Recapping Georgia Tech's season-opening win over Boston College, and previewing this week's home-opener against Mercer at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
The game in 100 words
It wasn’t pretty, and the fans that spent the money to travel to Dublin probably wished the outcome had been decided much earlier, but Georgia Tech defeated Boston College 17-14 on Saturday when freshman Dedrick Mills capped a 59-yard touchdown with a 4-yard scoring run with 35 seconds left. The drive was kept alive by a 22-yard pass from Justin Thomas to Qua Searcy on fourth-and-19 . Tech’s defense held Boston College’s offense, one of the worst in FBS last year, to 352 yards. Tech accumulated just 240, almost equally split between rushing and passing.
4 things that worked well
Tech’s passing game. In addition to the throw to Searcy, which wasn’t luck but instead a nice spin by Thomas, the quarterback converted long third down passes on the team’s first drive. He completed 8-of-15 passes for 119 yards.
“The percentages of converting a fourth-and-20 aren’t very good,” Boston College coach Steve Addazio said.
Tech pass protection. Though Thomas was forced to scramble a few times when he dropped back, for the most part the line gave him a nice pocket from which to throw. The Eagles were never able to sack Thomas*, even though they came close on the first play of the game-winning drive when he somehow eluded several players.
*The box score says no sacks, but Thomas was dropped for a 9-yard loss on second down after eluding the sack on first down.
Dedrick Mills. The true freshman finished with 18 carries for 68 yards. He lost a fumble, but did score the winning touchdown with a physical run to the pylon. He was helped by a terrific block by J.J. Green.
"After I fumbled that ball the first time, I kind of got down, but then Justin mainly kept coming back up to me: 'Hey, you've got to forget that last play. It's time to play another play. That play's over with. What can you do about it now? You can't do anything about it.' I got my chance again. I just had to finish the play and drive the ball in," Mills said.
The defense overall. Though it rarely generated any pressure, Tech did force three turnovers and was able to keep Boston College from scoring long enough for the offense to finally break through.
3 things that didn't work well
Tech's running game. Yes, Tech was facing eight players who helped Boston College become the best defense in FBS last season, but the Jackets surely expected to do better than 121 rushing yards on 43 carries. The 2.8-yards-per-carry average was the fifth-lowest for a game in coach Paul Johnson's tenure. In a way, perhaps it was better that Tech's mostly inexperienced offensive line faced such a good front seven in the first game because now they will have a better idea of performance expectations for the remaining games.
“It’s surprising, but I think that they were giving (Thomas) some looks," Johnson said. "It was hard to play offense out there. Their I-formation, running downhill, might have been a little easier, but for us, we’re kind of precision and spread it out and read it and pitch it around, and it’s hard to do when guys are slipping and falling. I don’t think we ever had an (A-back) catch one full speed on the option plays.”
Tech's ability to get pressure. After an ACC-low 14 sacks last season, the belief was a deeper and more experienced front seven would be able to put more pressure on quarterbacks this season. It didn't happen often against Boston College. Rarely forced to move, the statuesque Patrick Towles completed 11-of-17 for 176 yards. Tech had one sack. However, pressure did create the second turnover when Antonio Simmons was able to tip the ball from Towles to Kyle Cerge-Henderson on third-and-6 on Tech's 18-yard line.
The punting game. Johnson wanted consistency from Ryan Rodwell and didn't get it in the opener. His five punts averaged 37.4 yards, included two short boots. That can't continue if the offense's struggles continue.
Rating the position groups
Borrowing from something that is done with soccer, I'll rate the different position groups game by game using a 1-to-10 system. Ten represents exceptional and one represents a total meltdown. This is just for fun and mostly for conversation, so please don't take it too seriously. Feel free to post your own ratings in the comments section.
Quarterbacks 8. Thomas didn't have the best day statistically, but it's hard to argue with his heroics in the final minutes. Plus, back-up Matthew Jordan added a touchdown on what looked like a busted play.
B-backs 6. The line, and not the B-backs, will bear the brunt of the group's difficulty in getting upfield. They finished with 99 yards.
A-backs 4. They get a four because of Green's block to spring Mills for the game-winning touchdown. They finished with three rushing yards in the game, which isn't entirely their fault.
Wide receivers 5. Ricky Jeune and Brad Stewart combined for five receptions, each of importance. However, the blocking on the edge was one of the reasons the A-backs couldn't get anything going.
Offensive line 4. They don't get a 3 because they did do enough to give Thomas time to complete the critical pass to Searcy, and enough to help Mills score the game-winner. Otherwise, it was a learning lesson and one that must be absorbed quickly. The stats, sprinkled throughout this blog, tell the story.
Defensive line 5. Likely would have rated higher but there was a long touchdown run of 73 yards that must be accounted for. It appeared that the line and linebackers slanted to their right at the snap, while BC's Jon Hilliman ran right up the middle and then cut to Tech's left through a huge crease in the front seven. Eliminate that run and the Eagles managed just 103 yards on 36 carries. Rod Rook-Chungong had six tackles, Simmons had five, including two for losses, and Cerge-Henderson four. That's not too bad.
Linebackers 6. The linebackers had a solid day, albeit against an offense that will never be confused with Clemson's, Miami's or North Carolina's. P.J. Davis led the team with seven tackles. But somebody has to be able to get to the quarterback at some point.
Cornerbacks 7. The Eagles rarely threatened downfield. That may been a reflection of Towles, their lack of offensive ability or Tech's coverage. Let's give the benefit of the doubt to the cornerbacks. Of the 11 receptions allowed by the pass defense, 10 went to wide receivers. Just two went for at least 20 yards.
Safeties 7. A.J. Gray, Corey Griffin and Lance Austin did a good job of keeping all but one play in front of them.
Specialists 7. While Rodwell was inconsistent, Harrison Butker did a good with kickoffs (four touchbacks) and his one field goal. Green also averaged 28 yards on two kick returns. Stewart returned one punt 15 yards.
What did next week's opponent do?
Mercer was beaten by The Citadel 24-23 on Thursday on a field goal in the game's final minutes. The Bears gave up 262 yards rushing on an average of 5 yards per carry.
What does that mean for Tech?
Not much. This is a game that the Yellow Jackets should easily win. The Bears play in the Southern Conference, which is filled with quality teams on the FCS level.
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