Another week, another opponent for Duke football. To prepare for this Saturday’s game featuring No. 20 Georgia Tech (2-1), Ken Sugiura of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution kindly dropped some knowledge for us.
1. The final score of the Notre Dame game was a bit deceiving, with the Jackets scoring twice in the final minute. How were the Irish able to so effectively stop the option?
A: A few things happened. First, Notre Dame came in with a good game plan and had prepared well. As some teams have done, the Irish devoted time in the preseason to the option (they also play Navy), and coach Brian Kelly tasked a staff member to research the option to help develop a game plan over the offseason and he even recruited a walk-on quarterback with an option background to run the option scout team. Second, they implemented with the game plan with potential first-round picks, like linebacker Jaylon Smith and defensive tackle Sheldon Day, who avoided cut blocks and tackled well. Third, Tech self-destructed with a slew of missed blocks, often allowing Notre Dame’s defenders a free run at the ball.
2. Correct me if I'm wrong, but offensively, it all starts with quarterback Justin Thomas, yes? After a highly successful first year as the starter, what have you seen out of him this year?
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A: You are correct. He is a terrific option quarterback, easily the best that coach Paul Johnson has had at Tech since his hire after the 2007 season (days apart, you may remember, from David Cutcliffe’s start at Duke). What I’ve seen is that I think he’s developed as a passer, showing more command and comfort with the passing game. However, he’s lost his top receiver, Micheal Summers, as well as one of the most explosive A-backs (slotback) in Qua Searcy. Both have undisclosed injuries and will not play against Duke. I think, also, though, he has fallen a few times in the trap of trying to do too much when plays break down, which may be the result of having a lot of inexperienced players around him and feeling the need to lead in that way. He has the speed to make those plays work sometimes, but they’ve also busted on him.
3. Stanford transfer Patrick Skov seems to be off to a productive start. Does he qualify as a pleasant surprise for the offense? And how does Paul Johnson feel about the rest of his new backs?
A: I’d say he was a pleasant surprise when the transfer was made public last spring. I think most people, looking at his size and background as a bruising fullback in the Stanford offense, figured that he’d be a good fit, which he has been. He runs hard and gains tough yards. Tech hasn’t had a B-back (fullback) quite like him in Johnson’s tenure. The A-backs are mostly young, but athletic. Only Broderick Snoddy (who may be on the injury report Thursday) came into this year with significant experience. That group is important because they’re often the ones making blocks on the perimeter to clear the sidelines on option plays, but it’s been a challenge thus far. At B-back, Marcus Marshall is a home-run threat (he ran for 184 yards on eight carries in Tech’s opener against FCS Alcorn State) but needs to play more physically, Johnson said. He didn’t play much against Notre Dame.
4. The nonconference loss to Notre Dame is obviously disappointing for a team that has big aspirations this year. Did that change expectations at all, and does that invoke any sense of desperation to avoid another loss this week?
A: I don’t think expectations have changed. Team members had expressed their goal of going undefeated, which wasn’t so unreasonable after beating Clemson, Georgia and Mississippi State and nearly upsetting Florida State in the second half of last season. I’d imagine the CFP is still a goal. But I think the schedule worked out for being the right time to lose, if there is such a thing. It was hugely disappointing to lose, but now the Jackets can point immediately to winning the Coastal and the ACC with the start of ACC play, against a team that beat them at home last year, no less. I think the Notre Dame loss was one of the “get players’ attention” variety.
Georgia Tech at Duke
Saturday, Noon (ESPN2)