Atlanta, GA – Down six starters and depth at key positions, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (1-1, 1-0) faded late Saturday night in their first home tilt of the 2020 season. The Central Florida Knights (1-0, 0-0), a respected top 25 program over the last few years, emerged victorious by a final score of 49-21.
The Jackets entered the game with gaps and question marks across its Above The Line (ATL) depth chart when compared to preseason expectations. Absent from the offense today were starters RB Jordan Mason and TE Dylan Deveney. Another TE, Dylan Leonard, was a scratch.
The damage done to the defense made matters worse. Tech’s defensive line was missing starters DE Antonneous Clayton, DT TK Chimedza and DL Antwan Owens along with key rotational player DE Curtis Ryans, a key cog in the Jackets’ week 1 win against Florida State. Tech’s top CB Tre Swilling also missed his second consecutive game.
“We had to get creative in practice this week… minimal 12 personnel on offense and three down linemen on defense,” said Head Coach Geoff Collins in his postgame interview with radioman Wiley Ballard.
Let’s be clear. Neither Collins nor the players claimed moral victories. Save those for today’s victor who is wont for fabricated titles and hardware.
For Tech the mantra is next man up. The team fought valiantly, showing signs of life into the 4th quarter against an opponent that most outside of the Georgia Tech program expected to roll easily today. A 33-yard touchdown run by true freshman RB Jahmyr Gibbs narrowed the Knights’ lead to 28-21 with 13:12 remaining in the game. The home crowd was energized as was the home team.
But football games are won on the line of scrimmage, and Tech began with one hand tied behind its back on the defensive front. Evidence of wear and tear to that unit showed itself late as the Knights’ vaunted offense reasserted itself in the 4th quarter, scoring three consecutive touchdowns immediately after Gibbs’ jaunt without much resistance. Tech’s offense sputtered in response, and the final chapter of the story was written.
Despite the absence of key players, the Jackets had plenty of opportunities within their control to affect the outcome of the game. Turnovers and special teams often determine college football games and today was no different.
Following an impressive first game despite a few mistakes, QB Jeff Sims led a Tech offense today that coughed up the ball five times. Of the Jackets five turnovers, two came thru the air and three came via the ground game.
Special teams was a mixed bag. Rarely is “mixed bag” a positive, however after the debacle in Tallahassee that descriptor is an improvement. The Jackets must resolve its field goal issues to become a threat in the ACC this year and in the future. See 2014. Otherwise, “mixed bag” will lead to a new definition for “scoring range”.
There were certainly signs of light. Jahmyr Gibbs lived up to his billing, ripping off a 75 yard kickoff return on his first collegiate touch. Gibbs finished with 219 all purpose yards and two touchdowns.
Tech’s offense has now shown a pattern of improvement as compared to last year. Sims led the offense to 471 yards of total offense. Nine different receivers caught balls for 244 yards thru the air, demonstrating a balance and proficiency without needing to rely on one or two playmakers. To that end, noticeably absent despite the team success were WR Ahmarean Brown and WR Jalen Camp, each of which tallied a single reception for 11 yards.
The Jackets managed 12 chunk plays, defined as passing plays of 15+ yards and running plays of 10+ yards. The distribution was an even 6 and 6, respectively. Overall the offense produced 5.8 yards per play and converted 7 of 15 third downs.
Last but certainly not least, punter Pressley Harvin remained an “absolute unit”, averaging 51.2 yards per punt. Of his four punts, three ended up inside the 20, with one boom ball traveling 70 yards.
Ultimately it was feast or famine on offense. Combined with a shorthanded defense forced to play 92 plays, the flood gates opened late for Tech’s foe. Next week brings Tech back into ACC play with a road trip to Syracuse and an opportunity to go 2-0 in ACC play.