1. I’m not sure there’s a lot to take away from the defensive effort. Wofford averaged 5.4 yards per play. (Tech’s defensive average last year was 5.5; Wofford averaged 5.0 on offense last year.) I’m not quite ready to commit to the opinion that Tech’s defense is worse than half of the defenses Wofford played last season. Then again, you’d think the defense would be better prepared to stop an option offense than just about anyone.
Of course, the yards per play average was increased considerably by the 92-yard run by Ray Smith. If you even halve the run, the yards-per-play average would be 4.7. (The play can’t be discounted, obviously, but was an example of what can happen in this offense. As I’ve heard countless coaches say, the danger of it is that if one person makes a mistake, the play can go the distance.)
There were no sacks – although there were only 13 pass attempts, and Wofford quarterback Evan Jacks often through quickly, and there often was pressure – and no turnovers. (Wofford was sacked 12 times last year in 88 pass attempts.) The Jackets had a sack in every game last season and forced a turnover in 10 of their 13 games (Duke, Virginia Tech and BYU). If I were a little more ambitious, I’d figure out the last time Tech didn’t have either a sack or turnover, but not today.
The tackling and pursuit angles weren’t great, but maybe that’s to be expected in a first game.
2. End Roderick Rook-Chungong played a sound game against the option. Nose tackle Shawn Green was often disruptive and had two tackles for loss and also blocked an extra-point try.
Defensive tackle Pat Gamble, the only backup lineman to get significant playing time, had four tackles including a tackle for loss and a forced fumble.
Maybe the ultimate grade should be the 19 points allowed. That’s eight fewer than Clemson allowed Wofford in 2011 (a 35-27 win, a game that wasn’t decided until Wofford’s last possession). Clemson went on to win 10 games that season.
Hard to judge, although the lack of turnovers presumably did not sit well with defensive coordinator Ted Roof.
3. Offensively, the unit gained momentum as the game went on, particularly after the 92-yard touchdown run. As I noted previously, Tech averaged 5.9 yards per play to that point and then 11.2 afterwards. (I suppose by the same token that Wofford’s 92-yard touchdown run spiked the Terriers’ numbers, so did DeAndre Smelter’s 71-yard catch and run touchdown. Had he been tackled at the reception point, it would have been about a 30-yard catch. The yards per play after Smith’s touchdown would still be 9.9, hardly shabby.)
B-back Zach Laskey produced 70 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries, nearly matching his career high (15 carries, against Duke in 2012). Quarterback Justin Thomas wasn’t sacked in 15 attempts and not pressured much, either, and was highly efficient in his passing.
Aside from Broderick Snoddy’s 65-yard run (technically a pass reception), Tech didn’t have a run play of 20 yards or more, which is unusual and indicative of downfield blocking.
Again, it’s not entirely clear to me what there is to take away. Thomas was making his first start and was shaky in the first half. Had he played the first half the way he played the second, it’s hardly out of the question Tech could have gotten in the 50-point range.
The 226 rushing yards is rather puny by Tech standards, but, a) Snoddy’s play, while clearly a forward pass, came out of the running game; b) Tech ran only 43 times, because of the limited number of possessions in the game (and also because of two plays that swallowed up 136 yards). The Jackets averaged 54.8 rushes per game last season. The team still ended up with 508 yards of offense Saturday. No. 11 Stanford defeated UC Davis 45-0, but Tech averaged more yards-per-play than the Cardinal (8.6 to 7.4).
Tech shut out Elon 70-0 last season. It didn’t prove a harbinger of greatness.
It’s hardly shoddy, but just doesn’t reveal a great deal beyond demonstrating the potential that the offense has.
4. Starting A-backs Charles Perkins and Tony Zenon both were productive. Zenon had three catches for 70 yards and one carry for 14. Two of his catches were critical, a 33-yarder at the end of the first half on an out-and-up route on the sideline to set up Harrison Butker’s half-ending field goal. (Johnson chastised Zenon after the game for not getting out of bounds, a mistake he evidently made in a game last year, as well.)
Perkins had three carries for 19 yards (one for 17) but more notably had at least two defenders to the ground. One was the 65-yard carry by A-back Broderick Snoddy that was ruled a forward pass.
The rotation was largely Perkins, Zenon, Deon Hill and B.J. Bostic, with Snoddy sprinkled in.
5. Harrison Butker had five touchbacks on six kickoffs. That is quite a start, and perhaps a demonstration of strength he has added since last season. It is a little reminiscent of his career debut last season against Elon. He had seven touchbacks on nine kickoffs. He had 23 touchbacks on 62 kickoffs the rest of the way.
Jamal Golden had five returns on kickoffs. One went for 40 yards, out to midfield, that set up the go-ahead field goal at the end of the first half. His other four took the ball out to the 23-, 28-, 29- and 20-yard lines. That’s a bit below standard. It’s been almost a year since Golden has returned kicks, and the scheme is new also. That will have to improve going forward.
6. Because Tech was not able to secure a decisive lead until late, coach Paul Johnson did not dip very far into the bench. I believe the starting offensive line played every snap the whole game. Given that right tackle Chris Griffin and center Freddie Burden were playing their first college games, it wasn’t the worst outcome, but one reason for playing an FCS teams is to hopefully give backups playing time. On the line, for instance, given that backups like Shamire Devine, Trey Klock and Errin Joe have either played little or not at all, in an ideal situation they might have played the entire fourth quarter.
“We had planned to try to roll some guys on offense,” Johnson said. “You couldn’t get it done. You had to try to score every possession. Couldn’t roll ’em out.”
Defensively, freshman cornerbacks Lance and Lawrence Austin and Step Durham all played on defense, as did defensive ends KeShun Freeman and, I believe, Tyler Merriweather.
In an ideal world for Tech, either or both of the next two games (Tulane or Georgia Southern) will be decisive enough for backups to get considerable time in advance of the conference opener against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. If necessity required Klock to play against the Hokies, for example, he would not be well served for it to also be his college debut. A deafening crowd at Lane Stadium is a bit of a rough welcome.
7. It was interesting that Tim Byerly didn’t get in. Johnson has made fairly strong statements that Thomas is the quarterback, and that there weren’t plans to divvy up playing time. … Attendance was 45,403. It tracked with last year’s season opener, 45,759 for Elon. … In College Park, Md., former Tech quarterback Vad Lee had a rough start with James Madison against Maryland. Lee was 16 for 37 for 141 yards and two interceptions in JMU’s 52-7 loss to the Terrapins. … Rick Strom sent me a text during Saturday’s game. Strom, you may recall, had been the radio analyst for the past six seasons, but gave up the position in order to watch his children’s athletic endeavors. He said Roddy Jones, Strom’s successor, “sounds like a natural.”