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A win’s a win, but Georgia Tech needs more consistency

It wasn’t particularly pretty for the Yellow Jackets on Saturday afternoon.

NCAA Football: Virginia at Georgia Tech Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia Tech won a conference game on Saturday over a divisional opponent, and sent the seniors off with a win on Senior Day. I think we can all agree that those two things are good!

Look any further into how the game played out, and that’s where frustration starts to set in.

The Yellow Jackets were coming off of a huge road win over the ranked, likely Coastal Champions-to-be Virginia Tech Hokies, and were hosting a Virginia team that came in at 2-8, and whose only conference win this year has been against Duke. For a Georgia Tech team that’s been playing better over the second half of the season, was getting back its senior starting quarterback and center, and was looking to prove that they’re better than their 6-4 record indicated, this was a pretty disappointing performance.

Let’s start with the offense.

Thankfully, there were big plays.

On Saturday, Georgia Tech had 7.8 yards per play across the whole game, which is really indicative of a good, explosive performance. Except, it wasn’t.

Sure, there were explosive plays. Marcus Marshall, Clinton Lynch, and Qua Searcy scored touchdowns of 67, 54, and 60 yards, respectively. Each made excellent plays and took advantage of good blocking or defensive breakdowns.

The problem? Those three plays accounted for 181 yards of offense (about 60 yards per play), while Georgia Tech’s other 38 snaps in the game went for 140 yards (that’s comfortably under 4 yards per play). In 11 possessions in this game, Georgia Tech’s offense came away with EIGHT first downs — including those three touchdown plays. The offense was entirely incapable of sustaining drives in this game. The longest drive of the game, by play count? The second offensive possession, which lasted all of 6 plays. That’s not a joke, either — look it up. Their three scoring drives looked like this:

  • 3 plays, 75 yards, Touchdown
  • 3 plays, 75 yards, Touchdown
  • 3 plays, 84 yards, Touchdown
  • 4 plays, -6 yards, Field Goal

So, yeah. Thankfully there were big plays, otherwise Georgia Tech’s offense may not have scored in this game at all.

A few more issues with the offensive performance:

  • The team was 2-for-10 on third downs, including going 0-for-5 after halftime.
  • A third-and-5 was failed when the center messed up the snap count.
  • A pass hit a wide-open, normally sure-handed receiver in the shoulder and should have been a big gain, if not a touchdown. It was dropped.
  • Missed blocking assignments regularly enabled Virginia defenders to disrupt plays in the backfield.
  • It wasn’t offense, but an offensive player also made a fair catch of a punt on his own 5-yard line.

I’ll be clear that the coaches were a part of the issue, including Coach Johnson himself. About halfway through the second quarter, Georgia Tech had 4th-and-1 from its own 29-yard line. At the time, they were down 10-7, and a failure to convert would have given Virginia the ball, just needing a first down to get into the red zone. Georgia Tech went for it anyways, with Matthew Jordan keeping the ball on a QB follow and going down for no gain because of three missed blocking assignments. The defense followed that up with an excellent stop, and Virginia missed a field goal. So, ultimately the decision was without consequence, but at the time it seemed desperate and irresponsible. (It felt that way before the ball was snapped, regardless of the outcome of the play.)

It’s weird to think that Georgia Tech played with some second-string personnel last week against a much better defense and had a lot more consistent success. (S&P+ puts Virginia Tech’s defense at 14th nationally, and Virginia’s defense at 80th.) Marcus Marshall had a good game with 16 carries for 127 yards and his long touchdown, Justin Thomas had a decent day passing despite some very windy conditions, Clinton Lynch kept doing his thing by averaging 24 yards per touch, and Qua Searcy’s long touchdown run was a thing of beauty. Beyond that, there wasn’t much of anything positive to say about the Yellow Jackets’ offense on Saturday. There was no consistency and it seemed like they were sleepwalking through a lot of the game. If they want any chance to go on the road and beat their in-state rivals next week, they’ll have to be an awful lot better than they were on Saturday.

Thankfully, the defense improved throughout the game.

A week ago, we saw the defense play arguably its best game of the year in stifling a normally-explosive Virginia Tech offense for 3 quarters before letting off the gas in garbage time. In the first half against Virginia, it was like that never happened and nobody learned anything from it.

Virginia’s offense came into this game ranked 84th in S&P+. In the first half, they went for 199 yards on 44 plays (around 4.5 yards per play), and went 5-for-9 on third downs. They scored 10 points, missed a 31-yard field goal, and weren’t far from scoring 21 points, if it weren’t for some red zone efficiency from the defense. They played passively, allowed Virginia to sustain drives (both scoring drives were 13 plays long), and had huge issues stopping plays for no gain or for losses. Their blitz packages were predictable and ineffective.

They were far more effective in the second half, creating a trio of interceptions, including one that Lance Austin returned for a touchdown to put the game away. They held the Cavaliers to only 2-of-8 on third downs. They got creative and really committed to blitzing when they chose to do so. Only two drives went for longer than 7 plays, and one of them ended the game. (Of 8 drives, 5 of them went for 4 plays or fewer.)

Really, the game was a tale of two halves for the defense. The first half seemed like more of the same of what we’ve seen for much of the year. The second half was a throwback to last week’s excellent performance, with creativity and disruption. That needs to carry into next week, too, if the team is going to have its best chance to win.

georgia is still beatable, but Georgia Tech’s going to need to play better to pull off the win.

The story is the same this year as it’s always been, from a talent perspective -- next Saturday, georgia will have more raw talent on their sideline than Georgia Tech will. They’ve got more stars in recruiting and, in a lot of ways, are bigger and stronger and faster.

They’re also not particularly well-coached, particularly on offense.

Defensively, georgia will do its best to take advantage of a Georgia Tech offense that has a nasty habit of missing assignments on the offensive line and can’t always sustain drives well. Offensively, they’ll try to take advantage of a passive scheme that doesn’t really commit to sending pressure and is happy to give up third downs of any distance via underneath passes.

They’re able to be beaten, though.

Georgia Tech needs to execute assignments well on offense, not get too cute with the playcalling, and take advantage where the georgia defense gives them an opening. They need to be aggressive on defense, both in sending pressure and in coverage, and need to get off of the field on third down.

It can be done, but it’s on the coaches to have the team ready. We’ll find out if they’re ready at noon next Saturday.

To Hell with georgia.