Know Your Enemy, Tech Hate Week Edition: How Are The Yellow Jackets 9-2?
This year’s iteration of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets is the most vexing of the Paul Johnson era. Upon his arrival, he was handed talent perfect for his system in the forms of Josh Nesbitt, Jonathan Dwyer, and Demaryius Thomas, and his early success, in retrospect, was no surprise. As Nesbitt became Tevin Washington, Dwyer and Thomas were replaced by more and more anonymous guys, and defensive standouts such as Darrick Morgan and Morgan Burnett departed, Tech, unsurprisingly, returned to mediocrity.
This was supposed to be the make-or-break year for Paul Johnson’s program, or at least the one where Tech boosters could finally swallow his insane buyout. Via his most balanced offense to date (and ironically, his worst defense), Johnson and the Jackets have gotten to 9-2 in a weak division mostly on smoke and mirrors. Or have they?
I saw the Jackets play at UNC back in October, and the thing that struck me was how inept their defense looked against a good, but not formidable Carolina offense. The Heels had their way with Ted Roof’s D on that night, and that is not an isolated incident. Georgia Southern and Virginia Tech both probably should have come away with wins against the Jackets, and both exceeded their season averages in offensive output in those games. Both lost the game late on offensive miscues. Pitt’s James Connor ran all over them, but three early fumbles buried the Panthers in a 56-28 loss. Two defensive touchdowns turned a close game at N.C. State into a blowout.
Personnel-wise, I would advise you to watch out for Paul Davis and Quayshawn Nealy at the linebacker position, and Jamal Golden as a corner/returner. Nobody has done anything exceptional, but they are the playmakers on this (not great) defense.
While, to their credit, their D has put together three very solid performances (all at home, mind you) against pro-style attacks in Miami and Virginia, and held Clemson to 6 points, what I’m saying is this: their D is not very good and has not seen talent approaching the caliber of Georgia’s. Barring an uncharacteristic barrage of turnovers from surehanded Hutson Mason, Georgia should be able to do what they want on O this week.
Offense is where Tech has made hay in the CPJ era, and that sucks for the Tech hater because it is so infuriating to watch. This is Johnson’s highest-scoring offense at Tech, and its evolved with a (finally) competent passing game.
Besides Tevin Washington’s 2012 season, QB Justin Thomas is the first CPJ quarterback to complete over half of his passes. His passer rating of 164 far trumps anything anyone else has done in this offense, as for the first time the Jackets are actually utilizing two receivers effectively (along with backs on wheel routes, which will always be open against such a run-heavy approach). DeAndre Smelter and Darren Waller are both in the Thomas/Stephen Hill mold, fast guys with tight end size. Both average over a catch and a half per game, which, as I said, is formidable in their offense. While Waller only has 15 catches, he has missed three games due to injury, and at 6’5 240 is a problem in man coverage (which, again, their run dictates). Smelter is the ‘go-to’ guy, and is a worthy one at over 20 YPC and 7 TD.
Tech’s Vad Lee threw for a career-high 232 yards against Georgia last year (and was actually their first 200-yard passer since Western Carolina in 2011). Thomas has exceeded that number twice this year, and Tech’s offense poses a never-before-seen threat to Jeremy Pruitt’s hybridization of the secondary. If they’re going to match Georgia on the scoreboard, they will do so through the air.
The ground attack is what it is. Only in 2008 and 2010 did a running back lead the Jackets in rush attempts. True to form Thomas leads the Jackets with 153 totes this year. His 5.4 yards per rush best any previous CPJ quarterback, so again: he is the common denominator in Johnson’s best attack to date.
The ‘B’ back, essentially the fullback (where Dwyer and Anthony Allen both excelled) is Zach Laskey, and he is the least formidable to come through the system thus far. Think Brendan Douglas (who was actually a Tech commit before a late Georgia offer). He only poses a threat if Tech starts gashing the Dawgs on the outside, which (see Florida game) is not an impossible task.
Their wing backs are as by-committee as they have been in the Johnson era, which allows the Jackets to throw a lot of looks from a pretty homogeneous offensive system. Synjyn Days is the bellcow with 101 totes at a decent six yards per clip. The guy to watch is senior Charles Perkins, who represents the most explosive threat in both the running and passing games. He’s missed some action, but is running for over 10 yards a carry and 23 per completion. Tony Zenon and Deon Hill are predominately pass-catchers, and each sit around 20 yards per catch on about one per game.
To effectively sum up the last six paragraphs, I’ll say this: Tech’s offense is the same basic high school attack that it has been. However, effective quarterback play and balance between playmakers mean the nerds will have five threats (including Thomas) on the field to be accounted for on any given play, and that spells trouble against such a run-heavy attack.
We at DudeYouCrazy.net never overlook special teams play, as it has cost Georgia more times than we care to count. We can go into this game knowing that CPJ is desperate for a win over the Dawgs, and something kitchen sink-like will come from their special teams unit.
Overall, like I said, the Dawgs should have no issues scoring on the Tech defense. Get them down early, and it should be a Georgia win going away. However, I expect the teams to trade scores for much of the game with Georgia pulling away late.
Georgia 49, Nerds 38.