There will be plenty of things to watch for in this weekends game between Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh but these five storylines we will be keeping a particularly close eye on, on Saturday.
1. Will Jeff Sims take another step forward?
Jeff Sims second month as Georgia Tech’s starting quarterback showed some much needed improvement from his first month as the starter in September. After throwing for eight interceptions in his first month and just three touchdowns, Sims cut down on his turnovers and ended up in October tossing five touchdowns to just two interceptions, a big improvement. Now, his completion percentage is still below average at 56.4% in October, a 1.3% increase from September but it’s still a step forward.
Now, with a second bye week under his belt, Sims enters his third month as the quarterback with hopes of another step forward in the Jackets final three regular season games of the 2020 season. The good news for Sims, is the next three games are much easier than the last three. After having to face Clemson, Boston College, and Notre Dame over the last month, Sims will now face quality but beatable opponents in Pittsburgh, Miami, and NC State.
Against Pittsburgh, we want to see another step forward. He’s cut down on the interceptions but now let’s see an improvement in his completion percentage as well as the ability to make some of the tougher throws. We’re not asking him to go out and play like Clemson’s DJ Uiagalelei but finishing the season on a run of quality games could be huge for his development going forward.
2. Can the defense clean up their game against a quality but not overpowering Pittsburgh offense?
It’s no secret that Georgia Tech’s defense this season has been disappointing and we would by lying if we said we don’t have our concerns about Andrew Thacker as the defensive coordinator going forward. The Jackets underlying issues on defense have been prevalent since last season and while the rush defense has technically “improved” it’s been minimal to say the least. The secondary, a strength last season, has taken a massive step backwards in 2020 as well. After giving up just over 200-yards through the air per game last season, the Jackets are allowing 268.9 passing yards per game this season.
This Pittsburgh offense isn’t filled with talent and it’s not a rather explosive offense. It’s a quality matchup for the Yellow Jackets defense and could serve as a “get right” type game. Another effort that sees the opposing offense rack up 400+ yards and north of 30-points would be extremely disappointing in our opinion. If the defense continues to struggle, Geoff Collins will need to take a deep hard look at this staff.
3. Will the offensive line continue to struggle?
We’ve talked about the offensive line a ton over the last few weeks and we talk about it again, here. The offensive line this season started off really strong and was looking good on both pass protection and run blocking. In their first four games of the season, they allowed just one sack and the Jackets averaged 213.7 rushing yards per game.
Over the last three weeks, the Jackets have allowed 14 sacks and are only averaging 105.6 yards on the ground. Those numbers certainly are not going to be able to get it done if they continue over the next three weeks. Brent Key’s group is going to have to dig down and find that confidence they had at the beginning of the season that made them so successful.
4. Has there been any improvements in the kicking game?
Since Harrison Buttker left the program, Georgia Tech has struggled to find a kicker and that continues in 2020. So far this season, the Jackets are just 1-for-6 in field goal attempts and 15-for-18 in extra points.
I’m not sure if Geoff Collins even has the faith in his kickers right now to give them opportunities but sooner or later, Collins will need to give them a few final chances. If they don’t show anything over the remainder of the season, the Jackets will need to be looking everywhere for a kicker because they can not afford to not have a kicking game again in 2021.
5. Can the Jackets get out to a fast start?
One common theme for Georgia Tech this season is slow starts. Every game it seems the Jackets have gotten out to slow starts on either side of the ball or even both sides of the ball. Even in their wins over FSU and Louisville, the Jackets fell in early holes that they had to climb out of in the second half of the game.
Pittsburgh is not an opponent the Jackets can afford to fall behind early especially big and try to climb out of their self dug hole the remainder of the game. The Pittsburgh offense isn’t overly dangerous but they can be rather efficient and are good at limiting turnovers. Defensively, their one of the better defenses in the ACC. It would be very hard for the Yellow Jackets to stage any type of significant comeback if they were to fall behind early. With that being said, we’re looking for the Jackets to get out to a fast start on both sides of the ball as they look for win No.3 on the season.