Apologies for the delay.
1. After the struggles that the Georgia Tech offense faced last year as it tried to diversity its attack with shotgun and the diamond formation, coach Paul Johnson determined that the offense would return to the basics. In the spring and preseason, Tech dedicated itself to honing its staple plays.
With the help of quarterback Justin Thomas, Tech has found its mojo again, averaging 5.97 yards per carry, better than any season-ending average in Johnson’s six years. Tech leads the nation in third-down efficiency at a stunning 59.3 percent.
A funny thing is, though, that Tech is actually throwing the ball more often than it has in Johnson’s tenure at Tech. Through seven games, going into Saturday’s meeting at Pittsburgh, Tech has a 75/25 run/pass ratio. Tech’s ratio was 78/22, which to that point was the lowest run ratio in Johnson’s first six years.
A few factors enter into it. One, Tech has been behind in every game, which has to some degree required more passing, particularly the Duke game. Perhaps more importantly, Thomas has been an efficient passer. His 150.06 passer rating (fourth in the ACC) compares favorably with predecessors Vad Lee (127.5 in 2013), Tevin Washington (147.4 in 2012, 155.4 in 2011 and 99.4 in 2010) and Joshua Nesbitt (105.4 in 2010, 148.7 in 2009 and 96.3 in 2008).
Thomas’s completion rate is a bit low (48 percent) but he has the best touchdown rate (one per 10.5 passes) and the best interception rate (one per 35 passes) compared to any season numbers for Tech’s past three starting quarterbacks under Johnson.
As such, Johnson likely feels more comfortable putting the ball in the air with slightly more frequency than in past seasons. The progress of Washington in his 2 ½ years as starter suggests a similar track for Thomas, particularly if a deep threat can be developed following the graduation of DeAndre Smelter and Darren Waller. (Washington’s 2011 spike was due in no small part to the ascension of Stephen Hill.)
* category leader italicized.
2. Tech will wear the same white helmets/white jerseys/white pants combination that it wore against North Carolina last Saturday.
3. The shoulder injury that will require right tackle Chris Griffin illustrates again the youth of that position group. Griffin’s replacement will likely be either Eason Fromayan, a redshirt freshman, or Errin Joe, a redshirt junior who is eligible to apply for a medical redshirt for his injury-derailed 2013 season.
Only right guard Shaquille Mason will graduate out of this group. Left tackle Bryan Chamberlain and left guard Trey Braun are both redshirt juniors. Center Freddie Burden, a redshirt sophomore who also can apply for a medical redshirt after missing his freshman season with a torn ACL, is backed up by true freshman Andrew Marshall. The No. 3 guard is redshirt freshman Shamire Devine.
Five freshman linemen – Gary Brown, Trey Klock, Michael Preddy, Jake Stickler and Jake Whitley are redshirting this season.
4. The last time Tech played at Pittsburgh was 1920 in a matchup of heavyweights. Pittsburgh was coached by Pop Warner, merely one of the game’s most influential coaches. The screen pass, for instance, was credited as an innovation of Warner's. The 1920 season was coach William Alexander’s first at Tech, having succeeded John Heisman. Both were inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
The teams met Oct. 23, 94 days to the day Thursday, at Forbes Field, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Both teams were undefeated, Pittsburgh 2-0-1 and Tech 4-0. The Golden Tornado, as the team was known then, hadn’t even been scored upon in wins over Wake Forest, Oglethorpe, Davidson and Vanderbilt. (Presumably, Alexander’s mailbox was inundated with angry letters from fans threatening not to renew their season tickets if Tech played Oglethorpe and Davidson again in 1921. Which it did.)
Tech was surely eager to settle a loss to Pittsburgh at Grant Field in 1919, a 16-6 result that gave the Tornado their first loss of the season after five wins, all by shutout. Tech had two star players, Bill Fincher and Buck Flowers, who would later be enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame. (Another star was halfback Red Barron, whose nieces, Alae Risse Leitch and Jo Atchison, continue to attend games at Grant Field. I had the pleasure of speaking with Ms. Atchison prior to the Duke game. She told me that her older sister, who had just turned 101 on Oct. 1, was planning to attend.)
However, Tech was unsuccessful in Pittsburgh, falling 10-3, its only loss of the season. (Pittsburgh was likewise fortified by two eventual hall of famers, Tom Davies and Herb Stein.) Georgetown was the only other team to score upon the Tornado that season, as they went 8-1 and shared the championship of the SIAA, the forerunner of the Southern Conference, which itself was the forerunner of the SEC.
Pretty remarkable that both sides had two hall of famers and were also coached by hall of famers. I wonder what the most recent game to have that distinction was.
5. Johnson’s response to why the Tech defense isn’t playing better: “Because we’ve got a lot of new starters, we’re having trouble getting pressure on the passer with the front four – we’re not getting much production out of that – our linebacker play has been spotty at best and we haven’t covered very well. So other than that, I think we’re doing pretty good. We’ve just got to play better over there as a group. We’ve limited the big plays, so now we’re getting six-and seven-yarded to death. On third down, we’ve got to make plays.”
6. For those of you going to Pittsburgh for the game, my friend Noah Coslov (I speak with Noah every week for the CineSport videos, the latest of which is posted above) recommends Pamela’s for breakfast. He says the pancakes are excellent. At least I think it was Pamela’s. It was a woman’s name, and when I googled “Pittsburgh breakfast pancakes,” that’s what came up. There’s several locations.
7. With 36 rushing yards against North Carolina, Thomas’ pursuit of the ACC record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a season slowed. Thomas now has 625 yards through seven games. The record is held by Clemson’s Woodrow Dantzler, who gained 1,061 yards in 2001. To pass Dantzler in a 13-game season, Thomas would need to average 72.8 yards over the next six games.
To pass Nesbitt and break Tech’s record of 1,037 yards, he’ll need to average 68.8 yards per game.
8. Tech has attempted four two-point conversions this season, all in the past two games, all failing.
“There’s two of them that, if we really just execute better, we should have had,” quarterbacks and B-backs coach Bryan Cook said. “And Justin just rushed one of them. It’s just kind of atypical that you get – I don’t know what we’ve had, four in the last two games. You reach pretty deep in the bag a little bit, but we’ve just got to execute.”
Tech’s four two-point tries is the most attempted in a season since 2008. The following is way more information about two-point tries during Johnson's tenure than I imagine you probably want.
9. I wasn’t able to get to a breakdown of any plays this weekend, so please accept this as a substitute. Link to the plays here.
Offensive line coach Mike Sewak’s breakdown of Smelter’s 75-yard reverse for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
“(The intent was to) sell the play away and then go ahead and try to get the near deep back and the near flat player. Trey Braun got himself through there. Trey actually got himself up on the corner, flowed back inside and messed that up a little bit, but Freddie stayed after it the whole time, which made up for that. Obviously, we’re not going to get every block, but when you give extra effort like Freddie did on that particular play, it showed, and then I think that everybody saw Shaq Mason running down there. It showed that he wanted to make that play go, too. Every play, we design to go to the goal line. Shaq could have done a better job at the point of attack, but then after he got off that (block) and saw the reverse going, he put it in another gear and got himself down there.”
On what Burden did: “We would have liked to let the guy take the cheese and just wash him away, but he didn’t, but then what Freddie did was he stayed after him. He wouldn’t let the guy go and the guy kept fighting Freddie. The next thing you know, the ball’s by him.”
The other play I looked into was North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams’ 13-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Basically, four critical things happened (or at least four).
One, defensive end KeShun Freeman was unblocked, but left his feet when Williams pump faked, taking him out of the play. Defensive tackle Adam Gotsis was double teamed initially, then driven back and turned his back on the play, a technical error. The same happened with nose tackle Shawn Green, who was driven out of the play by the center and also had his back turned on the play.
Defensive end Kyle Travis was taken out of the play when Green was blocked into him. It looked like linebacker Quayshawn Nealy was held by the left guard as he tried to fill a gap.
“We really didn’t do a good job of getting off blocks,” defensive line coach Mike Pelton said. “We kind of stared at the quarterback without taking the guy on in front of us.”
Williams pump faked, then took off running up through the pocket and into the end zone.
10. Weather for Saturday’s game sounds ideal. According to the Weather Channel website, it will be low 60’s, partly cloudy and no chance of rain.