The hits just keep coming for Tech and there seems to be no end in sight.
Tech fell to Pittsburgh 31-28 after kicker Chris Blewitt nails a 56-yard field goal with less than 90 seconds to go. It was a tough loss in a game that saw many missed chances for the Jackets, an apt description for this entire season minus the first two games. There are no moral victories when the team sits at 2-5 in a year they were expected to compete in the ACC and even nationally, but at this juncture we just need signs of life from a listless Ramblin’ Wreck.
Here is a quick breakdown of the positives and negatives that stuck out.
Let’s start with the good. Tech got their running game back on schedule. Tech ran for 396 yards against Pitt, which was higher that last year’s record-setting average. It also equated to 9.4 yards per rush, a far cry from their paltry marks of 5.7, 4.6, 4.4 and 1.7 in their last four games. At least these signs are pointing up for once.
In place of Patrick Skov, who had started the first six game, true freshman Marcus Marshall exploded for 159 yards on just 10 carries and two touchdowns. It was the biggest total since Marshall ran for 184 yards in the first game of the season against Alcorn State. Most of his yards came along the sideline, unusual for a B-back, with his first 58-yarder coming on a pitch in the first quarter. Tech’s overall explosion had been lacking thus far in Power 5 play so the emergence of Marshall might right the ship moving forward.
Some of the bad including consistently poor starting position for the offense. In order, Tech started drives from their own 25, 8, 14, 14, 25, 25, 8, 25, 9, and 24. Punt returner Jamal Golden simply had no room to operate and give the offense a bit of a boost. Special teams has been noticeable for all the wrong reasons so far, and Saturday’s game included a blocked field goal, but field position is one of those under the radar aspects that can silently weigh a team’s performance down.
The biggest weakness, however, was the atrocious pass protection. Justin Thomas’ passing stats have regressed since his big season a year ago, but in my mind his low completion percentage is just a product of having pressure in his face every single dropback.
The above play was not a screen. Thomas finished the day just 6-of-15 (40%), and for the season is completing just 44.4% of passes. No offense can overcome this type of ineptitude. True freshman Will Bryan got the start over Errin Joe at right tackle against Pitts, and further shake-up along the front line may be needed.
Finally the defense, which has been a sore spot for through out Paul Johnson’s tenure on the Flats, was probably the least valuable unit on Saturday. Tech has given up at least 30 points in each of their five straight losses, and in the fifth, the defense let Pitt dictate tempo.
The game began with a seven minute march to the end zone off the opening kickoff for the Panthers. It would end up being a 34:20 time of possession for the opponent, despite Tech outgaining Pitt. The front four gave Nathan Peterman enough time to operate against the porous Yellow Jacket back line, and wideout Tyler Boyd made them pay with a pair of touchdown receptions. Maybe it’s time for revisiting the schematic approach, because the two deep nickel zone defense has been less than stellar so far, and not just this year.
Yes, Tech is 2-5, and their hopes of extending their bowl streak have all but evaporated, but there’s still much to play for in the last five games. With a strong second half to the season, Tech football can live to fight in 2016 against a much easier schedule. The offense may have turned the corner but the program will need the defense and special teams to do the same in order to pull off a victory against undefeated FSU this upcoming weekend.