What a season this has been.
The fun time that was last week's huge win over Florida State didn't last very long. This week was something of a "back to reality" moment for Georgia Tech fans everywhere.
Injuries continue to pile up. The offensive line continues to struggle. The defense continues to disappoint.
I don't know about you, but I'm ready to get off of this merry-go-round.
Even during a season of bad performances for Justin Thomas, this seemed to be one of his worse ones. His numbers weren't good (13-for-30, 251 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT, 10 carries for 26 yards), but even worse was his play in the option game. On several occasions, it appeared that he blew reads where he should have been giving to the B-Back for a 4-6 yard gain, and instead had to eat the ball for a 2-yard loss. He also had several pitches that were errant and risky, and nearly cost the team a turnover on one particular pitch to Mikell Lands-Davis. All that, not to mention that he lost a fumble of his own early in the third quarter as the Jackets' offense couldn't get in gear.
Thomas did a nice job of passing late in the game to keep the Jackets' hopes alive, executing the 2-minute drill for a score to pull within 6. Unfortunately, he wasn't good for a majority of the game. It's becoming a theme of the season, and a very troubling one at that.
This group combined for 9 carries and 30 yards. They were hardly involved in the game from a ball-carrying standpoint, and were a liability in pass blocking. Marcus Marshall This offense can't run when Marshall and Patrick Skov are unable to contribute.
It was an OK day for players in this group not named Clinton Lynch, and a career day for Lynch himself. They combined for 13 carries and 100 yards, and added 4 catches for 90 yards. The tandem of Lands-Davis and Isaiah Willis were OK -- they've been better but weren't a major problem.
Lynch, on the other hand, was phenomenal. He had a pair of touchdowns on long receptions, including a 30-yarder on fourth down early in the game and a 22-yarder to pull Georgia Tech within six. He also opened the scoring in the game with a 49-yard run off of a pitch that saw him shoot through a lane and run away from the Cavaliers' defense.
It was an OK day for most of the A-Backs. It was an incredible one for Lynch.
Grade: A+ (Lynch), C+ (everyone else)
This group looks massively improved over the last few weeks. Summers and Jeune are really coming on as a good tandem in the passing game, combining on Saturday for 9 catches and 161 yards. Jeune in particular has done an excellent job of using his size and being physical with the corners attempting to cover him. At this point, struggles in the passing game don't fall on this group. The blocking from this unit was pretty average, with no notably good or bad moments.
This game was like a worst-case scenario for this group. They were playing with Errin Joe at right guard in place of an injured Shamire Devine. Left tackle Bryan Chamberlain went out in the third quarter and was replaced by redshirt freshman Trey Klock. Freddie Burden was apparently sick as a dog on Friday and managed to play, only to injure his ankle at one point and then continue to tough it out and play. Pass protection continues to be a fiasco. Run blocking was about as bad as I've seen it under Paul Johnson.
This group is a complete and total mess, and I can't think of a road game this season where that hasn't been the case. For whatever reason they've played decently at home, but go on the road and look like they learned the offense on the way to the game. The coaching has been awful and should unquestionably be criticized at this point.
There was only really one instance of highly questionable play calling, when Georgia Tech had 3rd & 4 comfortably in Virginia territory with over a minute left. Instead of running the ball for a first down, the Jackets threw two passes that fell incomplete in order to turn the ball over on downs. Beyond that, the playcalling was OK. It was certainly hampered by the team's general inability to move the ball.
The most alarming thing to me about the offense's poor performance was its inability to sustain drives. Only 2 of 12 drives went for more than seven plays, and the longest drive time-wise was 3:32. (For reference, Virginia had FIVE drives longer than that.) They finished with 23:17 in time of possession, which may well be the low-water mark of this team in several years. Their drives went as follows: 3 touchdowns, 2 fumbles, 3 turnovers on downs, 4 punts. They managed nearly 400 yards of total offense, but more than half of that came on the three scoring drives, and only 144 came via the rushing game.
I hope this is as bad as we'll ever get from this unit under Paul Johnson, because I can't imagine how much worse it could look.
Jabari Hunt was suspended for a violation of team rules, and Adam Gotsis went out with an injury on the first snap of the game. What followed was pretty predictable. Pat Gamble turned in a strong performance with a team-co-leading 9 tackles, including 4 solo and an assisted TFL.
Beyond Gamble, his teammates were getting out of pass rushing lanes, couldn't get to Virginia QB Matt Johns, and then made him look like Aaron Rodgers on a few scrambles. Rod Rook-Chungong managed an interception in the second quarter, but that was basically all there was to speak of positively outside of Gamble's contributions.
There are three defensive tackles on this roster that I trust right now, and two of them missed the game. That's all you need to know.
On an afternoon where the Cavaliers ran the ball 42 times, P.J. Davis, Brant Mitchell, and Tyler Marcordes combined for 25 tackles but only 3 tackles for loss. It felt like they missed several tackles throughout the afternoon, and they were a bit of a mess in pass defense. There were times where they looked slow and lethargic.
Through it all, this group actually had a decent game. Jamal Golden joined Gamble, Mitchell, and Davis with 9 tackles, and he tied with Demond Smith to lead the team with 5 solo tackles. Golden frequently stepped up to support the run and also broke up a pair of passes on excellent plays. Chris Milton also had a pair of crucial pass break-ups in the end zone to force a Virginia field goal. It should also be noted that a hustle play by D.J. White prevented a touchdown on a long run by Virginia, and wound up causing a field goal attempt early in the game.
Matt Johns finished 17 of 28, but for only 175 yards. (6.25 yards per attempt isn't a particularly strong mark.) Between their performance in defending the pass and their support of the front 7 in the run game, I was really pretty pleased with how this group played.
The most concerning aspect of coaching in this game, to me, was the lack of pressure created on Matt Johns. It felt like there were very few moments where Ted Roof dialed up a blitz to help support a depleted and ineffective defensive line. There are an awful lot of fans getting very frustrated and running out of patience with the lack of pressure being created on quarterbacks. This was expected to be one of the best defensive units we've seen under Coach Johnson, and it's hardly been that, largely thanks to a lack of pressure being created on QBs. That Roof is electing not to send much help in the form of linebackers and defensive backs is making for some excruciatingly bad pass rushing.
Simply put, this unit couldn't get off the field to save their lives. Virginia had the ball for over 36 minutes in the game, including 19 minutes in the first half. Virginia converted 7 of 14 third downs (50%, versus their 41.75% season mark against FBS competition) and had its second-largest offensive output of the season with 408 total yards. Their 233 rushing yards were a season high. (Aside from their 205 rushing yards last week against UNC, their next-best performance was for 159 yards against Syracuse.)
If there's a bright side here, it's that Georgia Tech's defense had a pair of goal line stands where the Cavaliers were forced to kick field goals from inside the Yellow Jackets' 6-yard line. Also, the Cavaliers managed 10 points off of turnovers where the defense was stuck with a short field to begin with.
Aside from last week's performance against Florida State, this unit has been largely disappointing this year and continues to be.
Unless I'm forgetting something, this makes two straight weeks where the special teams was actually pretty solid for Georgia Tech. Once more, the Jackets recovered an onside kick towards the end of the game to give themselves a chance to win. (It amazes me how good Butker's onside kicks are -- they look an awful lot better than most NFL-level onside kicks I've seen this year.) Two other kickoffs went for touchbacks. Ryan Rodwell had four punts that looked pretty good.
In two weeks, this has gone from a major Achilles' heel for this team to...a strength?
Grade: A (...?)
The upcoming bye week is very, very badly needed, and probably coming a week too late. The team is so banged up, it's a wonder they've been able to do what they have thus far. Yesterday, they started four true freshmen (Marshall, Lands-Davis, Bryan, and Mitchell) and played eight more freshmen (true and redshirt) throughout the game. The loss of Adam Gotsis early on once again did the defense in, as they're short on answers at that position without him. The offensive line continues to have major, major issues. The B-Backs were MIA and very problematic in pass protection.
In two consecutive games, we've experienced some major peaks and valleys as fans, as has the team. Their fifth conference loss makes it official that the team's long streak of .500-or-better finishes in conference play is coming to an end this year. They now have three games left and need to run the table to preserve bowl eligibility. That looks treacherous now, with a Virginia Tech team playing for its soon-to-retire coach, a Miami team that looked rejuvenated under an interim head coach, and a georgia team that always gives Georgia Tech issues, even in its worst years. Is it possible that they win all of those games and make a bowl game? Sure -- none of those teams is particularly dangerous given what we've seen from them so far.
That said...I wouldn't hold my breath.
What a season this has been.