One of my favorite sayings with regards to so many things in life goes, "Don't be sad that it's over. Be happy that it happened."
I think that saying applies here, except in reverse, and that you probably don't have to be coached on either of those feelings.
I'm actually guessing that you currently join me in experiencing both sides of that spectrum here -- being happy that this season is over, and sad that it happened. I don't think anyone has been shy about suggesting that this season has been a complete and total disaster for the Georgia Tech program, from top to bottom. Things under control of the players and coaches, along with things not under their control, have gone about as poorly as possible over the last 11 weeks. It can always be worse, yes, but at the same time, it was pretty hard to imagine this season being this bad just a few short months ago.
The 2015 edition of Clean, Old- Fashioned Hate nearly fit that narrative to a 'T'.
Justin Thomas was injured on Georgia Tech's first offensive possession, and managed to return to finish the remainder of the game. He didn't perform particularly well on Saturday though, and I have to think that his physical condition played a huge part in that. In particular, there were something like a half-dozen throws where Thomas wasn't experiencing pressure, and straight-up missed a target, either by underthrow or overthrow. Now, I know that the narrative about Paul Johnson's quarterbacks through the years has always been that they're not exactly snipers when it comes to passing accuracy -- and I think there's a bit of truth to that. What you saw on Saturday, though -- with a quarterback able to read his targets, set his feet, and throw passes that were flat- out off-target -- is more than some issue with passing accuracy. It really looked like Thomas was hurt, and it was affecting his play. He finished the game with 9 carries for (get this) -3 rushing yards, along with several poor passes (including two interceptions, although the second came on the game's final play).
Thomas has had several issues this season, not the least of which has seemed to be injuries. At this point, I don't even feel comfortable giving a grade based on a performance that seemed to be so hindered by injury and so inspired by competitiveness alone. I just hope that he heals up and is 100% by the start of the 2016 season.
Grade: (None Assigned)
It was an OK day from the B-Backs given their minimal involvement in the offense and lack of room to run, both of which have become something of a theme for this unit. Patrick Skov started and split his time with Marcus Marshall, while Marcus Allen sat out with an injury. Marshall seemed to have the most success of all of the B-Backs, and continues to show a ton of upside moving forward. He had a catch late in the game that set up Georgia Tech's only score of the game, showing versatility that will be nothing if not a weapon for the Jackets moving forward. His burst continues to be highly impressive.
Skov closed out his final game in his only season at Georgia Tech with more struggles when it came to finding room to run. It seems that the ballcarrier vision-related issues that plagued him all year were never solved. The potential was always there for Skov to be a force at B-Back, but unfortunately that never panned out.
This unit has been better, but did about as much as it could have on Saturday.
This unit was responsible for seemingly the entirety of Georgia Tech's production on offense, and was generally very impressive against a very talented georgia defense. Clinton Lynch has really improved over the course of the year and has set himself up nicely to potentially be a starter next season. Lynn Griffin continues to play a very physical brand of A-Back and should be another high- level player next year, once he's fully adjusted to playing offense. Mikell Lands-Davis has also grown up fairly quickly through the season and done a nice job when given opportunities.
Considering everything going on around them, this group was pretty excellent on Saturday. Perimeter blocking still isn't great, but has no doubt improved. Overall, they've improved considerably through the season (perhaps the most improved unit on offense, if not the whole team) and should be set up to be very good next season as they add in several more highly-capable players.
It continues to seem like this group is a massive mixed bag when it comes to production. A perfect example: on third-and-long early in the second half, Ricky Jeune got open and caught a pass that would have given the Jackets a first down in field goal range. It didn't, because he fumbled the ball while being tackled and the bulldogs recovered.
This group is going to be a major issue that Georgia Tech needs to address in the offseason. Ricky Jeune is currently looking like a one-man show, thanks to the recent departure of Micheal Summers, the youth of Brad Stewart, and the utter lack of depth here otherwise. Jeune and the other receivers need considerable development if the 2016 offense is going to look more like the 2014 edition than the 2015 edition.
When it came to run blocking, the line was OK-to-decent, especially against a good georgia front 7. When it came to pass blocking, they made me say words that I wouldn't have been proud to say in front of my mother. You've read this story before, and there's no reason to get any further into it.
There's plenty of hope for the future here, particularly with freshmen Trey Klock and Will Bryan playing relatively well down the stretch. You can't ignore, though, that this unit as a whole has been the source of the offense's problems the entire season.
I didn't have any issues with the playcalling for the most part, and was actually very impressed with Coach Johnson's use of misdirection in the game against an aggressive georgia defense. I felt like the run-pass mix was good enough to keep the defense on its toes, and the offense in general did an OK job of moving the ball for much of the afternoon, even if they failed to finish almost all of their drives.
That, though, was the big problem for the team on Saturday -- their inability to finish drives. The team was one late-game score away from being shut out for the first time since 1997 -- another long-standing streak that's little-known but certainly an issue of pride. They turned the ball over three times in the game, once on the game's final play when a Hail Mary was intercepted, and twice within field goal range -- once deep within the red zone. The offensive line was very much to blame for many of the team's issues once again. Multiple drives ended on turnovers on downs when the offense couldn't pick up short-yardage gains due to defenders going unblocked. Justin Thomas, once again, had several incompletions on passes he threw away purely to avoid sacks.
Probably the biggest issue I have with the entire team this season (at least regarding things that individuals can control) is the offensive line's seeming lack of organization that we saw extensively against Notre Dame, and which we hardly saw get any better. They were the source of the issues for the offense the whole year, and it's not an issue of ability. That the coaches were unable to find a solution that resulted in Justin Thomas having time to throw and defenders consistently being blocked correctly is deeply concerning to me. It was far, far worse than anything I've ever seen under Paul Johnson, and the consistent nature of the problems is a bad sign as well.
And what do you get if you combine those issues with the issues at wide receiver, the attrition at A-Back and B-Back, and the resulting wear and tear on Justin Thomas's body? Simple. It's how the Georgia Tech offense went from dominant to incompetent in only a year's time.
This group's biggest failure in this game was not its inability to generate a pass rush, but rather its inability to complete a pass rush. Several times throughout the game, defensive linemen had georgia QB Greyson Lambert on the run and seemingly dead to rights, but were unable to finish the drill and come away with a sack. (Many times, the result was instead georgia hitting a pass for a first down or a good gain.) Still, it was a reasonably gutsy effort from a depleted unit against a good offensive line. True freshman Kyle Cerge-Henderson once again started at NT, and true freshman Anree Saint-Amour also got involved.
This unit has really underwhelmed from what we thought it could be before the season, and it really makes one wonder whether it's even possible for Georgia Tech to see another defensive line that approaches levels of play that you saw from the 2008 group.
It was an OK performance from the linebackers across the board, although it saw some pretty low points. P.J. Davis got thrown out of the game in the third quarter for throwing a punch, which was disappointing on several levels. Tyler Marcordes had 7 tackles (including 1 TFL), good for third on the team, and Brant Mitchell had 5 tackles (with a TFL of his own). This group had quite a bit of trouble stopping Sony Michel and the georgia running backs, though, as Michel and Keith Marshall finished with a combined 182 yards on 29 carries (an average of over 6.2 yards per carry). They also get lumped in with the defensive line's failure to sack Greyson Lambert, as it seemed like the linebackers were blitzing on pass plays more often than not.
Like the A-Backs, this is a group with a bright future. That said, it, too, has managed to be underwhelming for a lot of this year.
This group was generally pretty good on Saturday. They definitely had their hands full with a pair of receivers with NFL-level talent in Terry Godwin and Malcolm Mitchell. The two combined for 11 receptions for 119 yards, but luckily didn't make any true game-breaking plays and were kept in check to a certain degree. The defensive backfield was also tasked with being the only real line of pass defense as the linebackers focused on rushing the passer, and again, did an admirable job. D.J. White in particular saved a touchdown on a play where he ran down a motioning Malcolm Mitchell through traffic and then made a nice open-field tackle. Jamal Golden and Demond Smith led the team with 8 tackles each, both stepping up for run support and doing a nice job overall. Also of note was Step Durham, who made a couple of tackles on the first drive of the game and should be a major asset at corner moving forward.
They didn't shut down georgia's passing attack, but the secondary did a relatively good job of what they were asked to do on the day.
I really liked the strategy from Coach Roof in this game, committing the front 7 to trying to stop the run and force Lambert to win the game with his arm. It didn't all go quite according to plan, but it seemed to affect the bulldogs' offense quite a bit. In general, it's a strategy that we've asked for consistently, and it had mixed results (as could be expected). I'd be happy to see them continue to employ it.
There were some good and bad points from the defense altogether on Saturday. They gave up just over 400 yards to an offense who hadn't gained that much against any of their last five opponents. They also gave up 6.8 yards per play, the third-highest mark of the season for georgia's offense against Power-5 opponents. All this against a decidedly unimpressive and poorly-coached unit that has largely been a complete and total failure since losing Nick Chubb.
At the end of the day, though, the defense only yielded 13 points, thanks in part to multiple fourth-and-short stops, quarterback pressures, and a missed field goal. They forced two three-and-outs, and forced 5 punts on 10 drives. The "bend-don't-break" strategy at its finest was on display on Saturday.
There wasn't a ton to speak of on Special Teams, honestly. Ryan Rodwell punted well, getting plenty of distance on three and pinning georgia inside of its own 5-yard line on his fourth. There were no kickoff or punt returns that were particularly good or bad, and Harrison Butker's two kickoffs went for a touchback and a nice non-return late. Butker missed his only field goal, although it was from 55 yards and seemed to be a suspect choice to begin with. (He hasn't seemed to add any field goal distance since last year's 53-yarder nearly grazed the back of the cross bar.)
This unit didn't lose the game, but could've done more to help the team win it at the same time.
First of all, on the whole, this was a pretty terrible football game. Call it a defensive battle if you will, but one team managed only 13 points out of 400 yards of offense, and the other team took more than 56 minutes to even get on the board. It wasn't good from much of any angle. Honestly, I'm not even sure how proud georgia fans were of their team on Saturday. It was generally bad football from a pair of bad teams.
Now, that this game wasn't a complete and total boat race can be credited to the defense, which stepped up in big moments and fully embraced the "bend-don't-break" mentality. That the offense was unable to sustain and finish drives was a culmination of all of the issues they've had for the entirety of the season -- crucial mistakes, turnovers, injury, and missed opportunities.
What a crappy, frustrating way to end a crappy, frustrating season.
In the coming weeks, the coaching staff will go through performance reviews with Coach Johnson. Little do they know it, but they'll be going through performance reviews here as well. If you can stomach it, stick around, and we'll discuss which coaches should stay and which should be "reevaluated" before spring practice.