1. My, my, look what we have here: 5-0, nationally ranked Georgia Tech. Are you surprised the Yellow Jackets have started so strong? If you could give a few members of their staff truth serum, would they admit to being surprised, too?
I’m surprised. I figured they’d win the first three nonconference games, and I thought they might be able to pick off either Virginia Tech or Miami (despite the success both teams have had against Georgia Tech in Paul Johnson’s tenure) but not both. So the Jackets are at least game better than I probably was expecting. I would guess there’s a little bit of surprise with the staff deep down. I’m sure they had a much better handle on what the team was capable of going into the first game and I’m sure thought they could be 5-0. But I’ll put it this way: Judging by the reaction of players and coaches after the Virginia Tech game, I don’t think anyone went up there thinking it was in the bag.
2. Safe to say Justin Thomas is an upgrade over Durham native Vad Lee at quarterback? And what is it about Thomas that has this offense running so smoothly?
Yes, very safe. Thomas is practically an ideal fit. He’s both quick and fast, which enables him to get the option moving more quickly and then outrun defenders once he gets going downfield. He’s made plays where the defense wasn’t blocked perfectly, but Thomas was fast and quick enough to outrun the unblocked defenders. He provides margin for error. Beyond that, he’s improving at making the reads on the option, is a tough runner and is a better passer than you might expect. The Miami game was a good example of the impact he can have. After he ran for 165 yards against Virginia Tech, Miami tried to force him to give up the ball on the option, which he did, but that freed up B-back (fullback) Zach Laskey to run 29 times for 133 yards and for the A-backs (slotbacks) to score three rushing touchdowns on the perimeter.
3. Looks like Georgia Tech's defense was able to more or less limit the Virginia Tech and Miami offenses. This side of the ball was a real question mark coming into the year, right? What have they figured out in the past few weeks?
They’re getting better at tackling, which was pretty shoddy at the start of the season, and, in turn, preventing big plays. Georgia Tech gave up four plays of 60 or more yards in the first three games of the season, which is two more than the Jackets gave up all last season. The longest play given up in the past two games has been 37 yards. It’s kind of a “bend but don’t break” philosophy – avoid the big plays, make the offense keep converting third downs, wait for the offense to mess up or force a field goal.
4. What other, less obvious elements am I overlooking when trying to figure out how Georgia Tech is 5-0?
Georgia Tech has made plays when it’s counted and received some breaks that seem like have gone against the team in recent years, as the Jackets have hovered a game or two above .500. Against Georgia Southern, Georgia Tech led 35-10 at the half, fell behind 38-35 in the fourth quarter with Georgia Southern driving again when a play ruled an incomplete pass on the field was overturned as a fumble recovered by the Jackets. Georgia Tech took advantage, driving 72 yards for the game-winning touchdown with under a minute to play. On the game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter against Virginia Tech, Thomas converted a fourth-and-15 with a pass to wide receiver DeAndre Smelter. Against Miami, Georgia Tech safeties Isaiah Johnson and Jamal Golden made interceptions inside the Georgia Tech 15 to end Miami scoring threats. Georgia Tech is two plays from being 3-2. In recent years, that statement has usually been flipped the other way around.
5. If you're Georgia Tech and you look at Duke, what concerns you the most about the Blue Devils?
Probably quarterback Anthony Boone. The way Georgia Tech’s defense is playing, a quarterback who can sit in the pocket and just make throw after throw without getting greedy or off-target will do OK, because the pass rush isn’t great. Virginia Tech’s Michael Brewer did it for a half before cooling off – with Georgia Tech’s help – in the second half. Brad Kaaya of Miami had his moments – he averaged 9.8 yards per attempt – but also threw two interceptions.
Also, one thing Paul Johnson has said more than once this week about Duke is that it’s a well-coached, veteran team that won’t beat itself. The way Georgia Tech’s offense works, more than most, a mistake by one lone player can turn into a 50-yard gain. The big pass plays often happen when a cornerback on an island gets sucked in on play-action and lets a receiver run by him with one or no safeties back. If Duke is disciplined enough to also effectively be “bend but don’t break,” that puts more pressure on Georgia Tech’s offense.
Thanks to Ken for his time.