Ed. Note: I'll be releasing this on Monday mornings following each game this season, with the exception of Thursday games when they'll be released on Saturday mornings.
Amazing the difference a year can make.
As Tyler noted in the postgame wrap-up, a year ago at this time, we were collectively having an identity crisis after watching Georgia Tech kick a field goal as time expired to take a 10-9 lead at halftime against...Wofford. If some fans had their way at that point, Paul Johnson wouldn't have even made it back out to the field after halftime -- he'd have been given a one-way ticket to the unemployment line.
Luckily he wasn't, and the rest of 2014 turned out okay.
This year, there are no such demands being made, and the waters are thankfully more clear so far.
It was generally a good performance for both Thomas and Byerly, with the exception of two small moments. Thomas made good decisions and didn't get a whole lot of chances to keep the ball (he was consistently forced to pitch), but he made a good read of the defense to scramble on his rushing touchdown and then threw an absolute gem of a pass to Micheal Summers for another score. Byerly performed very well for a couple of quarters of action -- he's a real blessing to this team as the backup quarterback.
Thomas and Coach Johnson talked about one of the moments for improvement in the post game press conference, when Thomas took a long sack after trying to do too much to extend a play. As a second-year starter and a junior, the hope would be that Thomas won't be doing much more of that this season. The other moment was earlier in the game, when Thomas threw a long pass targeting Brad Stewart. It wasn't a good pass and looked a little forced, and Thomas was lucky that the Braves didn't make him pay for it. I was generally pretty impressed with Thomas in the passing game though, I thought he changed up his receivers well and went through his progressions well. He didn't deal with much pressure (thanks to some great blocking), but it's still a good sign moving forward.
Altogether though, it's hard to complain given the offensive output. A strong performance all around.
Anyone who was holding their breath coming into the season over how the B-Back position was going to shake out can now exhale. The one-two punch of Patrick Skov and Marcus Marshall was solid, and generally very promising. Skov is every bit as physical and strong as advertised, and how about the breakaway speed of Marshall? This tandem looks extremely dangerous moving forward. The biggest point of emphasis moving forward will be Marshall improving his ball security, but so far, so good for the true freshman. Marcus Allen also contributed at times and brings some similar athleticism to the position -- hopefully his injury isn't serious enough to keep him out of action for very long.
I want to add here that, after one game against inferior competition, I wouldn't be surprised or disappointed if Marshall were to end up starting at some point over this season Skov. Again, it's early, and we'll have to continue to monitor the situation through the games, but his physicality and burst are almost prototypical for the position.
I was relieved by a lot of what I saw here, too. There were some good blocks made by Clinton Lynch and Isaiah Willis in particular, but the group as a whole was pretty effective in both phases of the game. Broderick Snoddy looks to be back and fully healthy, which is a huge deal for the team moving forward. He had a couple of nice plays, including a long run in the first quarter. I was really impressed by what I saw from TaQuon Marshall and Qua Searcy as well, each of whom had some longer plays on offense (Searcy with an early run and Marshall with a reception a bit later).
To me, the big question is whether the solid blocking we saw against Alcorn State will translate to games against more talented players, like the ones who play for Notre Dame and Florida State. Hopefully this group continues to develop (they weren't perfect), but they're on the right track thus far.
This group saw some pretty limited action in the passing game (the QBs were a combined 4-5 passing, and two of the completions were to A-Backs), but were solid when called upon and blocked fairly well otherwise. Isaiah Willis scored in the first quarter on a rocket toss that was a little tougher than it should have been, primarily because Ricky Jeune struggled a bit to get a block off. There were a few moments like that throughout, but for each of them, there were also moments where guys stood out by delivering a strong block.
Like the A-Backs, this group wasn't perfect and will need to develop some more throughout the season, but they're just fine for now and contributed when asked to.
These guys had a strong game, in particular the first string. Shamire Devine was impressive with his ability to play for long stretches of time, where stamina has been a major issue for him to date in his career. Marcus Marshall's long touchdown runs were both heavily aided by the line opening up a clear alley for him to run through, and Justin Thomas was kept safe in the pocket for the most part (with the exception of a cheap shot that drew a flag early). The second string was pretty good too, although they were a bit more of an even match for Alcorn State's starters at times.
Lots of good moments from these guys and very few complaints.
They set a school record for points scored in a quarter (34 in the first) and could have scored 100 before the Budweiser song if the coaches had really wanted to. After they struggled massively in the first half of last year's Wofford game, this was very refreshing.
Alright, so here's the thing. A lot of the reviews I've seen thus far (around this site and otherwise) have expressed disappointment with the defensive line. They were expecting catastrophic pass rushing and a complete neutralization of Alcorn State's rushing attack. Instead, they got a decent performance that lacked in producing pressure on passing plays and enabled the Braves to still get 4.3 yards per carry over the course of the game.
That said, I didn't think it was actually that poor of a performance. I think the defense (and the line in particular) was more reserved in its attempts to rush Gibbs because of his mobility, and their desire to make him beat them with his arm. (He finished 8 for 22 for 50 yards and a pick.) Plus, an all-out pass rush with only four players can very easily end with players getting out of their lanes and the quarterback having room to scramble and pick up yards on the ground. Speaking of which, I thought the line was pretty good in the running game, even if the Braves did finish with over 4 YPC. It turns out that they went in to halftime with only 4 first downs, and they got their very first when they were down 41-0. Backups and walk-one may have played a little more of this game than we realize, but know this: Alcorn's first five drives finished like this -- interception, punt, punt, punt, punt -- and they combined to produce 5 net yards. The defensive line will be just fine.
This group didn't exactly stand out on defense as much, but they had some good moments nonetheless. Paul Davis jumped a snap count and got a shot in on Gibbs early, and both Victor Alexander and Brant Mitchell made some good plays too. the group seemed to struggle a bit to contain the Alcorn State running backs, but it shouldn't really be a big problem in other games. This should be a pretty strong unit, though it should see a lot of rotation of personnel.
I thought the secondary had a pretty strong night, Chris Milton and Jamal Golden in particular. Milton had the early interception and did a nice job defending several passes (it was like they told Gibbs, "Find #28, and throw it anywhere else") and Golden was repeatedly stepping up and supporting the run. (Golden only finished with 2 tackles, but it certainly felt like he got involved more than that.) True freshman AJ Gray was pretty phenomenal as well and seemed to be all over the field. Lynn and Corey Griffin co-led the team with 6 tackles apiece, and Lynn added a TFL to boot.
Lots of good stuff here, hope to see this group continue to show off its depth and develop on an individual and group level.
I'm going to ignore the second half, when the defense seemed to lighten up quite a bit and spent a lot of time playing guys who won't see much of the field the rest of this season. In the first half, though, the defense was everything you could have asked for. Alcorn State was only allowed 71 yards and 4 first downs on 8 possessions before halftime, and they didn't convert a single third down in that period either. When the starters were in the game, you got exactly what you hoped for. No need for concern here.
This was clearly the biggest problem area all night for Georgia Tech. It started poorly when the second extra point was snapped over the head of holder Ryan Rodwell. From there, there were multiple muffed punts and one or two punt returns that should have been fair caught. The good news is that seasoned vet Jamal Golden wasn't making these mistakes -- it was a pair of guys who were playing in their first college game as true freshmen. Get some of the mistakes ironed out, and hopefully this group will be in business. But, only time will tell.
Again, massive improvement over what happened this time last year, in a similar situation. There was some true freshman talent that was on display throughout the game that was really encouraging to see. The offense seemed to mesh well (pun intended) given the losses it sustained in the offseason and relative youth of the skill position players. The defense did its job and was effective for the most part, especially against an offense that's typically pretty potent.
Lots to like, but we'll learn a whole lot more about this team in the next 3 weeks.