When the Georgia Tech four-man pass rush isn’t getting the job done, the easy solution is to blitz linebackers or defensive backs. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof gave an insight into why it isn’t always the answer. He said that Tech blitzed over half of the time against North Carolina, which played a role in quarterback Marquise Williams averaging just 5.6 yards per pass attempt (about three yards under his season average) and getting sacked twice.
However, it likely also is at least partly why he could run for 148 yards. (It wasn’t the only reason; the containment to keep him in the pocket wasn’t great, either.) But on the 27-yard touchdown run Williams pulled off on a fourth-and-5 in the fourth quarter, Roof had called a send-the-house blitz - both linebackers and safety Jamal Golden stormed the castle, so to speak, presumably expecting a pass.
Williams ran an option play, the three blitzers got hemmed in the middle and Williams ran through the vacated secondary for the touchdown.
Against Pittsburgh, on the other hand, the Jackets didn’t blitz as much because the Panthers were protecting quarterback Nate Peterman with seven and eight players. Peterman wasn’t sacked and completed 14 of 21 passes for 162 yards and three touchdowns. By passing efficiency rating, it was the best game of his season and career.
“It’s a calculated risk,” Roof said. “Because if you commit a bunch of people to the blitz, and they keep in a bunch of people into protection and nobody wins the one on one, then your coverage is isolated. A lot of the big plays against us this year have come when we’ve been blitzing.”
That is indeed the rub. A challenge Tech has faced hasn’t necessarily been the frequency of blitzes but the timing and effectiveness. (I wrote about this and other defensive struggles for myajc and Friday's paper.)
More about pass defense
Pass defense has been a shortcoming during Johnson’s tenure. This is where Tech has ranked in defensive passing efficiency in ACC games, starting in 2008: 7th, 8th, 8th, 3rd, 9th, 11th, 12th, 11th.
That's one finish in the top half of the league in eight years (including this year). I think inconsistent pass rush has had a lot to do with it throughout.
The third in 2011 surprised me. It was then-coordinator Al Groh’s second year. The Jackets were also second in completion percentage (53.3 percent). It was Jeremiah Attaochu’s first season as a starter at outside linebacker, as well as Quayshawn Nealy’s first in the middle and Julian Burnett’s final season.
Tech was also ninth in yards per rush that season, so maybe more attention was given to defending the pass – the Jackets were eighth overall in league games in yards per play.
Also interesting, but not entirely related: Virginia Tech was first or second in lowest completion percentage in league games 2008-2014, but is seventh thus far.
Depth chart change
Probably not the biggest news of the week, but redshirt freshman guard Gary Brown was moved on to the depth chart, behind Trey Braun at left guard. He moved up past Jake Whitley, another redshirt freshman. You may recall Brown earned notice last season on the scout team and was named the offensive scout team player of the year.
“He’s very physical,” offensive line coach Mike Sewak said. “He’s a kid that, he’ll have some upside. He’ll get plenty of snaps in Bobby Dodd Stadium before his career’s over with.”
To this point, Trey Braun, Shamire Devine and Trey Klock have played most, if not all, of the meaningful snaps at guard.
In practice, FSU players wear GPS monitors that measure speed, acceleration and heart rate in practice that coach Jimbo Fisher swears by for its ability to help prevent soft-tissue injuries. For instance, the team is monitoring running back Dalvin Cook as he recovers from a hamstring injury.
In real time, the monitors can measure how fast Cook is running and coaches can tell him to ease off based on what they’re seeing.
“Takes a lot of the guesswork out of how much work the body is producing, the body is getting tired, can it accelerate, have strength, is the endurance there, how the guys are feeling off of it,” Fisher said. “You can measure all those things.”
Tech looked into it, but couldn't fit it into the budget, which is part of something I plan to write about for Saturday's paper and myajc.
One key for Saturday
One thing Georgia Tech has to do Saturday (one would think) – hold onto the ball. The Jackets have 17 fumbles this season and have been fortunate to lose only six of them. Tech had 20 fumbles all of last season, one per 49.7 offensive snaps (a somewhat loose ratio, as fumbles can – and did – also occur on returns).
Prior to 2014, Tech had 197 fumbles between 2008 and 2013, the most in the country, and 32.8 per season. The per-snap fumble rate last year was a 44 percent reduction over the average in Johnson’s first six years.
The Jackets have fumbled once per 27.5 offensive snaps thus far this season. Some of it’s attributable to inexperienced players handling the ball. In the Pittsburgh game, for instance, B-back Marcus Marshall had the ball knocked loose and quarterback Justin Thomas was credited with two fumbles, one in which he also had the ball stripped and another in which A-back Mikell Lands-Davis didn’t turn upfield to take a pitch from Thomas on an option play.
Given the strength of FSU’s defense and its offense’s stunning record of no turnovers in six games (the only lost fumble was on special teams), Tech can’t afford to lose possessions or perhaps even slow them up with fumbles. The three fumbles against Pitt illustrated this rather well. Thomas' first fumble ended in a turnover. It killed Tech's second drive, which began with a 34-yard pass to Micheal Summers and followed the Jackets' first drive that finished with Marshall's 58-yard touchdown run.
The second, the pitch to Lands-Davis, was at the start of the third quarter. Tech had quickly picked up two first downs but then fell into a second-and-17 after the fumble that the Jackets couldn't escape and led to a punt. The last was at the end of a 14-yard run by Marshall on a first-down play with the score tied at 28. Marshall recovered the fumble, and still had a first down, but he was stripped as he was breaking a tackle and had to stop to recover the ball. Had he been able to hold onto the ball, he could have broken the run for a much longer gain. Tech punted, but, at the least, the Jackets might have been able to flip the field. Instead, Pitt got the ball back at its 31 with 8:13, and, of course, won the game on a 56-yard field goal.
Florida State is down two regulars in the secondary, Tyler Hunter and Trey Marshall. Hunter is out due to a concussion. Marshall, out for the regular season after bicep surgery, has been the starter at the Seminoles’ “star” position, which is a hybrid spot. Hunter has been his backup.
Fisher said Marshall had been playing well, “making calls, being physical, tackling in space, covering. Just competing.” He equated it to losing a quarterback.
It’s not clear who FSU will turn to. One possibility is cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who played there last season. It might behoove the Seminoles to put the potential first-round pick closer to the action.
Against Tech, given the run-stopping responsibilities of such a position, it would seem a spot you’d want to put an experienced player and particularly someone who has seen the offense. Other possibilities included Marcus Lewis, a first-year freshman defensive back who, according to FSU’s game notes, has yet to play this season.
For Tech, A-back Broderick Snoddy is out and linebacker P.J. Davis, B-back Patrick Skov, safety Demond Smith and cornerback D.J. White are questionable with undisclosed injuries. Offensive tackle Errin Joe is probable. Any loss would be impactful. Not having Davis, who appeared to injure either his ankle or lower leg against Pittsburgh but kept playing, would be pretty significant. He is a leader on the defense, as well as the leading tackler and an effective sideline-to-sideline player whom the Jackets could really use in trying to slow down FSU running back Dalvin Cook.
On the TV
On the call for the ESPN2 broadcast are Mark Jones (play by play), Rod Gilmore (analyst) and Quint Kessenich (sideline). You may be totally not interested to know that Gilmore is an attorney, speaks German and was on the Stanford team that lost to Cal on “The Play.”
Kessenich is, I believe, the third sideline reporter for a Tech game this season with a lacrosse background. Kessenich is lacrosse royalty – a four-time All-American at Johns Hopkins who was twice named the nation’s best goalie. That’s kind of like being a two-time Lombardi Award winner at Alabama.
If Roddy Jones wants to advance his career, maybe he needs to pick up a lacrosse stick.
In the stands
Among the many interesting things learned at the Georgia Tech Athletic Association board meeting Thursday (more of which I’ll get to in coming days) is that student attendance at home games has been particularly strong. Athletic director Mike Bobinski said that more than 9,000 students have picked up tickets for each of the first four games, a trend I suspect would continue for the Florida State game and into Virginia Tech and Georgia. It’s evidently a considerable jump from recent numbers.
It’s been noticed. On at least a couple occasions, I’ve heard Johnson complement the crowd for its support. At least one thing is going right this season.
“That is awesome,” Bobinski said of student attendance. “It really is. That flies directly in the face of what other people around the country are experiencing.”
A reminder about parking and traffic for Saturday – it’s supposed to be a bit messy. There’s a concert at the Georgia Dome (Taylor Swift!), a comedy show at Philips Arena, conventions at the Georgia World Congress Center and the Atlanta Arts Festival at Piedmont Park, all on Saturday.
Tech has encouraged fans to either take MARTA or, for those driving, to plan accordingly and pre-purchase parking. More information here.
You are reminded, also, that it’s a whiteout.