A post-mortem following yesterday’s wild victory for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (1-0, 1-0) over the Florida State Seminoles (0-1, 0-1), starting with my overall takeaway.
We are an improved team. We are not a good team, yet.
Based on Saturday’s performance, both the national media narrative and the Vegas narrative are likely to change going forward. That is, the ceiling for this year’s Yellow Jackets squad is higher than most expected in the preseason. Picked last out of 15 teams in the conference by the ACC media and pegged as a 13-point underdog by Vegas in the opener, the Jackets effectively shattered those expectations one game into the season following a 16-13 win on the road in Doak Campbell Stadium.
Let’s break down some of the highlights and opportunities for improvement, of which there are more than are included here.
What Went Well
- Quarterback Jeff Sims
What more can you say about the grit and poise out of the true freshman from Florida? Originally a Florida State commit and allegedly asked to look elsewhere by new Seminoles Head Coach Mike Norvell, Sims played up to his Elite 11 credentials and then some in a redemption game of sorts. Connecting on 24 of 35 of his passes (68.5%) for 277 yards, along with 64 yards on the ground, Sims stat line by itself was a good one for his first collegiate game reps.
More than that, the intangibles showed up. He showed above average awareness in the pocket, and above average ability to keep plays alive, and a selflessness to give up his body for the extra yards to extend drives. There were absolutely freshman mistakes, some of which showed up in the stat line and others where he was more fortunate. However the body of work as compared to that of a typical true freshman suggests the Jackets got a good one.
- Offensive Line Improvement
Much was made of the NFL talent on the Seminoles’ defensive line. There probably aren’t many Yellow Jackets who would start for the Seminoles defense based on recruiting rankings and next level projections. In the end the Yellow Jackets offensive line, now in year 2 under line coach Brent Key, conceded just one sack. The Seminoles generated six tackles for loss (TFL), some of which occurred on the perimeter on failed jet sweeps and wide receiver screens.
The offensive line can lay claim to the most decisive improvement for one position group from year 1 to year 2. Credit goes to Offensive Coordinator Dave Patenaude and Quarterback Jeff Sims as well. The Jackets’ offensive strategy appeared designed to get the ball out quickly and exploit the short and intermediate game, rarely taking the time required for shots downfield, and Sims was masterful at avoiding pressure when plays inevitably broke down.
- Defense Locked Down After Early Miscues
After the Seminoles’ opening possession ended in an all too familiar easy touchdown drive, there were likely few Tech fans who would have predicted that the Jackets would yield just 6 points the rest of the way. That is exactly what Defensive Coordinator Andrew Thacker’s defense did. The defense was disruptive and forced 4 turnovers (1 on downs). They gave up just 3.8 yards per play and sacked Seminoles Quarterback James Blackman three times. Yes, this was a beleaguered and much maligned Florida State offense, but how many times in recent past have we seen those same offenses move through the Jackets’ defense with ease?
- Confidence and Swagger
At the end of the day, fair or not, wins and losses often affect perception of the components as much as anything else. In order to win though, one team needs to be the better team for 4 quarters, and that is exactly what the Jackets proved on Saturday. The pregame ESPN match-up predictor suggested that the Jackets had a 24% chance of winning. The in-game predictor suggested that the Jackets were underdogs into the 4th quarter, up until Defensive End Curtis Ryans’ strip sack of Blackman. At no time did it appear that Tech lost focus. “Competition is King” reared its beautiful face until the final whistle.
Room For Improvement
- Special Teams
There’s not much more that needs to be said that wasn’t readily observed. The Jackets struggled with field goal protection, field goal kicking and in the kickoff return game. Even famed Punter Pressley Harvin had a misfire, but past performance suggests his first punt attempt late in the 2nd quarter (you read that right) was an aberration. Nowhere to go but up from here. Kudos to true freshman kicker Jude Kelley for delivering when it mattered most and hitting the game winner.
Eight (8) flags for 80 yards just isn’t going to get the job done against most ACC teams, especially on the road. While penalties rarely come at good times, one could argue that the timing of yesterday’s hiccups nearly handed the game to the Seminoles. The Jackets moved the ball with relative ease between the 20’s, however ill-timed personal fouls created headwinds for an offense that is still trying to find and confirm its identity. The missed field goals might not have been attempted at all if not for the Jackets’ miscues. The good news is the penalties can be learning opportunities, which are much easier to swallow when complemented with a win.
- Quality of Opponent
Simply put, Florida State is not a great team. Despite their talent and program history, the ‘Noles were average last year, finishing 6-7 (4-4) under since-fired Head Coach Willie Taggart. Now they’re going through a transition of their own and we caught them during their first live game reps under new Head Coach Mike Norvell. Their quarterback, Blackman, has struggled through a handful of different offensive coordinators to the point where any quarterback’s head would be spinning. Then the program went through an offseason without a full install of their new offensive and defensive schemes due to Covid-19, along with off-field drama among the coaches and players. Putting it mildly, it was a great time for the Jackets to catch the Seminoles.
Restating my post in the game 1 preview thread:
“My hypothesis is that Week 1 will be sloppy in CFB. Whether that's due to new practice schedules, revised team protocols (e.g., less contact), or off-field distractions/priorities, there are a variety of reasons this season and especially week 1 may not match expectations when compared to other years, regardless of roster talent and coaching. It might also mean some teams inadvertently appear to "click" more than they otherwise will, whether that's due to random chance or an under-prepared opponent.
What does that mean for my week 1 expectations? I'm mentally prepared that anything can happen. And the results may not be indicative of future performance. I just hope we're the benefactors of the unpredictability.”
May I emphasize “the results may not be indicative of future performance”? Tech won and Tech improved. It is hard to demand much more than that. But as the areas for improvement suggest, we have a long way to go before we can say Tech has arrived. The good news is there are many signs of hope and potential for continued improvement. The speed at which the Jackets realize that improvement will go a long way toward determining their record in the 2020 season.