims, is the pass-run option called swing-draw. The job of the QB is to read the inside linebacker closest to the running back. If the linebacker runs to cover the swing, the QB tucks and runs to the vacated space left by the LB. If the linebacker blitzes or plays the box hard, the QB throws the swing.

Below- you can see the swing-draw in action. Sims needs to learn how to 1- tuck the football up and 2- run lower. All those ‘bag drills’ haven’t paid off because no one runs over a bag on the field, and bag drills cause you to run high, like Sims here.

Sims struggled through the air. The freshman QB averaged only 6.8 yards per attempt (in college, I would prefer to see nine or above), threw two more interceptions, and lost a fumble. The young four-star prospect is going to have growing pains, and protecting the football seems to be one for Sims.

Above- On the fumble inside of the 10, Sims needs to commit to keeping once he turns his shoulders. He had made the decision to keep and needs to tuck the football up like in the image below. Instead, Sims has the ball low and loose and fumbles inside the red zone.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 31 Liberty Bowl - Navy v Kansas State Photo by Austin McAfee/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

PAT/Field Goal

I absolutely hate the way the Jackets are coaching PAT/FG and it has backfired tremendously against them. I prefer to step inside, grab the hip pad, and punch with the off-hand. This whole “punch the ground” technique seems ineffective (duh).

While the penalties were even for both teams, the money down was not. GT allowed UCF to pick up 10-of-16 conversions on 3rd down, while only picking up 7-of-15 of their own. Both squads were 1-of-3 on 4th down.

The defense

The defense struggled. Time of possession was about even, so being “exhausted” can’t be a data point. In the end the defense allowed Dillon Gabriel to average 10.2 yards per attempt and toss four touchdowns. The UCF run game averaged 4.8 yards per carry and scored three times. WR Tre Nixon torched the secondary for 23.5 yards per catch and two touchdowns.

A lot of that is just time. The staff needs more time to add and develop speed with NFL caliber talent on the defensive side. They’re close, they’re improving, they just need to get it all clicking with another signing class.

Above, the defender is there, he just misses the football. But the scheme is fine, the defender does a good job of sticking with his man, he just doesn’t make the play. Possibly could use more time working on visual performance to connect the visual-cognitive-motor skill necessary to intercept that ball.

Above- you can see where the pressure packages, and S&C work from Coach Caralla come into play. That is just explosive football from the Georgia Tech outside rush. Those flashes are what the future holds, no looking back now!

Above- if you’re wondering why coaches love RPO’s so much, look at the screenshot above. The linebackers are absolutely frozen 4-5 yards off the ball on a run play. That gives the offensive line and fullbacks/h-backs time to get depth and shield the LB’s from making a play on the ball carrier. David Curry gets blocked and the back is out the gate.

On down the road

On offense

What will the Syracuse Orange bring to the table against the Jackets? The Orange are 0-2 so far in 2020, having been pounded by UNC and they lost convincingly to Pitt, as well. UNC runs a similar offense to Wreck OC Dave Patenaude, so we’ll take a look there. ‘Cuse runs a 3-3 stack defense with typically one high safety and brings a ton of pressure. Think about West Virginia’s defense in the Rich Rodriguez and Dana Holgorsen era’s.

Above, UNC OC Phil Longo dials up mesh inside the red zone. The crossing routes burn the Syracuse defense and it’s an easy six points. Mesh is in the Tech playbook and Jeff Sims struggled on the reads against FSU, but it should work much better against the Orange defenders rather than NFL-caliber cornerback Asante Samuel Jr.

Above- UNC scores against Syracuse using a classic zone play, split zone. The O-Line blocks right while the h-back’s job is to run across the formation and kick out (drive to the sideline) the back side defensive end (5-technique in football verbiage). The back CAN stay front side (to the right) or cut back and go back side (to the left). UNC used this play quite a bit for success versus ‘Cuse and I suspect Coach P will, too.

On defense

When GT is on defense, the Jackets have to be prepared for a couple of things. Syracuse is an Air Raid squad under Dino Babers. QB Tommy DeVito is a scrambler that has no problem taking off after his first read or any sign of pressure. Coach Collins and Coach Thacker need to make sure the QB isn’t allowed to scramble to pick up 3rd down conversions after great plays on 1st and 2nd downs.

Above- DeVito is able to dink and dunk, Johnny Manziel style, around tacklers. Jay Bateman, the UNC DC, does a great job of coaching scheme, technique, and tackling- but the Orange QB is elusive. The money down is going to be even more pivotal this week than ever before.

As the season progresses, the Jackets will improve upon the turnover issues and allowing “and longs” to turn into first downs. I worry about the kicking issue as I believe that’s a schematic fault as much as execution. GT should be able to out run and gun Syracuse. Expect big numbers from Sims, Jahmyr Gibbs, and the speedster Ahmarean Brown.

Prediction: Georgia Tech by 7.