The Yellow Jackets suffered another loss on Saturday, this time to the Pittsburgh Panthers by a score of 20-10 on homecoming weekend. As has been the theme all season, the offense mostly struggled while the defense turned in a respectable performance, especially in the second half. One of the top performers on the defensive side was sophomore DB Juanyeh Thomas, who finished the day with eight tackles, including two tackles for a loss, and an interception. Thomas has mostly been known for his return abilities, but this season he’s also developed into a quality defender for the Jackets.
With 8:24 left in the 1st Quarter, Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett decided to test Tech’s secondary with a deep shot. The Jackets lined up in Cover 1, with all defenders in man coverage except for LB David Curry covering the short middle zone and Thomas lined up at safety covering the deep middle zone. Pickett targeted his receiver in single man coverage against DB Kaleb Oliver down the left sideline. Despite lining up in the deep middle of the field, Thomas shows off his excellent range as he reads Pickett’s eyes and sprints over to the sideline, swooping in right as the ball arrives to snag the interception. While a better quarterback probably wouldn’t stare down his receiver as much, it was still an impressive play by Thomas and justifies the coaching staff’s trust in lining him up as a single deep safety.
Thomas made another great play with 7:45 remaining in the 3rd Quarter. The Panthers attempted a bubble screen to the inside receiver, with the middle receiver serving as the primary blocker. In a similar fashion to DB Tre Swilling against Miami two weeks ago, Thomas immediately reads the play and crashes down on the inside receiver. The middle receiver whiffs on the block and Thomas flies right by him to blow the play up for a 5-yard loss. This play highlights Thomas’s elite instincts and his natural ability to read the play as it develops.
Juanyeh Thomas was a major contributor to a Georgia Tech defense that stepped up big time on Saturday to keep the Jackets in the game, allowing just 72 yards in the second half. Thomas has continually proven to be a key part of this defensive unit that seems to be improving with each passing week. All the right pieces are in place for the Jackets’ defense to develop into one of the top defenses in the ACC next season, and that will be largely due to the continued stellar play of young impact players like Thomas.