In only six games, Georgia Tech’s season has made space for two overtime losses, the dismissal of the defensive coordinator and, among other things, two fans falling (without serious injury) off of Bobby Dodd Stadium railings. At least one integral component of Georgia Tech’s football team remains unchanged.
The Yellow Jackets continue to flog opponents with their running game. Tech is averaging 331.0 yards per game, third in the country. After six games, they’re a few feet ahead of the school-record average, 329.7 yards per game in 1975.
“I think they’re doing great,” quarterback Tevin Washington said of Tech’s offensive linemen. “I can’t complain.”
Others are a little more discriminating. The coach of the Tech offensive line, which brought back four full-time starters from last year’s team, finds room for improvement.
Said Mike Sewak, “It’s not up to my expectations.”
In the bye week preceding Saturday’s game against Boston College, the line devoted time to defensive line stunts and linebacker blitzes. The line has had some trouble consistently handling both maneuvers, Sewak said.
Tech has given up nine sacks on 90 pass attempts, four of them in the disastrous loss to Middle Tennessee State. In the ACC, only Maryland has a lower rate of passes per sack. Sewak said the line has devoted particular attention to pass protection in obvious passing situations.
“We worked hard on it,” Sewak said. “I thought we’d be better at it. We have not.”
Tech’s third-down efficiency is down from 53.9 percent a year ago, which was second in the country, to 45.5 percent. For a second consecutive year, the B-back production has been below standard. There have been also a handful of notable failures in 4th-and-short situations, most recently in the first quarter of the loss to Clemson on Tech’s 37-yard line.
“I don’t care what the scenario is, as any line guy would tell you, 4th and inches is 4th and inches,” Sewak said. “If you’ve got to go for it, you’ve got to get it.”
Injuries have hindered cohesion. Tech had hoped that offensive tackle Morgan Bailey could stay healthy and start at right tackle, but he has only recently begun playing regularly. Will Jackson, who moved to tackle from guard because of Bailey’s absence, center Jay Finch and guards Shaquille Mason and Omoregie Uzzi have missed parts of games with injuries.
That said, Tech’s scoring average. 37.8 points per game, is higher than every Jackets team but once since 1921. According to cfbstats.com, Tech is tied for first in the country with most plays of 30 yards or more with 24. If Washington had enough passes to qualify, he would be ranked 13th in the country in passing efficiency.
“There’s always room for improvement, but if you watch the tape, we really didn’t have any glaring mistakes,” Jackson said. “But there were plays that, if a guy had gotten his block or gotten his block a little better, then it would have been a long touchdown.”
At the end of the first half of the loss to Clemson, Jackson just missed on a downfield block of a safety who ended up being the last man between A-back Orwin Smith and the goal line. Had Jackson been able to put Jonathan Meeks on the ground, a 33-yard run would have been a touchdown. Instead of giving up the ball after a missed field goal, Tech could have taken a 28-27 lead.
With a 2-4 record, the Jackets need to stack up wins in order to gain a bowl berth and earn back respect. The offensive line, still arguably the best unit on the team, may have to bear a heavy portion of that load. With the Tech defense, now under the direction of interim coordinator Charles Kelly, an unknown quantity, ball control and scoring may be an even more valuable assets than they have been for Johnson’s teams and could require the line’s best.
The Jackets start with Boston College, ranked No. 117 in run defense out of 120 FBS teams, but the Eagles are followed by BYU (No. 3 in run defense), Maryland (tied for No. 9) and North Carolina (No. 14).
If a group that typically avoids attention would like a piece of it, it has its opportunity.
“I think (fans) are going to see a lot more energy out of us, better play out of us,” Beno said.
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