Let’s be honest here, folks. There is a reason why Georgia is a 5 touchdown favorite on Saturday with the Yellow Jackets coming to town. There is a massive difference in the talent levels of these two rosters. The Bulldogs have the 2nd most well recruited roster in all of College Football. Georgia Tech’s is the 30th.
That ranking might surprise you. The Yellow Jackets won just 3 games in each of the prior three seasons. For some perspective, Mississippi State is 29th in the Talent Composite Rankings while Missouri is 31st and CFP Contender TCU is 32nd. My point? Tech under Geoff Collins has far underperformed in comparison to the talent it recruited.
That’s probably a large reason why Collins is no longer in charge of the Tech football program. His regime was such a failure that the man who hired him, AD Todd Stansbury, was dismissed on the same day as Collins. At that time the Yellow Jackets were 1-3 and coming off of a 27-10 loss at UCF. Offensive Line Coach Brent Key was promoted to the interim role and since then the Jackets have been looking more and more like a competent football program.
Key was a Right Guard at Tech from 1997-2000. His time as a player coincided with GT’s most recent period of sustained success. The 1998 team won 10 games and the Gator Bowl and finished the year ranked in the AP Top 10. In 1999 they finished 8-4 and lost a return trip to the Gator Bowl while QB Joe Hamilton finished 2nd in the Heisman Trophy race. Key’s senior season of 2000 ended with a Peach Bowl loss as Tech ended the year at 9-3. Most notably for our purposes, Key finished his career with 3 straight wins over the Bulldogs from 1998-2000.
George O’Leary was the head coach of those GT teams. He left after the 2001 season. Save for a couple nice seasons under Paul Johnson over a decade ago, the Yellow Jackets have had nothing but forgettable results since. In fact, the last time Georgia Tech beat the Bulldogs in Atlanta was in 1999 with Hamilton under Center and O’Leary roaming the sidelines. That stretch from 1998 to 2000 marks the last time the Yellow Jackets won consecutive games against UGA. The Dawgs are 17-3 in the series since Mark Richt was hired after the 2000 season.
Why is this relevant? Well, Key showed up on the sidelines and immediately understood what a well functioning Tech program can and should look like. Instead of co-opting Waffle House’s culture and tradition, he has been able to lean on the experience and success he had when playing for the same program he is now leading. He still has the interim tag on his name, but this Tech team is playing hard for him and they look like they believe in themselves when they take the field. Key was part of the same staff as Collins, but GT now fights with him at the helm. It is a massive difference versus the ineptitude of the prior three seasons.
Tech comes to Athens off of an upset over a UNC team that was 10-1 before losing a 17-point lead to the Yellow Jackets in Chapel Hill. Key is 4-3 in the seven games he’s coached since taking over from Collins and he has gotten Tech to 5-6. You best believe they are going to be motivated by the opportunity to make a bowl game and shock the college football world against the #1 Bulldogs.
Now that we’ve set the stage for where the Tech program is coming into this game, here is what I found when I flipped on their film…
Georgia Tech Offense vs UGA Defense
- Tech is down to its 3rd string QB Zach Gibson. He’s a transfer from Akron who has a decent amount of experience. In 2021 he completed 69% of his attempts for 1,262 YDS (8.0 YPA) with 10 TD’s and 0 INT’s. That said, he was the QB on a 1-9 team and couldn’t wrangle the starting job.
- Tech’s amount of confidence in Gibson can be summed up by the amount of 3rd & 5+ situations where they had him hand the ball off. They were intentional about protecting him from downfield throws.
- Gibson did manage a halfway decent line against UNC. He was 13/18 for 174 YDS and most importantly he had 0 INT’s. The reality? His Average Depth of Target was just 3.1 YDS. The story of the game? 6 of his attempts were behind the line of scrimmage. 9 attempts were between 0-9 YDS. Just 2 of his throws were deeper than that. He was 1 of 2 on attempts from 10-19 YDS.
- Tech also plays QB Taisun Phommachanh. He is used more for his legs than anything else. Against UNC he had 9 carries for 44 YDS and a TD. He will throw occasionally, but last week he was 2 of 5 passing for 13 YDS and 1 INT.
- So how did GT manage to put up 174 receiving YDS and win the game against UNC? They had 152 Yards After the Catch. If Georgia tackles well in this football game they shouldn’t have many problems.
- Tech needs hidden yardage and that means they’re going to take kick returns out more often than not. They’re gonna roll the dice and hope the variance falls their way and they get a big play out of one of those returns. Georgia will need to cover kicks and punts well and wrap the returners up.
- These Tech WR’s aren’t very good at getting separation. Georgia should be able to come close to virtually shutting this WR corps down. #8 Nate McCollum is the only guy who can really be classified as dangerous. With 72 TGT’s this year he has more than twice as many targets as the next closest guy on the team. McCollum has 54 catches for 589 YDS and 3 TD’s. He didn’t play last week but is expected to this week.
- How bad is GT’s WR corps without him in the lineup? Tech targeted its RB’s 10 times and its WR’s 12 times against UNC. They used some traditional HB Screen concepts to make that work. UGA must be careful to not overpursue upfield when those RB’s leak out to catch the ball.
- Tech is in a full-on running back by committee mode right now. They are very committed to the ground game. Against UNC the Jackets had 46 carries for 185 YDS at exactly 4 YPA. They also had 3 fumbles. There’s none of these guys that’s particularly scary. UNC’s defense hasn’t been great this year so 4 YPA against them isn’t any spectacular feat. WR #7 Malachi Carter had 1 rushing attempt but it went for 40 YDS. Take that out and the RB’s really didn’t do too much. #3 Hassan Hall had 14 ATT’s for 3.7 YPA. Tech will use the backup QB, WR’s, etc. to try and find something on the ground. I think they are hunting explosive plays that can lead to points more than sustained drives.
UGA Offense vs Georgia Tech Defense
- Tech is prone to giving up some big plays on the ground. UNC hit an 80- yarder on them last week out of a Shotgun handoff with 4 WR’s. UGA will have some opportunities for long runs in this game, especially if the Bulldogs block well on the perimeter.
- The Safety duo is #29 Clayton Powell-Lee and #20 LaMiles Brooks. They tend to misplay some angles in the run and fill the wrong gaps at times. If Powell-Lee gets to the right spot he’s a pretty sound tackler against the run, but he isn’t exceptionally fast. If he missteps then a big play can happen. On pass plays he has missed the tackle 28.6% of the time when trying to wrap up the pass catcher. That’s a very high number.
- Tech’s DL is actually playing pretty well right now. They got 19 pressures on Drake Maye on 42 dropbacks. Those aren’t crazy numbers, but they turned those pressures into sacks well and got Maye to the ground 6 times. #6 Keion White and #99 D’Quan Douse are the two most productive linemen. White plays as an Edge most of the time and has 38 Pressures this year with 7 sacks. Douse has 23 Pressures with 4 sacks and plays on the interior of the DL. He moves well. White is probably Tech’s best run defender as well. He does a great job of setting edges and fighting into holes.
- There’s a lot of easy yards to be had on the edges of this GT defense if Bennett wants to take off and run. The interior lineman don’t pursue very well to the outside.
- Tech’s secondary doesn’t tackle super well against agile WR’s. McConkey, Bowers and others could turn some short/intermediate routes into big plays after the catch on Saturday.
- None of the Tech DB’s really standout in coverage with the exception of Safety #20 LaMiles Brooks. He has had a PBU or INT on 28% of the 29 TGT’s he has had to play against this year.
- After Brooks, this secondary should be ripe for the picking. The biggest liability for Tech is CB #16 KJ Wallace (63 TGT/43 REC, 511 YDS, 11.9 YPC on 7.0 YDS Avg Depth of Target)
- These GT linebackers do NOT cover very well. That can be HB’s coming out of the backfield or TE’s working over the middle. Regardless, I think UGA will be able to do a lot in this game throwing to Bowers/Washington and dumping the ball off to the running backs on Swings/Screens/Angles/Wheels. Look for UGA to target #2 Ayinde Eley (24 TGT/18 REC) and #1 Charlie Thomas (39 TGT/28 REC).
Final Analysis/Score Prediction
The win over UNC was enough to raise my eyebrows and make me really want to dig into what this Tech team is. The reality is they got very lucky to create some big plays and they cashed them in when they did. The Tech defense plays assignment sound football, but Georgia has better athletes all over the field.
What Tech is doing right now is almost akin to the old Triple Option in the sense that they aren’t trying to throw downfield, lots of guys are getting rush attempts, and they’re hoping to pop big plays here or there and catch you out of position.
The two variables to consider here are A) Weather and B) Mentality. With the rain it’s possible if not probable that UGA will run a more conservative offense and play a lot of line of scrimmage football. That said, they are way better up front than Tech is. They should be able to run the ball early and often as long as they maintain some level of balance if it does get wet. As of this writing, it’s looking more and more like the rain won’t be a factor on Saturday. UGA should be able to throw on this secondary when they want to. I think this is a game where Georgia will have an emphasis on perimeter blocking and establishing a physical tone early on. Tech gave up 642 yards to FSU less than a month ago. That’s the closest thing they’ve seen to UGA’s offense since Key took over for Collins. Look for UGA to get this offense back humming after last week’s slugfest with Kentucky.
When Tech has the ball I think things are this simple. You aren’t beating UGA or having any sort of consistent offensive success against them if you can’t threaten them downfield. Tech doesn’t have much to work with in the passing game and this UGA team tackled screens as well as anyone over the second half of the season. I just don’t think Tech can line up and run the ball at UGA all day and have success. Miami held them to 14 two weeks back and I think that result is much more indicative of where this offense actually is than the game against UNC. Tech fumbled 3 times against the Tar Heels and somehow didn’t lose any of them.
The Yellow Jackets cashed in a big unlikely upset where everything went their way last week. Part of that result was UNC looking flat and disinterested for most of the day. That brings us back to B) Mentality. Smart lost this game his first year and lost to Key as a player. He takes this game seriously and his roster does too. Stetson Bennett, Christopher Smith, and many others are playing in Sanford Stadium for the last time on Saturday. They’ll want to go out right and their teammates will want to send them out in a positive way. I think they will.
Georgia 45 - Georgia Tech 6