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Tuesday Thoughts 10/11: Back to Back, Back to Life

In which we talk kickers, receivers, and feeling like you’ve got a new lease on life.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 08 Duke at Georgia Tech Photo by John Adams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Well, it took just about every ounce of gumption that we could muster but a win’s a win.

Game Recap in Three Sentences

Tech controlled most of the first three quarters with strong defense and a consistent chunk-yardage offense.

A comfortable lead was erased when Duke ran back a punt for a TD and then some questionable penalties allowed them a 14 play 80 yard scoring drive a few minutes later.

Duke missed their first kick in overtime to give Tech its first back to back wins since 2018.

#404 Swag Champion of the Game

Gavin Stewart. Take a bow man, is there anyone who’s been more critical to these two wins? He’s been a perfect 7/7 through two weeks and we’ve needed every single one of those points.

ATLeast We Ain’t Them of the Week

Oklahoma got absolutely pantsed by Texas. Typically the Sooners are on the other side of a boat-racing, but this time they were the ones giving up 585 yards and 34 first downs while gaining just 289 yards and 11 first downs themselves. That included a service academy-esque 39 total passing yards (2.3 per pass). Yuck.

Above The Line of the Week

  • Jeff Sims. The offense is a different beast when he’s on his A game - 227 yards through the air and 95 on the ground is the type of performance you love to see from him.
  • Nate McCollum. By far Sim’s favorite target this season (29 receptions), McCollum has proved to be a dependable go-to receiver and his 10 catches in this game were crucial to the win.
  • Leo Blackburn. After missing 2021 due to injury, Blackburn’s first appearance as a Jacket was a stellar one with three catches for 49 yards and a touchdown. Here’s to seeing him more on the Flats!

Stat of the Week

One. The offense went three-and-out just a single time against Duke, the fewest all year. The last time we only went three-and-out once or less was in 2021 against Boston College.

5 Star (7 Star, 5 Star) Developmental Program Haiku of the Week

Not pretty but still
Determination is Key
One game at a time

Back to Back, Back to Life

Our last back-to-back wins came against Miami and UVA in late 2018, what feels like a lifetime ago. Those two closed out a four game win streak that had us at 7-4 before the final loss against UGA.

Four years and plenty of heartbreak later, we sit at 3-3 on a two-win streak with an honest-to-God genuine chance at a five game streak to be bowl-eligible at 6-3. UVA, FSU, and VT make up our next three; only FSU gives me pause but even at 4-2 they haven’t looked overly great and are currently on a two-game losing streak. Even taking a loss against them, we have a strong chance at making it three in a row against UVA, beating VT, and then fighting for bowl eligibility against a stumbling Miami. Remembering how things felt just a few weeks ago, it’s kind of incredible that we’re here. The program has life now and suddenly it doesn’t feel like we’re doomed or cursed. There’s absolutely still a lot to clean up and improve on, but the long road ahead is feeling more manageable by the day.

Making a halfway-through-the-season assessment is a bit hard given how different we’ve seemed to be in the last two games, so let’s do some comparisons there instead:

  1. Special teams are no longer a detriment. First and foremost, the major mistakes have been cleaned up. After four blocked punts through four games we’ve had none in the last two. We’re also actually scoring points on FGs; After going 2/6 through four games we’re a perfect 7/7 in the last two.
  2. The ground game has been more consistent. Ignoring WCU, in our first three games against FBS competition we gained just 3.8 yards per attempt. In our last two games we’re gaining 5.1 yards per attempt. We’re getting more chunk yardage from our RBs and we’re able to run the ball in late-game scenarios. Hassan Hall has emerged as a strong RB1 and Jeff Sims seems to be running with more confidence as well.
  3. The defense is getting off the field. The first four offenses we faced converted 41% of their third down attempts. The last two have converted just 28%. The first four offenses scored 30.3 points per game, the last two have scored 20 points per game. We’re still giving up too much yardage but we’re heavily restricting the end zone and coming up with big stops on third down.
  4. We’re controlling the game pace. Anecdotally, we’re dragging teams into the mud. In our past two games we’ve spent just over 7 total minutes behind (and that was by a single point). A stingier defense and a more dependable rushing game have allowed us to keep the games low-scoring and close. I think this has been absolutely key - we’re not getting behind early and having to adjust the game plan to stay in it. We’re dictating the game and forcing opponents to play with us, not the other way around.

Pitt and Duke may not be the greatest teams out there, but we gave each of them one of their toughest games. Pitt’s only other loss is by 7 points to #6 Tennessee. Duke’s only other loss is by 8 points to #19 Kansas. Against their other five opponents Pitt has rushed for 210 yards per game on 4.9 yards per attempt. Against us they rushed for 106 yards on 3.4 yards per attempt. Against their other five opponents Duke has rushed for 200 yards per game on 5.3 yards per attempt. Against us they rushed for 142 yards on 4.3 yards per attempt. Our remaining Coastal opponents aren’t miles beyond these two teams - a couple are in fact worse. That gives me the confidence that what we’re doing right now can translate to the rest of the year.

Over the second half of the season there are a few things I’d like to see us improve on:

  1. Getting to the red zone and scoring touchdowns. Going 7/7 on FGs is great, but we need to start converting those into touchdowns. The offense feels so close to putting it all together; a few better play calls (read: stop calling endzone fades please) and reads per game could make a huge difference.
  2. More consistent OL play. Rushers are doing a good job creating space and gaining extra yards, but we still need the OL to really step it up. Several runs each game are stuffed behind the line and Sims is often under pressure when throwing. Improving here is the single biggest key to our success in my mind.

Locking down on defense/ST late in the game. In the early part of the season opposing offenses poured on points in the fourth quarter to widen their leads. In the last two games we saw our own leads evaporate quickly. We need to continue improving on defense and work to reduce the fourth quarter points we’re giving up.

* * *

Overall I’m happy with 3-3; at the start of the season I would’ve told you we’d be 2-4 at the midway point. It’s a shame we wasted opportunities against UCF and got lapped by Clemson and Ole Miss, but I’m becoming convinced that we’re a different team now. It’s like we’ve been given a second chance at life. This bye has also come at a great time; if we can clean up the easy stuff and spark the offense a bit then I think we have a great shot at feeling pretty good at the end of the year. I can’t wait for the next gameday.

Look Ahead

Up next is the bye week and then Virginia at home on the next Thursday night (10/20, 7:30pm). Plain and simple, UVA is not a good football team. They sit at 2-4 with their only two wins being against Richmond and Old Dominion (by just two points). Their last two games have been near blowouts by Louisville and Duke. This game should be a win, end of story. The bye week is exactly what we need to continue to work on our fundamentals and game planning and this is not a difficult opponent. I’m happy with any type of win but I would love to see us win this one by 10 or more points to get to 4-3.