Ed. Note: Sorry this is late. I ended up having to do some work on Sunday for my real job when I normally would've been putting this together. I'll try to be better next week.
It was a crazy Saturday in college football, to say the least.
#18 Arkansas scored 10 points and lost to Toledo at home. #11 Florida State was tied 7-7 with South Florida at halftime. #9 Notre Dame needed a miracle come-from-behind finish to defeat Virginia. #6 Auburn needed overtime to defeat FCS Jacksonville State. Two-touchdown favorite Louisville fell at home to Houston and first-year head coach Tom Herman.
And yet, with all of the insanity happening around the country, Georgia Tech quietly walked out and took care of business. They again scored over 60 points. They again ran for over 400 yards. They again completed 80% of their passes. They again stifled an opposing offense that threatened to come alive at times.
Yes, it was another inferior opponent that everyone expected the Yellow Jackets to come away victorious over. But that's what they did -- they took care of business, instead of displaying cracks in the armor or giving fans anything to worry about.
It would be pretty hard to ask for anything more than that.
Once again, you saw why having Justin Thomas running the show makes such a huge difference in the effectiveness of the offense and system. He was generally pretty excellent in all phases, distributing the ball well and putting some pretty nasty moves on display when he took it himself. He was 7 of 9 passing for 97 yards and 2 touchdowns, but perhaps the part I liked to see most was the number of receivers that he targeted. With those 7 completions, he hit 5 different receivers. Three completions went to Micheal Summers, but he also completed passes to Qua Searcy, Marcus Marshall, Ricky Jeune, and Brad Stewart. Continuing to spread the ball around will only make Georgia Tech's passing game tougher to defend.
I want to say too that I was pleasantly surprised by how well Matthew Jordan played in mop-up duty. He only played two drives, but he led the offense to touchdowns on each, including a nice touchdown pass to TaQuon Marshall and a beautiful 65-yard run. (To be fair, that run came against only 9 Tulane defenders. Credit to Ken Sugiura for noticing that one.) Moving forward, Jordan looks to be a good option for the backup QB spot, but we'll know more about Tim Byerly's status in "a few weeks".
This week, we saw a little more of Patrick Skov here, and he continues to impress in his new role. He carried 11 times for 50 yards and a touchdown, and was consistently picking up yards in chunks. His yards per carry average started to tail off a bit before halftime, but a lot of that is due to some offensive line struggles that Coach Johnson referenced before halftime. In general though, Skov looks to be a confident and physical B-Back who will be used to punish defensive fronts.
We also saw some more of Marcus Marshall, who continues to impress and excite me with his potential. He only got 6 carries on the day, but was able to make 37 yards out of them. He also caught a "pass" (it was a speed option where the pitch went forward) that he took down the sideline for 16 yards. So, in 7 touches, Marshall accrued 53 yards and averaged over 7 yards per touch. That's consistent with what I expect from him moving forward, not so much statistically as in the sense that he's an explosive player. Marshall is probably the fastest B-Back Georgia Tech has had since Anthony Allen, and possibly Jonathan Dwyer. That athleticism opens up some different parts of the offensive playbook, which you saw when Marshall caught that "pass" on a B-Back speed option. That's a play that wasn't used when David Sims was the primary B-Back for a few years.
I like where this group is moving forward.
This was another huge question spot coming into the year, and I continue to be impressed with how they're performing and improving. Obviously it's nice how well they're running and catching the ball, but I think perhaps the most impressive part to me is how well they're blocking on the perimeter. That's traditionally been the toughest part for young A-Backs to pick up, and yet guys without much previous game experience like Clinton Lynch and Isaiah Willis are looking like very strong blockers, where TaQuon Marshall and Qua Searcy are also effective in plenty of spots. (Marshall had an interesting play on Saturday where he missed a block in pass protection, Thomas dodged the rusher and broke outside, and Marshall successfully blocked a second rusher to spring Thomas for a run. All's well that ends well, I suppose.)
I mentioned it under the quarterbacks section, but I want to note here too how much this group is getting involved in the passing game. Last year's leading receivers among A-Backs were Deon Hill and Tony Zenon. That duo combined for 18 receptions all year, and only 4 of them came in the second half of the season. TaQuon Marshall and Searcy have already combined for 4 receptions this season, and continuing to be effective in the passing game moving forward will add a small (but potentially game-changing) element to the offense.
This group's contributions weren't abundant in terms of touches (5 receptions combined), but they very much did their job. Micheal Summers did a nice job on his three receptions and seems to be developing a nice connection with Justin Thomas. (It was the last snap of the game for Thomas where he hit Summers for a 30-yard touchdown pass.) Brad Stewart had his first career reception by hauling in a pass that was somewhat off target. Ricky Jeune caught a pass and used a nice Demaryius Thomas-like stiff-arm to keep the offense moving early on. Jeune also did a nice job of blocking down the field on several long runs.
This group may not be one of the best in the country when it comes down to it, but they don't have to be. Then again, their role is extremely important to the success of the offense. If opposing defenses believe that the wide receivers are a real threat, it opens up the running game that much more.
This group struggled at times in the first half, allowing a sack of Justin Thomas in the red zone on the team's first drive and occasionally struggling to open up running room on runs between the tackles. It was an unusual sight for a group that has typically been very stout, going back to early last season. The errors were fixed at halftime though, as the unit was strong throughout the second half as they demoralized a Green Wave front by the end of the game. Other than the starters, true freshman OT Will Bryan, redshirt freshman OG Trey Klock, and true sophomore C Andrew Marshall got a lot of playing time in this game and performed well. The unit's depth was shown down the stretch as the game started to get out of hand, and the backups played well in their opportunities.
If this group remains a strength going forward, the offense will continue to be successful.
On 13 drives, Georgia Tech scored 9 touchdowns, punted once, and turned it over once. (The other two drives were the end of the first half and end of the game.) They finished with 571 total yards, they ripped off big plays, and only made one real mistake in the game. Again, it was inferior competition, but Georgia Tech's offense did exactly what it was supposed to do and more in this game. No complaints.
I thought this unit was a bit of a mixed bag this week. They definitely made some plays and took advantage of pass-rushing opportunities when they presented themselves. The duo of KeShun Freeman and Antonio Simmons at the two DE spots in pass-rushing situations is an excellent one and should continue to provide real value -- Freeman scored his first sack of the year in this game. Adam Gotsis finished with 6 tackles, including 2 tackles for loss and 1 sack. The athleticism that he brings to the position cannot be understated. Jabari Hunt also continues to play very well at the position, even if the stats don't make it look that way. (His job is effectively to take up multiple blockers, freeing up linebackers to make more tackles.)
Overall, there's probably some discomfort in fans with the lack of push this group gets at times in both the running and passing phases of the game. I'm interested to see how it performs against higher-level competition. We'll get our first look at it next weekend.
One of the guys who stood out to me the most on defense was backup LB Domonique Noble. He was showing off his high level of mobility (he's a former safety, after all) and covering a lot of ground horizontally to make plays consistently in the second half. P.J. Davis and Victor Alexander were the other two who played very well, as the trio led the team in solo tackles. (It should be noted that this is how it should be when the defensive line takes up blockers and frees up the linebackers. We'll see if the trend continues.) Tyler Marcordes also had a few strong moments, both in pass coverage and in rushing the passer -- he came away with Georgia Tech's other sack of the day.
This group generally played well, but they have a major test on their hands next week with Notre Dame's capabilities in the running game.
This group had a pretty nice game as well. Tanner Lee struggled all day to complete passes, finishing 14 of 30 for only 165 yards and 1 touchdown. (Under 6 yards per attempt is a strong showing by the Yellow Jackets' defense.) His one touchdown came on a long strike where D.J. White was solidly in coverage but misplayed the pass at the end, leaving the receiver open for a 44-yard touchdown. (White redeemed himself later with an interception in the third quarter.) Chris Milton also managed to block a punt, and A.J. Gray continues to look like a guy who really belongs in the two-deep, which is impressive considering he's a true freshman.
Tulane's top receiver finished with 4 receptions for 87 yards, but nobody else managed more than 3 receptions or 30 yards. It was generally a pretty solid day across the board for the secondary, which will need to show up in South Bend to contain Will Fuller and his band of merry men.
Georgia Tech's defense gave up only 248 yards and 10 points, held Tulane to 6-for-15 on third downs and 0-for-2 on fourth, created two turnovers, sacked the QB 3 times, and generally gave me nothing to complain about. The defensive line probably has some room for improvement at this point, but it's hard to say it's something I worry about moving forward. Great showing by this unit to never let Tulane's offense get into rhythm.
After a bit of a rough opener, this group played very well in Week 2. Jamal Golden had his longest punt return since 2012 with a 44-yarder, and Chris Milton also returned one for 17 yards. As was previously mentioned, Milton also blocked a punt by taking advantage of opportunity when Tulane's punter mishandled a snap. Harrison Butker wasn't called on for any field goals but was perfect on extra points and created 5 touchbacks on 10 kickoffs. Finally, Ryan Rodwell's only punt was downed at the 15-yard line on a fair catch.
If this is what Georgia Tech is getting from its special teams each week, it's going result in the team winning one or two games that it otherwise wouldn't have.
This game probably couldn't have gone a whole lot better. Georgia Tech took on a Group of 5 team that admittedly has some talented players, and absolutely wiped the table with them. Every position group looked good, and the team appears to be confident heading to South Bend.
Georgia Tech is about to embark on the toughest stretch of its schedule, which is unusual in the sense that it begins next weekend and runs through Thanksgiving. (One might even say they're running the "ACC Gauntlet". #goacc) That's right, the next 10 games feature no breaks in terms of opponent quality. The warm-up is over. Now, it's time to really find out what this team is made of.