I actually thought Justin Thomas bounced back pretty nicely from a poor performance the week prior. He broke a couple of long runs for the first time in several games, with a pair of carries in the first half going for 51 and 45 yards. He finished under 100 yards, actually gaining 122 positive yards but losing 27 yards throughout the course of the day for a net of 95 rushing yards. On a related note, while generally good, Thomas had some bad moments throughout the day. Perhaps the worst moment that comes to mind was when Thomas cost the team 7 yards on an errant pitch to Mikell Lands-Davis that resulted in a fumble, thankfully recovered by Lands-Davis. The moment was bad not only because Thomas made a bad pitch, but because he did it on a play where it looked like he had plenty of running room ahead of him. It may have been an unconventional display of Thomas "trying to do too much", with how much runs to the perimeter were open throughout the afternoon.
Thomas's passing stats once again look worse than they should, resulting from poor pass protection, a couple of dropped passes, and an unfavorable end-of-game situation. He finished 6-for-15 through the air for 106 yards, a beautiful touchdown pass to Ricky Jeune, and an interception on the final play of the game. He actually entered the final drive 3-for-8 on the day, before going 3-for-7 on the game's final drive.
Thomas has had better games, but did several things well on Saturday. He could still stand to be better, though.
I gotta say, I was exceedingly happy with this group on Saturday. Marcus Marshall continues to show himself to be the very bright future at B-Back. His athleticism and versatility give him the potential to be Georgia Tech's best B-Back since Jonathan Dwyer. Like Thomas, Marshall had multiple long runs on the day. His first carry of the game went for 58 yards and a touchdown, and he added a second 58-yard run at the end of the third quarter. He finished the game with 10 carries and a reception for two touchdowns on 168 total yards -- good for a casual 15+ yards per touch. Perhaps even better than that is that only 3 touches went for less than 4 yards, and only one touch went for less than 3. Marshall was consistently picking up yards in chunks every time he got the ball with his outstanding burst, and I expect that they'll continue to use him as the starter. His pass protection and overall blocking abilities still need quite a bit of work, but it's clear that the future is bright with Marshall in place at B-Back.
Patrick Skov had his snaps significantly limited during the game, finishing with 4 carries for only 8 yards, but adding a crucial touchdown in a goal line situation. Over the last two games, Skov has a combined 6 carries as he fights through a debilitating shoulder injury. The other issue he's having showed itself again on his first carry of the game, a three-yard carry on first-and-goal from the 5 yard line where Skov barreled into the Pittsburgh defense instead of making an easy cut into space where he would've assuredly had a touchdown. He scored two plays and two carries later. You'll probably see Skov used in more of the short-yardage capacity moving forward, with Marshall as the primary starting B-Back and Marcus Allen as the backup in more normal-distance scenarios.
In general, this group got a relatively reduced workload as the offense had repeated success on the perimeter. They performed well across the board, though, and were probably the best individual unit of the day.
This unit also had a much better game from last week, picking up yards in chunks and blocking the perimeter much better. You can see progress in the unit from the likes of Clinton Lynch and Mikell Lands-Davis, both of whom are improving each week. The unit combined for 114 yards on only 12 carries, and added several chunk plays of 10+ yards. Lands-Davis added a reception in the passing game, and now is quietly third on the team in receptions with 5. The group blocked the perimeter much better than in recent weeks.
This unit could have been better, particularly with getting open in the passing game, but they were much better than we've seen in recent weeks.
I felt like this group was a bit of a mixed bag. They combined for 4 catches with 87 yards and a touchdown, which made a big difference in opening up the Jackets' rushing attack. Micheal Summers showed his potential as a quick downfield threat with a 34-yard reception in the first quarter when Georgia Tech was backed up to their own 8-yard line. Ricky Jeune added an excellent 29-yard touchdown reception on the following drive when he used his size to go over a defender and beat one-on-one coverage in a classic "Georgia Tech passing game" moment. These two were also solid when it came to run blocking, helping down the field on several of the long runs throughout the afternoon.
The biggest issue I took was with Jeune, who tarnished his better moments with some poor ones as well. It's becoming clear that he's Justin Thomas's target of choice in the passing game, and yet Jeune seems to frequently find himself breaking off comeback routes at the wrong time. Notice the times that Thomas missed Jeune on comeback routes near the sideline (and it happened multiple times) -- Thomas throws the ball marginally past the first down marker, while Jeune is a full 3-4 yards father down the field. It's hard to know for sure that Jeune is running the wrong route, but my best guess is that he's supposed to be breaking much closer to the sticks than he is.
It's the finer parts of the passing game that are missing now, but it's clearly improved over the last few weeks. It needs to keep improving, because you saw on Saturday how a reasonable passing threat forced the Panthers defense to back off of the line of scrimmage.
This group actually wasn't terrible for much of the game, at least in the rushing game. They did a nice job of creating running room up the middle and sealing off the front 7 on outside runs. They got downfield on some of Georgia Tech's longer plays too, helping out on those. Will Bryan filled in for Errin Joe and did a pretty nice job of it in general -- even if Joe is back for next week's game, Bryan should expect to see plenty more playing time.
Pass protection, on the other hand, continues to be a complete and total mess. Justin Thomas is starting to see his season-long passing stats seriously impacted by the number of times he has to throw the ball away as an alternative to taking a sack. Other teams are able to send a basic 4-man front and get very serious pressure on Thomas, and sending a blitz almost guarantees the play will be blown up at this point. Georgia Tech currently finds itself 24th nationally with only 8 sacks allowed on the season. They're lucky they haven't given up twice that many, and it's a shame that the number is where it is given that the Jackets have only attempted 111 passes in 7 games.
On his radio show last week, Coach Johnson said that he was giving the offensive line "one more game to figure it out" before he started making some personnel changes. I can think of two players in particular who may not have done enough to restore the confidence of the coaching staff this week. We'll see next week whether the personnel looks any different.
This is probably overdue, but I'm adding a "coaching" segment to these grades. It's something that should be addressed on a weekly basis. It'll primarily concern play calling, but might also include clock management or overall game plans.
There was only one series in the game where I seriously wanted to call the playcalling into question. Midway through the third quarter, the Jackets got the ball on their own 8 yard line. The first play was a play action pass where they faked a rocket toss. Thomas was immediately scrambling after completing the fake, and effectively threw it away. They came back and threw another pass, and it went through the hands of Jeune. On third down, they ran a triple option and got 5 yards with Marcus Marshall. It just didn't make sense that the offense went three-and-out on a drive where they poorly attempted passes on first and second down. The rushing game had been working up to that point, and as important as it is to keep the defense honest with passes, it probably shouldn't have been happening on first and second down from inside the team's own 10-yard line.
Coaching-wise, I continue to be very disappointed in the offensive line. They're clearly better than last week, but they're still completely ineffective in pass protection. That absolutely has to improve.
Something folks may not have realized is that Georgia Tech only had the ball 10 times in this game -- the Panthers actually held the ball for over 34 minutes and somewhat employed the Yellow Jackets' strategy of playing "keep away". Those drives ended in 4 touchdowns, 3 punts, a missed field goal just prior to halftime, a Justin Thomas fumble in the first quarter, and an interception on the final play of the game. The explosive plays that have been completely missing for several weeks returned (and not a moment too soon). They didn't score enough points to win this game, but they created enough scoring opportunities and were improved from recent weeks. They could stand to be better, but what you saw on Saturday should've been enough to win.
This group has been a major disappointment for the last few weeks. A unit that was very much seeing some pre-season hype has continually failed to produce any sense of QB pressure without help from the linebackers. That was continually the case on Saturday, as the Yellow Jackets blitzed very little, and Panthers QB Nathan Peterman was hardly pressured. Actually, that's not true -- the stat sheet for the game shows a grand total of zero sacks and zero QB Hurries on the day for Georgia Tech's defense. I don't think that's 100% true, but it sure felt like it.
These guys were manhandled all day by Pitt's offensive front and hardly did much to make their operation more difficult.
It was an OK day for this group, and an especially gutsy performance by P.J. Davis, who returned to lead the team in tackles after leaving the game early on with an injury. Davis, Tyler Marcordes, and Brant Mitchell were three of the top four tacklers on the team, and combined for 21 total tackles with 18 being solo. They did an OK job of supporting against the Panthers' rushing attack, but could've been better and really could've helped more in the passing game.
This group looked bad for the second straight week, and there's no other way of saying it. They've consistently struggled to cover the whole field, plugging one hole only to have another one open up. There was really only one major challenge for them this week -- stop Pitt's All-American WR Tyler Boyd. He finished with 8 catches for 68 yards and 2 touchdowns. It could've been worse, but there was never a point where it seemed like Pitt was struggling to get the ball to him.
In fairness to them, the complete absence of any sort of pressure made their job harder. But this group has to be better than what they've produced over the past few weeks.
I wasn't very happy with the play calling in this game, specifically regarding the lack of pressure that was being achieved by the defensive line alone. At this level of football, the opponent is going to be inherently successful in passing the ball if the quarterback has all the time in the world to throw. The line was unable to get pressure by itself all day long, and at that point I would've preferred to see more help from the linebackers. Both Davis and Marcordes have proven to be valuable pass-rushing assets on the defense, and it's frustrating to see them covering a very average group of Pitt receivers while the QB has a matter of weeks to throw the ball.
There's also the issue that this is the second time this season where the defense has gotten fooled by a trick play where a wide receiver gets the ball and then passes. That absolutely cannot continue happening.
It makes no sense as to how, but this unit seems to have degraded over the last few weeks, as the offense has been improving. The group has been a big disappointment given all of the returning talent it had coming into the year. There are two stats that, to me, illustrate this defense's inability to stop a very average offense:
- Pittsburgh didn't run a single play all day that went for negative yards.
- The Panthers only ran three plays all day in situations where there were more than 10 "yards to go". All three of them were penalty-induced, and one of them was their game-winning field goal.
Maybe one of my favorite advanced statistics when discussing college football is havoc rate, which combines tackles for loss, fumbles forced, and passes defended to illustrate how disruptive a defense is. To calculate it, add up those three categories and divide by the total number of plays run. Care to guess what that number was for this game?
With 0 tackles for loss, 0 forced fumbles, and a single pass defended across 66 offensive snaps by Pittsburgh...that leaves the havoc rate at around 1.5%. The defense did nothing to make things tough for the Panthers, and it's a major reason that the team lost the game.
There have been few things concerning this team more mind-blowing than its ability to repeatedly experience special teams meltdowns of all varieties. It's happened week-in and week-out for over a month now, and it's unacceptable. It's the responsibility of Special Teams Coordinator Ray Rychleski to get fixed, and it's not being fixed. This week it was a blocked field goal, last week it was another bad snap on a punt. This garbage has been going on for weeks, and at this point there's little reason to think Rychelski will manage to fix it.
That makes 5 straight losses for Georgia Tech, and also 5 straight games where the team has experienced a special teams blunder. You may think that's just a coincidence. I don't. This grade is staying where it is until special teams stop costing this team games.
It's incredibly irritating to see the offense play its best game in a month, only to see the defense and special teams cost the team the game. This season has really been no fun whatsoever for me, and I'm guessing that's the case for you as well. The team has suffered an unreal number of injuries, a trend that continued throughout the day on Saturday as Brad Stewart left the game with an injury and several defensive players were banged up throughout the day but were able to return. The team moving forward needs to go 4-1 against Florida State, at Virginia, Virginia Tech, at Miami, and georgia if the 18-year bowl streak is to continue.
Stranger things have happened, but don't hold your breath.