I’ve actually had requests to write more about Georgia Tech. This is noteworthy because I usually only get asked to stop writing about something. But enough about me.
Georgia Tech, I’m afraid to say, is what I thought it was when last I mentioned the Jackets. It’s bad on defense and limited on offense. To say the Tech D has gotten worse under Al Groh would be statistically incorrect: The Jackets were 54th nationally among FBS teams in total defense last season; they’re 53rd now. What’s hurting Tech, believe it or not, is that Paul Johnson’s stylized offense isn’t holding up its end.
The Jackets are second in the nation in rushing offense, same as a year ago. The difference is that Tech ranks 48th nationally in total offense, down from 26th last season. What has gone wrong? There’s no Bay-Bay.
Demaryius Thomas, known as Bay-Bay, averaged 82.43 receiving yards per game last season — pretty darn good for a wideout on a team that ranked only 116th in passing yardage. With Thomas now gainfully employed in the NFL, Tech averages only 84.75 yards passing as a team.
A year ago, Bay-Bay made Joshua Nesbitt look like a competent passer: Tech actually finished 12th nationally in passing efficiency. (Didn’t know that, did you?) This year Tech ranks 106th in passing efficiency, and Nesbitt’s personal rating has dropped from 148.69 to 110.51. His completion percentage was 46.3 last season; it’s 38.2 now. His yards-per-attempt average was 1o.5 last season; it’s 6.61 now.
Put another way, whenever Nesbitt threw the ball last season there was (almost) half a chance he’d complete it for a first down. This year there’s roughly one-third of a chance the ball will be caught for substantially less yardage. Yes, that’s some difference.
Part of Nesbitt’s problem is that he’s rarely asked to make an easy throw. He can’t just dump the ball over the middle to a tight end because Tech has no tight ends on the roster. And Stephen Hill, billed as the Next Bay-Bay? He has 12 catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns in eight games. Thomas had 46 catches for 1,154 yards and eight touchdowns in 13 games last season.
This shows us, not for the first time, that Johnson’s stylized offense has its limitations: It cannot win at the highest level with a passing game this poor. And we can’t say that Tech has been set back by having to break in a new quarterback: This is Nesbitt’s third year as a starter in this system.
Bay-Bay made PJ’s offense look good because he made astonishing catches on demand. Bay-Bay was also signed by PJ’s predecessor, Chan Gailey, who ran a pro-style offense. Georgia Tech isn’t apt to sign a receiver so talented again anytime soon.
We went back and forth over the summer in trying to decide which of the four junior Jackets who left early for the pros was most indispensable, with defensive end Derrick Morgan being the early favorite. But now it’s clear: Thomas was the man Tech couldn’t lose. With him to bail out Nesbitt, the 2009 Jackets didn’t sustain their second loss until two days after Thanksgiving. With Bay-Bay as a Denver Bronco, the 2010 Jackets lost their third game eight days before Halloween.