ATLANTA, GA – Finally, we have it. The first win of the Coach Collins era at Georgia Tech. Given that many expected a 0-1 record following our season opener, winning in week 2 became an even more important milestone to achieve. With the win over USF on Saturday afternoon, Tech fans can breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy a small taste of revenge in light of last year's second half collapse in Tampa. This game also provided a clearer look at the strengths and needed improvements for this new-look Georgia Tech squad.
There is not enough that can be said about punter Pressley Harvin so far this year. Without him, Tech would not have won this game. He proved absolutely critical in terms of field positioning, and his high, end-over-end punts were difficult to field for USF's return team. Both of Harvin's first two punts sailed 55 yards and pinned USF at their own 14 and 6, respectively. His third punt was fumbled by the returner which set Tech up for their second and final touchdown. Harvin also had another muffed punt and another 55 yard punt in the game, but the former was recovered by USF and the latter went uncounted following a USF penalty that gave Tech a first down instead. Even with a shanked punt in the game, Harvin maintained an average of 41.3 yards per punt. He will be a weapon moving forward.
Who is our Kicker?
As for questions in the placekicking game, Wesley Wells was dressed for yesterday's game, however Brenton King took all of the reps. When asked about the decision to play King at the postgame press conference, head coach Geoff Collins stated that King was the better kicker in practice and earned the start. There weren't many opportunities for King, with two made PATs and a missed 51 yard FG wide right.
O-Line Depth a Big Concern
The offensive line did best providing a rushing push for most of the game, but had some serious issues with pass protection. This was, in part, due to losing two key starters, Mikey Minihan and Kenny Cooper, in the first half. If anything, this game should show how resilient the line is and how important Coach Key has been on The Flats. Collins reiterated this in the postgame, saying that coaches including Key stress positional flexibility for everyone on the O-Line. Without positional flexibility, including the likes of Jahaziel Lee who due to attrition moved back to offensive tackle full-time from the defensive line, Tech would have had an even more difficult time moving the ball.
Offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude tried to work within the strengths of the team's personnel, calling a number of screens and quick passes to take some of the stress off the line. With a number of scholarship linemen down after only Tech's second game (Hansen, Clark, Minihan, Cooper), the line is facing a huge hurdle for the rest of the season.
The interior defensive linemen provided a lot of help stopping inside runs on Saturday. The line got a great jump off the ball and allowed just one broken play, a QB scramble by USF quarterback Blake Barnett. That unit's highlight was arguably the turning point in the game, when tackle TK Chimedza knocked the ball loose during Tech's fourth quarter goal line stand.
As for the pass rush, the Jackets got inside and forced check down throws and scrambles out of the pocket, while also tallying 4 sacks for the game. Defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker and his line coaches, Marco Coleman and Larry Knight, did a great job of continuously rotating linemen throughout the game to keep them fresh and attack the ball. They disguised coverages and stunts, causing confusion in the trenches.
Charlie Thomas, Tre Swilling, and Pass Coverage
This was another very good game for the secondary, who allowed just 169 yards through the air. We saw lockdown coverage force check down throws or misreads by the QB. Cornerback Tre Swilling stayed sound in the secondary, while safeties Juanyeh Thomas and Tariq Carpenter played very well in coverage and on the blitz.
One big standout at the second level was outside linebacker Charlie Thomas. Thomas was generally solid in coverage and got in the backfield multiple times, causing 2 sacks and 2 tackles for loss. He is becoming an asset for the team. His skills should be helpful against The Citadel, where having a smart, rangy outside linebacker that can get into the backfield should allow Tech to make plays against the option.
The QB Wheel of Destiny
A lot of fans are undecided about the three QB rotation we are showing thus far. While having one QB that could do it all would be great, we saw flashes of excellence (and needed improvements) from all three candidates yesterday.
Lucas Johnson got the majority of the reps under center and did well in the short passing game. He often made the right calls and was very careful with the ball. He did fairly well in the option looks, but sometimes mad wrong reads.
James Graham was my favorite QB yesterday, showing his willingness to go downfield and do so accurately again. He showed some agility and an ability to make plays with his legs, escaping for a 15 yard run early in the 3rd quarter.
Tobias Oliver was a huge threat in our red zone offense, making things happen on the ground on the second touchdown drive. I also thought the option plays with Oliver at slot/running back were effective.
Moving forward, I hope to see more of Graham behind center with running back Jordan Mason and Oliver at skill positions. Their strengths play very well in this new spread system. Both are hard to track and tackle.
Discipline and Intensity
One of the biggest factors in this game was USF's lack of discipline, which led to a number of additional chances for Tech. Collins spoke to that during his postgame press conference, saying he was proud of the team for staying calm and avoiding distractions during the game. This is something we obviously hope to see going forward.
Collins also spoke to his "every play has a life of its own" mentality. Throughout the second half, there were momentum plays that went against Tech. Collins has coached the importance of playing in the moment and being aware and alert on every play, which proved vital when it came time for the goal line stand.
Discipline will be important next week against Citadel. Being in the moment, staying patient and reading keys will be crucial for this team to continue to execute on defense and for the team to improve to 2-1 on the season.