Man, that was bad.
I think the worst part of this loss, especially for the fans, was spending all week hearing talking heads go on and on about how Georgia Tech was favored (and rightfully so), and a lot of folks expected this team to pull off a huge win.
And then, after all of that...well, Saturday happened.
The team laid an egg on national television with a performance that was really hard to stomach.
Not only did they not win by 2 touchdowns, not only did they not win to begin with, but they didn't look good for most of the game. You just knew that the team was capable of more than it was delivering. That's not a great feeling.
That said, there were a few bright spots that we'll hit on here, particularly the defense. Otherwise, the grades are pretty brutal. This isn't fun, but it's all part of the job. Let's get into it.
You'd be pretty hard-pressed to find a worse game that Justin Thomas has played at Georgia Tech. Something was just...off about him. Decisions seemed less crisp, pitches were off-target, and he didn't complete a pass in the first half. He was very visibly frustrated at a couple of points in the game, which is troublesome given how calm, cool, and collected he usually is. He spent 4 timeouts throughout the game to save the offense from a delay of game penalty as he spent a long time directing traffic before the snap.
He got a little better in the second half, but a lot of times he wasn't getting help in the form of pass protection or receivers getting open. In general, it was an iffy-to-bad afternoon from Thomas. Hopefully there aren't any repeats of it.
This was perhaps the only spot on offense that had some level of consistency. Patrick Skov got almost all of the work here, and did a fairly nice job for the most part. (Marcus Marshall played very limitedly and finished with a single carry for no gain.) There were a few mental errors where he went the wrong way, and he did fumble once (and then recovered it), but handing the ball to Skov was one of Georgia Tech's most consistently productive options (even if it wasn't that productive). Skov finished with 66 yards on 18 carries (3.67 YPC) to be the second-leading rusher on the offense. He also caught a pair of touchdown passes for 39 yards, finishing as the Yellow Jackets' leading receiver.
Skov wasn't perfect by any means on Saturday, but he was probably the best thing going on the offense.
This group had some good moments, but was pretty problematic when not carrying the ball. Perimeter blocking was really lacking, and a major root cause of the offense's struggles. Broderick Snoddy had a couple of nice runs and is a real weapon with the ball in his hands, and there were a few other times where the group gained yards in chunks. Qua Searcy had a few good plays as well, finishing with 6 carries and a reception. He should be a star before his career is over. Clinton Lynch did a really nice job when he was able to get involved, and saved a touchdown when Notre Dame recovered a fumble in the third quarter.
Again, there were some good moments for this group, but on the whole it was sub-par. Youth is showing, as some inexperienced blockers really struggled to get an athletic Notre Dame defense off of its feet. It should also be noted that this group got beat up during the game, with Searcy and Snoddy both leaving the game late with injuries.
This group shared blocking issues with the A-Backs, but was lacking for major plays to make up for it. The group finished with two receptions for 21 yards, and really struggled to get open a lot of the afternoon.
The concern for me is that, the way Notre Dame's defense was lining up and playing, it set up extremely well for a WR reverse to catch them over-pursuing. Problem is, that works best with a particularly quick receiver who can beat people to the edge, and Georgia Tech doesn't have that. That was part of what made DeAndre Smelter so good, was that he was just as fast as he was physical and reliable. Micheal Summers is probably the fastest wide receiver on the roster, but doesn't have the level of speed that would be required to be a real threat on a reverse. True freshman Christian Philpott probably does have that speed, but he's yet to play this year and may just stay with the redshirt. Until then, it's one weapon that's going to stay in Paul Johnson's arsenal.
This group had all sorts of issues all day long.They struggled to seal off rushing lanes, they struggled to block linebackers, and they pretty much failed to protect Justin Thomas in the passing game. Paul Johnson was visibly unhappy with Errin Joe on multiple occasions, and eventually pulled him and Freddie Burden in favor of true freshman Will Bryan and true sophomore Andrew Marshall. It felt like Burden had a lot of issues communicating with Justin Thomas, and it looked a lot like the timing on snaps was off.
This unit was a major disappointment to me in this game. Yes, Notre Dame has a big, bad front 7, and you knew it was going to be a challenge to block them. You know who else had a big, bad front 7? georgia. You know who else? Mississippi State. Instead of whipping Notre Dame like they did some of those other defenses, the offensive line struggled to even be competitive.
This was one of the worst offensive performances in recent memory under Paul Johnson. The unit never got into rhythm, couldn't sustain drives (started 0-for-9 on third downs), and generally couldn't move the ball for the first 55 minutes of the game. A lot of this was probably influenced by the youth at skill positions, when it came to blocking and otherwise. Thomas wasn't good, blocking wasn't good, general ability to stay on feet wasn't good...
Ryan Rodwell was forced to punt 7 times, the most punts by a Georgia Tech team since Labor Day 2012 in Blacksburg.
They came into the day as one of four teams nationally that hadn't had a drive go three-and-out this season. The first two drives saw three-and-outs, and they had four on the day.
They didn't convert a third down until the fourth quarter.
Let's hope that we look back on this performance at the end of the year as an outlier.
You know, through all of the bad in this game, this unit actually impressed me quite a bit. They were consistently making plays and getting pressure on Kizer, even if they only finished with one sack. Adam Gotsis played an excellent game, KeShun Freeman consistently remained disciplined and supported the run well, and Jabari Hunt did a nice job up front as well. They took on a strong Notre Dame offensive line, and they performed pretty admirably. This group actually was encouraging for me moving forward.
There was some good and some bad with this unit, but overall it was fairly successful and non-problematic. P.J. Davis led the team in tackles again with 8 (6 solo) and Tyler Marcordes had 7 of his own to go with a forced fumble. The pair of starters basically played the whole game, with minimal involvement from any backups. Overall, they did a nice job of keeping Procise in check (for the most part) and getting pressure on Kizer, even if they were typically unable to even get a hit on him.
They were good, but not great.
I took issue with this group, but the thing was, my issue wasn't with the players themselves. I took issue with the scheme being used. The secondary kept true to its scheme of positioning corners, where D.J. White plays one side and Chris Milton plays the other, regardless of who's on that side. Well, it turned out that Milton was consistently covering Fuller throughout the game, and it really wasn't working. Milton made some good plays and good tackles throughout the game, but when it came to defending Fuller, it wasn't good. Obviously the coaches know their players better than I do, but my defensive scheme would have involved some variation of telling D.J. White, "Follow the dude wearing #7 around the whole game." Instead, Milton was left on him and continued to struggle all afternoon in that particular respect.
On the whole, the secondary was just okay. They clearly were playing a conservative game plan, which makes sense considering Notre Dame's athleticism and Georgia Tech's linebackers trying to create pressure. There was quite a bit of good open-field tackling in the group, and D.J. White in particular played a really nice game including 4 tackles and an interception. Milton was the team's second-leading tackler with 7, and led the team with all 7 being solo tackles.
Overall, I thought the group was fine. There were the few long plays to Fuller (which were admittedly costly), but otherwise the unit was solid and prevented Notre Dame from doing too much damage in the passing game.
It feels strange to give a defense that gave up 30 points and a 91-yard touchdown run a decent mark, but they were legitimately solid for much of the game. They created two turnovers in the first half and forced 5 punts on the day, including 3 of Notre Dame's first 4 drives. Even though the Time of Possession numbers won't show it, it felt like the defense was constantly on the field as the offense failed to sustain drives through the first three quarters. Things started to go south in the fourth quarter as they became fatigued, which was partially a cause of Procise's long touchdown run.
For once, it felt like the defense was carrying the team in a game. Yes, they still gave up 30 points and struggled to get pressure, but they held Notre Dame scoreless on 6 of their first 9 drives before giving up 14 points on the final 3 drives.
The grade for this unit is being buoyed majorly by Jamal Golden's contributions in the return game. He was good once again, but the rest of the unit was a complete fiasco.
Harrison Butker missing both field goal attempts was a huge difference in a game that finished at an 8-point margin, and also killed any of Coach Johnson's confidence in him down the stretch (ending in a turnover on downs on 4th and 16 from field-goal range). Ryan Rodwell had several bad punts that didn't really do a ton to "flip the field", although he did have a couple that were really nice. There were some tackling issues in coverage too, and Step Durham made a tackle at one point that may have saved a touchdown after a returner had broken several tackles.
A lack of faith in the field goal kicker would be a major blow for a team trying to be nationally relevant. With the difficulty of the schedule ahead, Georgia Tech is going to be in some close games where having an effective field goal kicker will be paramount to winning. Rodwell needs to maximize his opportunities to help with field position as well.
Again, this rating is being buoyed by Golden's returns. Butker and Rodwell alone probably get a D.
One of Paul Johnson's favorite sayings comes to mind here: "Things are never as good or as bad as they seem."
Here's the thing. Yes, Saturday's loss was bad. It was embarrassing and uninspiring, and it happened on national television. There were a lot more sore spots than highlights in the grand scheme of things, and it was tough to watch for much of the game.
But what you saw on Saturday won't be the norm for this team. It simply had a bad game at an inopportune time, and at a time when most had picked them to win (even in a tough situation on the road). The good news is that the final score is a respectable one, and that the team they lost to is a non-conference opponent who's ranked as a top-10 team.
ACC play begins next week with a trip to Durham, where the Jackets will play what looks to be a very winnable game against a downgraded Duke team. It's imperative that the Jackets immediately put this game behind them and focus on what's ahead of them. All of the team's goals are still very much within reach, and it all starts next week.
It's time to see what this team is made of.