The Jackets had very little to improve upon after their thrashings of both Alcorn State and Tulane but last Saturday’s game against Notre Dame exposed some weaknesses that could haunt Tech this year. All three phases succumbed to predictable weaknesses, namely lack of quarterback pressure and holes in the secondary on defense, poor blocking and an anemic passing game on offense, and missed field goals on special teams.
Bear with me, but we need to dive into some plays that help encapsulate what went wrong for the Jackets on Saturday.
Georgia Tech’s defense was stout early, forcing a punt from DeShone Kizer and the Irish offense in the first drive. The second drive featured an Adam Gotsis sack on second down, forcing Notre Dame into a 3rd and 20 situation.
The Irish had leading receiver/human dynamite Will Fuller lined up wide right with a slot receiver lined up inside of him, as shown below. The Jackets countered with their normal 4-2-5 defense with Lawrence Austin as the nickel corner.
The slot man ran a post, which held strong safety Jamal Golden just enough to give Fuller a one-on-one streak downfield against Chris Milton. Kizer had enough time to stand in the pocket and deliver a good pass and Milton failed to get his head around in time to properly defend the underthrown ball.
Here’s how it looked in real time.
Kizer had a clean pocket to step into that long throw, not unlike the situation all game long. The Gotsis sack on the previous play was the only Tech sack of the afternoon. Georgia Tech’s front four has to find a way to get pressure on quarterbacks or the likes of Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Miami’s Brad Kaaya will make it a long game for the secondary.
Still, the defense buckled down for most of the game, save for an untouched 91 yard C.J. Prosise run. The team was never expected to rely on the defense to win games. But the offense, a year removed from being one of the most productive in all of college football, crumbled when the team needed it the most.
Tech came out of halftime with possession of the ball, looking to spark a comeback. Unfortunately, Justin Thomas promptly gave up a costly fumble early in the second half due to some poor outside blocking.
The play is an offset formation, with two A-backs on the same side of the field. The wrinkle is that redshirt freshman Qua Searcy is lined up in the slot. Thomas has only two options on this play, as opposed to the typical dive/keep/pitch trio, and opts to keep it, meaning the intent is to get the QB to the edge instead of an A-back. If Searcy can seal the edge defender, then it leaves the elusive Thomas one-on-one with a defensive back and a lot of running room ahead of him.
It doesn’t help that the player Searcy was tasked to seal is 5 star recruit and future NFL player Jaylon Smith. Smith is able to leverage the block toward the inside, allowing him combine for the tackle, solo strip and recovery. Searcy’s lack of experience as a blocker shined brilliantly, unfortunately for Lamar Owens, the A-backs coach. Here is video of that play.
There are numerous similar instances when poor blocking on the outside doomed the Tech offense. And the offensive line collapsing during a comeback bid through the air didn’t help matters. Thomas was forced to scramble on almost every play, which threw off the rhythm with his receivers, resulting in many missed connections and dropped balls.
Thomas’s 8-24 passing effort was indicative of the troubles in the passing game. Patrick Skov was the leading receiver as a B-back, due to a pair of underneath flat routes in Tech’s last two drives, and the wide receiver corps only combined for two measly catches. That kind of distribution just should not happen for a team that wants some offensive balance.
The big issue in special teams were two crucial missed field goals. Harrison Butker pushed both a 30 yarder and a 43 yarder at the end of the first half wide of the mark.
After a shaky first two seasons as a kicker despite a couple clutch performances, Butker may be warming up a seat in Paul Johnson’s doghouse. The team cannot leave six points on the field against a top 10 team and hope to win.
The Jackets opted to go for a 4th and 16 from Notre Dame’s 33 yard line due to the lack of confidence in the kicking game. He did make both of his extra point attempts, including one after being passed over on that 4th down, if that is any consolation.
For the record, the options behind Butker are thin. There is Shawn Davis, a preferred walk-on true freshman kicker from McDonough, Ga. The only other current option is Ryan Rodwell, who last kicked in high school four years ago. For now, we shall see if Paul Johnson continues to allow Butker to place kick but it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for the old ball coach to go for all fourth downs in field goal range.
These are just a handful of plays that prevented a winning effort from the boys in white and gold. I will concede Notre Dame has one of the best collection of athletes in the country, but so does Miami, Clemson, and uga, all teams toppled by this very crew within the year. The execution on our part simply needs to be better going forward.