Georgia Tech CB Tre Swilling gets the strip sack on Duke QB Daniel Jones

ATLANTA, GA – A spirited, neck-and-neck first half between Georgia Tech (3-4, 1-3) and Duke (5-1, 1-1) for the Yellow Jackets’ Homecoming tilt quickly turned into a dispiriting unraveling by the home team.

“Three” was the theme. Fumbles on three consecutive touches by Tech’s offense and special teams resulted in three consecutive touchdown drives for Duke in under three minutes of game time, breaking open a once tied game and giving the Blue Devils a comfortable 21 point lead by the end of the third quarter. The rest of the game was simply a formality, with the Blue Devils coasting comfortably to a 28-14 win.

Duke’s win marked their fourth in their last five tries against the Yellow Jackets.

The aforementioned miscues by the Yellow Jackets were incurred by three different players. None came from the mesh or the pitch; rather the ball was simply lost or stripped while the runner was going down. Nonetheless, the result was the same and doomed Tech’s chances in a game that at one time seemed destined to go down to the wire.

Among the bright spots with the game still in question was the Yellow Jackets’ defense. Prior to the game-changing errors on offense and special times, Tech’s defense was mostly stout. They had allowed just 7 points and 168 yards on eight Blue Devils’ drives. Duke only muscled out 3.9 yards per play.

Tech’s defense forced three turnovers in the first half. The first came on 4 downs, with Kyle Cerge-Henderson knifing into the backfield and disrupting a 4th and 1 attempt by the Blue Devils on their second drive of the day. One drive later, redshirt freshman cornerback Tre Swilling timed a corner blitz perfectly, earning the first strip sack of his career and handing the ball back to the Georgia Tech offense.

Last but certainly not least, a quarterback pressure by Anree Saint-Amour led to cornerback Lamont Simmons’ first career interception. One cannot understate Saint-Amour’s impact on the game today. The senior defensive lineman continues to get better and had perhaps the best game of his career. His final stat line included two sacks, one quarterback hurry and a forced fumble.

Another standout, albeit on one crucial play, was true freshman wide receiver Malachi Carter. With the Jackets staring at a goose egg late in the first half, Carter hauled in a 32-yard touchdown reception from quarterback TaQuon Marshall, pulling the Jackets to a 7-7 tie heading into the halftime locker room. It was Carter’s third career catch.

Ultimately the lights went out across the board in all phases for Tech late in that fateful third quarter, and the Jackets never recovered. Up next is a trip to Blacksburg where the Jackets will look to get back on track and improve their chances at a bowl game. The number of wins still needed to reach a bowl? Three.

Video courtesy of ACC Digital Network

ATLANTA, GA – The much-anticipated debut of new defensive coordinator Nate Woody’s defense was by most measures a success Saturday during Georgia Tech’s home opener against the FCS’ Alcorn State Braves. Most importantly, the defense did its part to help the Yellow Jackets (1-0) blast the Braves (0-1) by a final score of 41-0 at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

For starters, the Jackets' defense pitched a shutout for the first time since 2013 (56-0 vs. Syracuse). The measures of success for coach Nate Woody’s defense were plenty, including:

  • Two turnovers forced, including an interception by redshirt freshman safety Kaleb Oliver in the <gasp> last minute of the first half.
  • The Georgia Tech defense outscored the Alcorn State Braves’ team, 7-0. Early in the third quarter senior defensive end Anree Saint-Amour forced a fumble, scooped up by linebacker David Curry and returned 15 yards for a touchdown.
  • The Jackets defense limited the Braves to 146 yards and 2.9 yards per play. As a means for comparison, in the Jackets’ 69-6 season opening win vs. the Braves in 2015, the Braves put up 272 yards.
  • Tech limited the Braves to 2 of 11 on 3rd down.

“I thought overall, it’s like I told our defense after the game, if you don’t give up any points you’re probably not ever going to lose. So that was a positive.” said Johnson. “At the same time, we want our standard to be, we missed some opportunities.”

Other phases of the game were not as pretty. The offense and special teams executed inconsistently to say the least, despite the offense racking up 543 total yards and averaging 7.5 yards per play. Quarterback TaQuon Marshall struggled to find a rhythm early.

“I thought [the passing game] was lousy,” said Johnson. “[We] threw the ball lousy.”

When asked to expand, Johnson did not relent with his usual candor. “I guess I have a high standard. We punted the ball one time. I didn’t think we were consistent. I didn’t like the way we played considering who we were playing. We didn’t throw the ball well. We didn’t block well. We turned too many guys loose inside at times. Didn’t throw well.”

Marshall finished the game 9 of 18 passing for 104 yards. Despite the slow start, Marshall finished his last series of the day 5 of 6 passing, capping a 97-yard touchdown drive with a 24-yard pass to wide receiver Brad Stewart in the back corner of the end zone.

The Jackets’ ground game did what it’s built to do, racking up 439 rushing and saw three different players eclipse 75 yards rushing individually. One of those was redshirt freshman Jordan Mason, who looked every bit the part of a starting B-Back, the role he filled in his first ever collegiate game. Mason capped his first ever offensive drive with a 28-yard run up the gut, the road to the end zone graded and paved by the offensive line. He finished the day with 11 carries for 85 yards and his first touchdown as a Yellow Jacket.

A number of other fresh faces made their debut, including 11 true freshmen. Among those that made their mark were punt returner Juanyeh Thomas (25-yard return in second quarter) and cornerback Jaylon King (forced fumble).

While not a new face, linebacker David Curry made his presence known following 21 months on the sidelines primarily due to injury. In addition to his scoop and score, he was visible elsewhere on the field, tying for a team high four tackles.

“He was really making progress before when he got hurt,” said Johnson regarding Curry. “I know he made a couple tackles. I think he’s definitely got the ability to help us there, and hopefully he’ll continue to grow like everybody else.”

Place kicking remains a concern. Today’s performance included a missed extra point and missed field goal, the latter from 51 yards out. Nonetheless, early evidence provided little reason to believe that special teams are any less “special” this year when compared to last.

Continued improvement will be welcome and potentially necessary with a visit to the South Florida Bulls on deck. Bulls head coach Charlie Strong will have his squad ready for its first of two power five opponents.

Said Johnson simply, “We've got to make a ton of progress from week one to week two as the competition will continue to ratchet up.”

Head Coach Josh Pastner (Photo courtesy of GTAA)

ATLANTA, GA - Since his hiring in 2016, Georgia Tech Head Coach Josh Pastner has told everyone who is willing to listen, "this is a five year rebuild." He has also maintained that the 2019 recruiting class will ultimately decide whether or not that rebuild will be successful.

Pastner has a sterling reputation as a great recruiter. He recruited the best ever class by ranking as the head coach of the Memphis Tigers. More recently, he has diligently worked at making those words into a sort of prophecy as September 2018 fills with official visits from high profile players in the 2019 class.

Expected visitors to Georgia Tech this month include:

  • Boogie Ellis: A five star point guard out of Mission Bay in San Diego has scheduled his official visit to Atlanta from 9/14-9/16. Ellis is a five star recruit also being courted by Arizona, Oregon, San Diego State and Gonzaga.
  • Robbie Beran: One is the biggest risers of the 2018 summer session, Beran is a big wing with the much coveted “Nowitzki game”. Also of note to Georgia Tech fans, he is a 4.0 student with a 1220 SAT. The word is he will be visiting Atlanta officially this weekend.
  • Marcus Watson: Watson is the local prospect that all Yellow Jackets fans want and the program needs. He will be on his GT official on 9/21. He is visiting Boston College this weekend.
  • Orlando Robinson: A 7 footer out of Las Vegas, Robinson is an interesting player. Louisville is the school to be scared of here, but you have to wonder if he is a secondary option for Chris Mack. Orlando visits Atlanta at the end of September.
  • Ismael Massoud: Another big wing with tremendous shooting ability, Massoud is the prototypical Pastner recruit. He will be joining Robinson in Atlanta on 9/28. Also of note, Coach Reveno is the lead on Massoud and he could really use a recruiting win.

Any four-way combination out of that group should be considered a huge recruiting coup for Pastner, and it would generate national publicity for Tech and the class.

While Watson may be the most coveted recruit among Yellow Jacket fans given the desperation to "put a fence up around Georgia", Ellis would be by far the most impactful early on. The younger brother of former GT point guard Justin Moore, Ellis saw his stock explode this summer rising up to the #25 recruit in the country. He is a three level scorer with excellent handles and big time swagger.

The fan base of this program is simply waiting for something to go positively so they can be heard. After an overachieving first season under Pastner in which everything went right, it felt as if 2017-18 was the season where nothing could break our way. In other words, it was a harsh and immediate regression to the mean.

Once again, there is reason to be optimistic in the ATL as this coaching staff has put the program in place to land possibly the best recruiting class, talent-wise, since 2009.

Let's hope that is where the comparison ends between those two classes in Georgia Tech history.

ATLANTA, GA - Sophomore wing Curtis Haywood told Georgia Tech sports reporters that, "Georgia Tech will run and could be one of the fastest teams in the country."

As many well know, this has been Coach Josh Pastner's intent since he took the reigns in Atlanta, recruiting guards that would thrive in the up tempo world such as Jose Alvarado and Mike Devoe as well as bigger wings that can shoot. This comes as no surprise since that's how Pastner primarily built his teams at Memphis.

Personally, I would not mind seeing an uptick in tempo when it comes to Georgia Tech basketball. For far too long the program has wallowed in the depths of what can only be described as a boring type of basketball. My main questions about this approach is: Are the Jackets ready? Why not last year? The obvious answer there is that center Ben Lammers would have suffered in that style, but does Pastner have the horses this year to run?

Last season the Yellow Jackets ranked 277th in adjusted tempo (possessions per 40 minutes) and 197th in adjusted offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) according to Kenpom. In fact, the last time a Georgia Tech team finished better than 142nd in adjusted tempo was 2011 when the Jackets finished 55th. That year they were also 191st in adjusted offensive efficiency and finished the season at 13-18.

In a recent press conference Coach Pastner did acknowledge that he wants to pick up the pace but also said that, "we'll see if I stick with it."

While I am unsure if the Jackets currently have the horses, I am sure that the current roster is made to run. Outside of redshirt senior center AD Gueye, there aren't any bigs on the roster that are traditional post players. Sophomores Moses Wright and Evan Cole both project as big fours who would thrive in a running game as opposed to back-to-the-basket, on the block big men. I also believe that transfer Shembari Phillips and true freshman Khalid Moore will benefit from the court opening up in front of them.

One concern I admit to having is defense. Last season the Jackets ranked 61st in adjusted defensive efficiency (points surrendered per 100 possessions), a ranking we should expect to suffer when coupled with giving the opposition more possessions this season. Add in the departures of perimeter defender Josh Okogie and rim protector Ben Lammers, and it becomes more difficult to project a top 100 finish in that metric.

The catch-22 here is that if Pastner does not kick up the tempo soon, recruiting may continue to be a struggle. Of course, if he goes up tempo and doesn't win basketball games, his seat may heat up around year 4 and then...recruiting will be a struggle.

This storyline may be the most interesting going into the 2018-19 season. If Jose Alvarado and Curt Gone Bad (Haywood's nickname via Twitter) both return completely healthy this season that would be a tremendous start. Stylistically, a run and gun offense makes a player like Alvarado a terror for opposing teams. Let's see how it plays out.