Good morning and welcome back to the 2021 report card series. Coming off a thrilling win against Duke and a bye week, I think we were all hoping to see higher energy and better execution heading into the second half of the season. Saturday’s game against Virginia certainly started that way, but eventually the defense succumbed to Brennan Armstrong and the Cavalier offense. Despite a last ditch effort by the Yellow Jackets that included two successful onside kicks, Virginia sent Georgia Tech back to Atlanta with a loss.
With 3:50 remaining in the game, Virginia led by 21 points. That 3:50 ended up being pretty fun to watch, and although the final score was a much more respectable 48-40, the previous 56 minutes and 10 seconds featured the Virginia offense marching up and down the field to the tune of 636 total yards, the most given up by the White and Gold all season. That was also the most words I’ve ever fit into one sentence. Time to do some grading.
Jeff Sims’ final numbers are actually pretty solid. Unfortunately, 118 of his 300 passing yards and 2 of his 3 passing TDs were too little too late as they were part of that final four minute push. On the ground, he added 65 yards on 10 carries, with one pretty electric 38-yard dash to try and kickstart a fourth quarter comeback. Through the air, he finished the game 27/44, which is pretty strong, but one of those incompletions was a costly interception that completely flipped the script of the first half.
After Virginia scored to bring the game to 16-14, Georgia Tech was driving with an opportunity to extend their lead. Jeff failed to see the safety deep as he came across a route up the seam to intercept the ball near the goal line.
Running Backs: B+
The running backs looked really good on Saturday. All three Georgia Tech RBs averaged 5+ yards per carry, the group eclipsed 200 yards on the ground for the first time since the NIU game, and we got to see Jahmyr Gibbs show off his speed and athleticism on an early third quarter touchdown that gave the Yellow Jackets some much needed offensive life.
That 71-yard TD was the longest rushing TD of the season. Dontae Smith also found the end zone on a short yardage score in the first quarter.
Wide Receivers/TEs: B+
If the grades seem high so far, that’s because I’m still writing about the offense. Kyric McGowan and Adonicas Sanders were Sims’ biggest targets against Virginia. Those two receivers finished with 7 receptions for 86 yards and 6 receptions for 79 yards, respectively. Three other Tech WRs would finish with double-digit yardage, as well, and the group would go on to score three total touchdowns.
Although a lot of the offensive activity came within the final four minutes, the wide receiver corps was able to find open spaces and make plays throughout the game. The 257 yards by this group are the most reeled in so far this year.
Offensive Line: B-
Virginia’s defensive front didn’t have a ton of success in the backfield on Saturday, only sacking Jeff Sims once on 44 pass attempts, and only tackling Tech ball carriers behind the line two additional times throughout the game. There was a better push up front for large portions of the game, as well, as noted by the RB yards per carry. Both Jordan Mason and Jahmyr Gibbs were consistently at the second level before encountering Virginia tacklers.
Total Offense: B
Coming into this game, everyone knew Virginia’s strength was its offense. That being said, the Cavalier defense did just shut out a Duke team that put up 27 against the Yellow Jackets. I’m not calling those guys world beaters, but the 40 points and 570 yards by Georgia Tech ended up being the second most they’ve allowed this season in both categories.
The improved offensive line performance (still a long ways to go), limited penalties, explosive plays, and strong third down conversion rate are all positives, but the turnover in the first half and inconsistent production ultimately played a major role in killing Tech’s chances at a victory.
I’m gunna try to fly through this as quickly as possible so my nausea goes away. Justin will break down some film later this week, but this game felt very much like Pittsburgh v2. A lack of pressure up front allowed Brennan Armstrong to dissect the Georgia Tech secondary all night long.
Three different Virginia receivers averaged 20+ yards per catch, with Dontayvion Wicks leading the way. He caught 6 passes for 168 yards and 2 touchdowns, including one that sums up the entire defensive performance. After catching a quick 10-yard pass, Wicks juked Sophomore corner Derrick Allen out of his shoes and dashed 67 more yards for a touchdown as nobody in white had an angle on him.
Wicks also made Tech look pretty silly on a 13-yard strike earlier in the game. On a 3rd & 5, Armstrong lobbed one up and Wicks high-pointed the ball over two Tech defenders. Wouldn’t surprise me to see that on next week’s edition of “You Got Mossed”.
Brennan Armstrong was not only the leading passer for Virginia on Saturday, he was also the leading rusher. A large chunk of his yardage was on designed QB runs, but multiple times throughout the game, Armstrong would break out of the pocket, shake a would-be tackler, and fight for additional yardage. He ran for 99 yards and two touchdowns. All of Virginia’s touchdowns were by Brennan Armstrong. His leg isn’t even fully healthy as he still wears a brace from a week two injury against Illinois.
For only the second time all season, a Georgia Tech linebacker didn’t lead the team in tackles. An inability to key Brennan Armstrong throughout the game and lack of pressure makes this arguably the season’s worst performance by an otherwise solid group.
Defensive Line: F
Zero pressure. Zero push. Georgia Tech had 1 sack, 2 total TFLs, and ONE (1) registered QB hurry on Saturday, and Virginia dropped back to pass 43 times. On the ground, Virginia averaged 8 yards per carry. This is a team that was held to under 2 yards per carry against UNC and Miami, has been held to under 100 total rushing yards three times this season, and only averaged 120 rushing yards per game prior to Saturday night.
I was harsh on the secondary, but we saw the same thing against Pittsburgh. Without much pressure up front, it’s nearly impossible to defend the pass against a good quarterback.
Total Defense: F
Are you really gunna make me elaborate? On top of all the bad things I’ve already said, Virginia converted 32 first downs and was 7/11 on third down. There. You happy?
Special Teams: B+
Those two onside kick recoveries gave Tech a chance to tie the game late, and Cimaglia was perfect on FGs. But, a blocked XP and less-than-stellar punting makes it hard for me to give this group an A.
On top of the onside kicks, Jude Kelley did have a perfectly executed pooch kick in the fourth quarter, but it didn’t matter because Virginia proceeded to trot 96 yards for a touchdown on a 5-minute drive for what would be the final dagger.
I’m trying to think of a scenario where that defensive performance would have been justifiable or acceptable, and it’s hard to do so. Heading into this game, Virginia was ranked #10 offensively in the SP+. Everyone knew how dangerous Armstrong is. Still, it seemed like the Tech staff looked at the Pitt game plan and said, “Yep. That was good.” The defense lined up in the now commonly used 3-3-5 for a large portion of the game and failed to consistently bring pressure or show different fronts/coverages pre-snap. They continue to look static, and the coaches failed again to make necessary adjustments mid-game.
Offensively, the play-calling wasn’t awful, and the execution wasn’t terrible either. But, the inconsistency in the second quarter and parts of the second half allowed Virginia to pull away. This isn’t a perfect statistic, but so far this season Georgia Tech is 3-2 when they run the ball more than they pass. They are 0-2 when they pass more than they run. Those two games were Pitt and Virginia. Against explosive teams, you have to try and keep up by throwing the ball some. But establishing the run and milking the clock is extremely important, as well.
All in all, coming off a bye week with extra time to rest and prepare, this 8-point (but kinda more like 20-point) loss is a major setback that makes the rest of the season a lot more difficult.
Coming into this game, Virginia was the favorite to win. Tech had its chances, but this isn’t the same as losing to NIU at the beginning of the season. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Cavaliers crack the Top 25 in the next few weeks. But, with only 5 games remaining, time is running out for the Jackets, and that same clock is ticking for Geoff Collins as he looks to prove that his program is making considerable progress.
The Hokies from Blacksburg are traveling south for Homecoming week, so I hope to see some of you there cheering on the White and Gold.
Until next week. Go Jackets!