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Back Seat Coachin’: Yellow Jackets self-scout

Georgia Tech looks to become bowl eligible in Geoff Collins 3rd year in Atlanta.

NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at Temple Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Geoff Collins and his staff enter year three at Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets are coming off of a 3-7 season in 2020, and have only won six games in two seasons under Coach Collins. The fun and hype of the Atlanta branding for the Jackets is here but it’s starting to wear thin.

Collins and the Jackets might not win a ton of games in ‘21 due to strength of schedule, but progress needs to be obvious. Georgia Tech returns starting quarterback Jeff Sims and freshman sensation running back Jahmyr Gibbs. According to ESPN’s Bill Connelly, Tech is 13th in the country in returning production this season. GT returns 83% of their production which ranks 21st on offense and 23rd on defense.

However, GT plays the 18th toughest schedule in FBS per ESPN. The Jackets have two easy home games before traveling to Clemson to face the Tigers, and then hosting UNC the following week. The Jackets also hit the road to play Virginia, Miami and Notre Dame, while hosting an improving Boston College Eagles squad and a top-5 program in the Georgia Bulldogs.

Per Connelly’s SP+ metrics, Georgia Tech enters the season 48th overall in SP+. 48th sandwiches the Jackets between other rebuilding programs in Louisville and Tennessee. The Jackets are 61st in SP+ on offense and 47th on defense. In 2020, GT scored just 23.9 points per game (96th in FBS) while allowing 36.8 PPG (110th in FBS).


Key Losses: Pressley Harvin III, P; Ahamarean Brown, WR (transfer); Jalen Camp, WR; David Curry, LB; Zach Quinney, OL.

Georgia Tech returns 12 of 22 starters on the offense and defense, and lost punter Pressley Harvin III. On the Athlon Magazine preseason All-ACC team, the Yellow Jackets have two players filling three spots. Geoff Collins and his staff have brought in multiple transfers from the portal to try to bolster the talent level on campus.

Freshman All-American running back Jahmyr Gibbs makes the Athlon first team offense. In limited duty due to injury, Gibbs ran for 5.2 yards per carry and scored seven times from scrimmage. Gibbs is a dual threat out of the backfield and can hopefully stay healthy in ‘21.

For his second spot on the Athlon All-ACC, Gibbs was selected as a kick returner. As a freshman, Gibbs averaged 25.6 yards per return. Speed and vision are Gibbs top two strengths and he doesn’t lack in power, either.

Even though Tech’s head coach is a DC at heart, the first Yellow Jacket defender on the list was Quez Jackson. Jackson made the fourth team ACC defense at linebacker. Last season, Jackson finished with 80 tackles with 4.5 tackles for loss.

The Jackets only have two players on the All-ACC list in the summer, but by bowl season I would expect a few more to emerge. QB Jeff Sims, guard Ryan Johnson, safety Tariq Carpenter, and defensive tackle Dijmon Brooks all have All-ACC potential.

Tech Scheme on O

Georgia Tech runs an 11 personnel grouping (one running back, one tight end) which is prevalent throughout much of the NCAA and NFL ranks. In the run game, GT also uses gap and zone schemes under OC Dave Patenaude. Coach Patenaude uses more play-action than run-pass option, but both are in the scheme.

Jeff Sims didn’t make the All-ACC preseason team, but the second year starter should drastically improve in ‘21. Sims went through freshman growing pains a year ago throwing 13 TD’s but also 13 interceptions. Sims put up over 2,200 total yards and scored six times on the ground, too. The former four-star prospect is the clear cut favorite to start this fall.

How do you lose to the GT offense? In ‘21 I would expect that answer to come from the run game. The combination of Sims, Gibbs, and Jordan Mason could be deadly for opponents if the passing game has any legs at all. Tech has to be able to pass well enough to not become a one-dimensional spread team. Collins’ staff can actually take a page out of the UGA playbook (gasp) and protect the football while establishing a solid run game. However, that worked in Athens because of their top-rated defense per the SP+.

How do you beat the GT offense? I think in ‘21 that will be by shutting down the run game. If teams stack the box, and can play 1-on-1 in the back end, they’ll do a good job of beating the GT offense. Also if you can get GT behind schedule on penalties, and force Sims into obvious passing situations, he becomes less effective as a scrambler to pick up those 3rd and short’s he’s so good at converting on the ground.

What play would I like to see Tech run more of? Dart. Dart is a play that can have multiple variables and be ran as an RPO, a QB read, and a QB run off of handoff action from the Q.

From Play Fast Football

Above- As you can see in the play diagram, dart has a tackle pull. This creates an issue for the defense as a defensive end will traditionally ‘chase’ a pulling lineman and ‘get in their hip pocket’ as you’ll often hear.

If the “E” (defensive end or 5 technique) does chase the puller, the QB will pull and run. If the “E” sits or attacks the mesh between the QB and RB, the QB will handoff to the RB (“S”).

If there’s some form of a scrape exchange, or a defensive call where the end is supposed to squeeze the run and the linebacker is supposed to play the outside C-Gap (outside the tackle), the Q can throw the bubble to the Y as a post-snap RPO.

Above- There are also RPO variations for Dart that I call Pass-Run Options or PRO’s. Swing-Dart is a variation that works wonders for the Oklahoma Sooners, and other programs. Now the read on the ‘E” (in blue and triangle) is flipped. If the DE runs with the RB that swings, the QB keeps behind the pulling tackle. If the DE chases the pull, it’s an easy swing pass to the RB.

Dart seems like a great way to get Sims the football, Gibbs an extra lead blocker, and to keep defensive ends from rushing up field too quickly. Personally when I was an OC, I liked to pick on a player. That could be a weak CB, the overhang linebacker, or the 5-tech defensive end. Find the aggressive one that doesn’t play in control and you can really beat him up with pulling guards, split zone H’s, screens over his head, and by reading him.

Tech Scheme on D

DC Andrew Thacker bases the GT defense in a 4-2-5 look, but flashed some 3-2 and 3-3 odd fronts in ‘20 against spread based offenses like UCF. GT has upgraded via the portal to add pass rusher, linebackers and defensive backs to spike the talent level in Atlanta.

Something had to give. Tech couldn’t solely rely on their freshmen recruiting as their ‘21 class was ranked only 11th in the ACC and 48th in the country. That means you like a lot of three stars with potential, but potential takes time to develop into realization.

Tech was actually pretty good at takeaways, averaging 1.8 per game which was good for 37th in FBS last season. However, the Jackets were 115th in opponent 3rd down conversions, giving up 7.1 per game. The “money down” on defense became a farce by season’s end.

The portal talent should be a shot in the arm to the pass rush as Alabama transfer Kevin Harris brings potential alongside Keion White and a returning former Florida Gator transfer in senior Antonneous Clayton.

Tech has also brought in linebacker Ayinde Eley from Maryland to play inside next to Quez Jackson. DB Kenyatta Watson II, a former four-star at Texas, has been brought in to bolster the back five where Tech returns four starters.

How do you lose to the GT defense? In ‘19 and ‘20, you really didn’t. GT has only knocked off some really bad offenses in USF, Miami and NCSU in ‘19, and FSU Louisville and Duke in ‘20. Only Louisville last season had shown any signs of offensive life when Tech beat them. In ‘21 if Tech can improve those 3rd downs and continue to take the ball away from opposing offenses, they can continue to improve in the points per game allowed department.

How do you beat the GT defense? So far under coaches Collins and Thacker, the key to beating GT has been to hit on explosive plays and to pick up third down conversions to keep drives alive. Tech was especially susceptible to scrambling QB’s that David Curry couldn’t run with. Plays like swing-draw and swing-dart were deadly as the slow linebackers couldn’t rally to the ball fast enough.

What does Tech need to fix? Speed on defense has been an issues in Atlanta. The Jackets have been burned deep in the passing game, ran by in the run game, and out maneuvered by mobile QB’s when they scramble or utilize a designed run. It’s not just about miles per hour on a GPS, either. GT has to improve the player’s visual skills, and how fast their eyes trigger their brains to react to plays both on a conscious and subconscious level.

In the rearview

Throughout the season, “In the rearview” will be a summary / wrap up section from the past week. For the self-scout piece, how about we take a look at three things that need to happen in order for Georgia Tech to be bowl eligible in 2021:

1- Less penalties. 121st out of 127 teams and 8.9 penalties per game has to change. Especially pre-snap penalties like false starts which kill drives. A young QB like Sims is put in bad situations by pre-snap penalties which forced him into obvious passing situations. It’s also a sign of sloppy practices. Control what you can control. A program can’t control the weather, but they definitely can control pre-snap penalties.

2- Less turnovers on offense. 124th of 127 teams on ‘giveaways’ in 2020. GT needs to cut that down in ‘21. GT turned the ball over 2.5 times per game last season with issues in the passing game, with fumbles, and QB/RB meshes on handoffs. Protecting the football is also something that programs have more control over than other items and is an attention to detail piece that shows true Mental Toughness under adversity.

3- Play faster on defense. The south talks about speed and Georgia high school football is loaded with speedy talent, but GT’s defense plays slow on film. Some of that is technical-tactical more than physiological. The Jackets need to make sure the defense is easy enough to play fast and make easy reads.

2021 season prediction: 5 wins. Northern Illinois and Kennesaw State should start Tech off 2-0. Pitt lost NFL level defenders from the 2020 team and have no offensive identity (maybe). Duke is nearly dormant in what I believe to be Coach Cut’s last year in Durham (win). I also think Virginia Tech falls apart in ‘21 and Justin Fuente is in his last year in Blacksburg (maybe). UVA isn’t exactly an offensive power and BC is still building (maybe x2).

The clear loses should be Clemson, UNC, Notre Dame and UGA but even with UNC they stumbled against FSU and UVA in ‘20. The beauty of the ACC and especially the Coastal is also what makes it ugly- anyone can win on any given Saturday.