Georgia Tech’s annual Spring Football Game will kickoff at 6:00 PM tomorrow night and air on the ACC Network. If you’re local to Atlanta, and especially if you are a student, the AA is putting on a party at the game to help kick off your St. Patrick’s Day festivities. The on-field tailgate does seem to make it less likely that this will be anything resembling a real football game, but for the football starved amongst us, it will be something.
For all those planning to attend or tune in, I must remind you: DON’T READ TOO MUCH INTO SPRING GAMES!
But do enjoy it, and keep in mind areas that will be key if GT is to take any steps forward this fall. As a guide to help you direct your attention, I want to give you five things to watch that are based off of needed areas of improvement that we identified throughout our offseason review.
- Who Should be QB1?
At least from what has been said publicly, Jeff Sims is locked in as the starting quarterback. I’m not sure that should be the case, and I’m also not sure if it actually is the case. I don’t believe that Zach Gibson would have transferred to Georgia Tech if he didn’t think that he had a legitimate chance to be the starting quarterback in 2022. I think this is a behind the scenes competition that will stretch into fall camp.
Georgia Tech needs better passing offense in 2022, and if that requires starting someone other than Sims, that has to be the decision the new offensive staff makes. Last year, Zach Gibson performed significantly better than Jeff Sims did when we look at the play by play passing stats. The most glaring difference comes in Completion Percentage over Expectation; that is, based on how far and where they threw the football, how often did they complete those throws compared to an average quarterback?
Sims finished his season at -1% CPOE, while Gibson posted a +16% CPOE number last season. The spring game won’t decide who starts in Mercedes-Benz against Clemson, but watch the accuracy of the QBs in this new offense.
2. Can the Offensive Line Do Anything to Help?
Once again, Georgia Tech’s offensive line will hinge largely on the production of transfer additions. So far, that includes Paul Tchio and Riley Quick, but we expect a few more to be added into the mix, as there are currently only 11 scholarship linemen on the roster. The line was bad last year and lost the three players (Minihan, Cochran, and Johnson) who started the most, as well as a fourth (Cooper) who would have started each game if healthy.
Once again, the line is nearly starting from scratch. It looks like Jakiah Leftwich, Weston Franklin, and Jordan Williams are shoo ins to start, but the guard positions could go to Vaipulu, Quick, Tchio, or someone else. Can this group hold up?
Specifically, can this group limit the run stuff rate and pressure rate allowed to give the rest of the offense a chance?
3. Can the Defensive Line make Life Difficult?
We can hold up a mirror here in evaluating the defensive line. What kind of run stuff and pressure rates will they be able to generate without the likes of Jordan Domineck, Jared Ivey, Djmon Brooks, and Mike Lockhart? The reviews on Keion White this spring sound promising; everyone else is almost a complete mystery to me along the defensive front. The failures to generate disruption have plagued Georgia Tech during and before the Geoff Collins era; could this finally be the team that does something different in that department?
Guys like Josh Robinson, Kyle Kennard, D’Quan Douse, and TK Chimedza will have a chance to capitalize on available playing time. Who might step up as a disruptive force in the front four?
4. Can the secondary cover?
As we’ve written about extensively, Georgia Tech finished 2021 130th out of 130 FBS teams in EPA/pass allowed. The worst pass defense in the country lost four of its five starters in the secondary, but much of the fanbase is expecting some addition through subtraction there. That is entirely possible, but it’s not clear exactly where high level pass defense will come from. Yes, this is the position group with the most four stars on the team, but not a single guy in the secondary has demonstrated “four star” production in college football. Zamari Walton, Myles Sims, Derrik Allen, Jaylon King, and likely Kaleb Edwards will get the first crack at starting on the back end. Will the coaching changes, player departures, scheme terminology, and communication methods make a difference for this group?
5. Who can make a play on the outside?
Malachi Carter is unlikely to play tomorrow, and the three subsequent leaders in receiving yardage from last year are gone. Jahmyr Gibbs and Kyric McGowan were the most dangerous after the catch last year, and it’s an open question who might play that role this year. The most likely candidates seem to be Nate McCollum, Malik Rutherford, and Kalani Norris. We will be tracking yards after catch to see who the best candidates are to create some explosives out of the quicker developing passing game that several players have mentioned throughout the spring. James BlackStrain and Leo Blackburn will hopefully play a role here as well as they return from injuries, and freshman DJ Moore has caught the eye of many observers throughout the spring.
Enjoy some football tomorrow evening. We will be back early next week with an “Advanced Stats” Review of the game with a particular eye to these five questions. If you’ve got a statistical question you’d like for us to look at, drop it in the comments below.