I intended to post this Wednesday, and now we’re almost a week past the Tulane game, but I promise this play has implications on Georgia Tech’s Saturday matchup with Notre Dame. Or at least I think it does.
The play was a 2nd-and-6 at midfield late in the first quarter. Tech is in its standard alignment, with Isiah Willis and Qua Searcy at A-back, Patrick Skov at B-back and Antonio Messick and Brad Stewart at wide receiver. Tulane is lined up in the 4-3 formation that Tech opponents often line up in, with the middle linebacker set about six yards off the line of scrimmage.
It’s a straight give from quarterback Justin Thomas to Skov on the left side. At the snap, both center Freddie Burden (black oval) and right tackle Errin Joe (white arrow) release off the line to the linebacker level. Left tackle Bryan Chamberlain and Willis double team right defensive end Ade Aruna (white oval).
Chamberlain and Willis are winning at the point of attack – Aruna is turned to the side and giving ground (yellow circle). Left guard Trey Braun also has won his collision with nose tackle Corey Redwine (hard to see, but it's happening) and has driven him off the line, giving Skov room to run.
However, middle linebacker Jarrod Franklin has eluded Burden (blue oval) and, likewise, outside linebacker Nico Marley has gotten past Joe (white arrow). Both have a path to Skov.
"That No. 6, he was very athletic," offensive line coach Mike Sewak said of Franklin. "He could dip you in, he could dip you out, he'd go over the top."
Skov, at the Tulane 46-yard line, has gotten through the line and trying to maneuver past Chamberlain and Willis. Franklin, the middle linebacker (yellow arrow) is about to attempt to tackle Skov. Burden didn't win the block, but has continued to pursue the assignment. Likewise, Joe didn't give up on trying to reach Marley, either. He is at the feet of the umpire.
Skov has broken Franklin’s tackle and continues to fight for yardage, pushing forward even though his helmet is inches from the turf, as Marley tries to bring him to the ground at the 42 (pink arrow). The other tackler is Aruna (white arrow), who was double-teamed at the line by Chamberlain and Willis and driven so far back off the line that now he’s back in the play again. On the video, Marley appears to have momentarily eased up and is almost surprised that Skov is now at his feet, still grinding for yards.
Another look at Skov's run. He gained about another yard after being in this position, although I think he appears to be down, since a player is down when any part of his body besides his feet or hands touch the ground. Regardless, my memory isn't great, but I'm not sure I've ever seen a player continue to gain yards after contorting his body in this manner.
Skov is finally brought to the ground by Marley, down at the 41. He’ll get credit for a nine-yard run. First down for Tech on a drive that ended with a 6-yard scoring run by Skov. Behind the play (white oval) is the proof of Braun's block on Redwine.
This obviously wasn’t a critical play in the game, but I found it interesting for a couple reasons. One, it shows one variety of the mistakes that the team made against Tulane, namely linemen not making their blocks at the linebacker level. It’s easy to conclude that the offense is firing perfectly when it scores touchdowns on nine of its first 11 possessions and averages 8.7 yards per play, but plays like this reveal that it’s not quite the case.
Said coach Paul Johnson, "I don't think we're as good as people think we are right now."
A better team than Tulane (say, Notre Dame) will be better able to make Tech pay for missing blocks. It wasn’t only this play. Neither Chamberlain nor Joe had great games blocking the linebacker and safety level. I would submit that being quick enough at 300 pounds to effectively throw oneself at the feet of a smaller and presumably quicker player is not easily done, but it’s those blocks that turn five-yard runs into 30-yard gains.
“I don’t know about for anyone else, but my challenge this week is making plays in space,” Chamberlain said, “maybe getting a linebacker in space or getting a safety in space, so that’s my key to the game this weekend. If I can make that happen, I’m pretty sure we’ll have more big plays this week.”
Against a defense as talented as Notre Dame’s, those chunk plays may be the oxygen that the Tech offense needs. Grinding out 12-play drives won’t be easy with so many players on Notre Dame’s side capable of defeating blocks and making stops.
Consider that, on his radio show Monday, Johnson said that linebacker Jaylon Smith might be the best defensive player Tech has faced since Johnson’s hire. The list includes LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson, BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy, Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones, Virginia Tech cornerbacks Jayron Holsey and Kyle Fuller, Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley and Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei – all All-Americans or first-round picks or both – among many others.
“The defense is very athletic, much more athletic than our last opponent,” Chamberlain said.
If Tech can’t block Smith enough – depending on where he lines up, a lot of the responsibility could fall to Chamberlain, Joe or Burden – he may well end up with 15-plus tackles and help force the Jackets into more 3rd-and-longs than they would prefer.
That said, the flipside of the play is that, even though it wasn’t blocked well, it still gained nine yards. (Right guard Shamire Devine also didn’t win his block against defensive tackle Tanzel Smart.) But Skov got a head start from the double-team block by Chamberlain and Willis and Braun’s win and then ran with power and determination to make it a successful 2nd-and-5 play. Had Skov gone down at first contact, it would still have been perhaps a six-yard gain. Skov, with his combination of effort and power, gives the offense more margin for error. Most times, it’s going to take more than one player to bring him down, as was the case with this play.
“He’s slippery enough to get through the cracks and he’s big enough to run people over,” Sewak said. “I think he uses each version as each scenario presents itself. I like having him back there.”
Tech won’t block every play against Notre Dame as drawn up. The line, backs and receiver aren’t perfect, and Notre Dame is too talented to be consistently taken out. Skov, though, and Thomas, for that matter, can keep drives going by making plays on their own.
I’m curious to see how this balance plays out Saturday. You can watch the play below, or by clicking here. The play is at about the 26:55 mark.