Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson deemed his offense average, and it’s an entirely apt assessment.
The Yellow Jackets had moments when they were high-powered and others when they were incapable. By measure of one of Johnson’s favored statistics, points per possession, Tech was indeed quite close to the middle of FBS. Against FBS competition, the Jackets averaged 2.20 points per drive, according to the website bcftoys.com, which ranks 58th out of 130 FBS teams.
The ranking was the second lowest of his 10 seasons at Tech, better only than the 2015 team (1.86 points per drive, 85th nationally).
The offense at times seemed dominant, never more so than in the season opener against Tennessee, when the Yellow Jackets overpowered the Volunteers for 485 rushing yards in regulation and another 50 in the two overtime sessions. But it ended with a thud. In the final six quarters – the second half against Duke and the Georgia game – the Jackets gained 4.0 yards per play and scored seven points in 13 drives.
In a season rife with disappointments, the offense is included on the list. The passing game, from protection to decision making to execution, needed to be better. Perimeter blocking struggled at times. The offense ran for 400-plus yards four times, which is the most for a season in Johnson’s tenure. But the Jackets were also held below 250 five times, tied for third most in Johnson’s 10 seasons. The offense completed 36.1 percent of its pass attempts, the lowest rate in the Johnson era.
Two notable contributors to the offense’s success in 2016 saw their production fall in 2017. After catching 19 passes for 382 yards last season, wide receiver Brad Stewart had four catches for 99 yards. Stewart did contribute one of the biggest plays of the season, a 60-yard scoring pass against Virginia Tech, and continued to block effectively on the perimeter, but was not as surehanded in the passing game as he had been in his first two seasons. What compounded Stewart’s dropoff was that, beyond No. 3 receiver Jalen Camp, there were evidently no other receivers capable of challenging for playing time.
Coming back from an offseason knee treatment that kept him out of spring practice, A-back Clinton Lynch did not approach the productivity levels he maintained as a freshman and sophomore.
Last season, Lynch had 53 touches (receptions and rushing attempts) and averaged 17.1 yards per touch. He scored eight touchdowns for the second season in a row. This season, he had 31 carries and receptions and averaged 8.1 yards per touch. He had no touchdowns.
This isn’t to say that Stewart and Lynch were the sole reasons that Tech’s offense was not as productive as hoped. One reason for the drop in Stewart and Lynch’s receiving numbers was that Tech didn’t throw as frequently or as well as last season.
And the balance of the offense was different. Marshall and B-back KirVonte Benson averaged a combined 41 carries this season. Last season, Thomas, B-backs Dedrick Mills and Marcus Marshall, along with backup quarterback Matthew Jordan’s 32 carries against Virginia Tech, averaged 32.1 carries per game.
Their decline was a factor, but probably also a symptom, as well.
The frequency of big plays was down, requiring the offense to work longer to get points. Tech’s points-per-play rate (.411) was down 14 percent from last season and was Tech’s lowest since 2010.
Also not a small factor: By the Football Outsider’s efficiency rating system, Tech played the third (Georgia), fourth (Clemson), ninth (Miami) and 10th (Virginia Tech) best defenses this season and three more in the top 50. It’s partly why the same system, which accounts for strength of schedule, rated Tech’s offense 24th.
The reasons are many. The outcome was that the offense wasn’t what Tech needed it to be.
What went wrong: