Reviewing Georgia Tech’s win over Vanderbilt on Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
The game in 100 words
Georgia Tech defeated Vanderbilt 38-7 on Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium. As coach Paul Johnson will sometimes say – but didn’t need to after the romp – the offense is starting to look more and more recognizable after rushing for 289 yards and passing for 222. In fact, the offense seemed like it could pretty much do whatever it wanted most of the time. The only thing that slowed it down was missing assignments and/or mental mistakes. The defense once again was quietly effective after a rough performance in Vandy’s opening drive. The Commodores were held to less than 100 yards rushing and 200 yards passing.
4 things that what worked well
Tech’s play-calling. Georgia Tech started the game with an 81-yard touchdown pass that came from something Johnson saw on film. At first he didn’t want to share when asked about it, simply answering, “yes” to the question. He eventually relented and said that when the B-back ran a wheel route he would be covered by a linebacker. He then noted that Marcus Marshall is pretty fast. Marshall caught the pass and outran everyone to the end zone.
“I think they schemed for that and they probably saw the film from last week and we didn’t do that well with the pass. And that kind of threw us off balance a little bit,” Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham said.
Tech followed in the fourth quarter with a 77-yard touchdown pass from Matthew Jordan to Clinton Lynch on another pass where Johnson said he told the quarterback that the A-back would likely be open, based upon something he noticed.
Lastly, Vanderbilt was desperate to score on its opening drive of the second half. Facing fourth-and-1 on Tech’s 28-yard line, it was fairly clear that the Commodores were going to a short-yardage package. Tech matched with its own package, featuring freshman defensive lineman Brandon Adams. At the snap, Adams and Kyle Cerge-Henderson stood up their men, which forced running back Khari Blasingame to sidestep to his left, killing his momentum. Linebacker P.J. Davis flew in and hit Blasingame to stop him short of the first down.
“We wanted to score, and needed to score, coming out of the half,” Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason said. “We went for it on fourth down and didn’t get it. From a momentum standpoint, there was a still a lot of time left in the game, but that was a shift in momentum in this ballgame.”
Justin Thomas. Johnson said he challenged Thomas to do more as a runner earlier in the week. He may not have needed to. Thomas already seemed aware that he hadn’t rushed for more 100 yards in 14 games. Thomas looked decisive on Saturday, carrying 11 times for 84 yards with a long of 22. He also had runs of 19, 10, 17 and 21 yards. Though his passing wasn’t as accurate as it was against Mercer, he was obviously effective with six completions for 136 yards and a touchdown.
“I’m just going out there doing the best I can for the team,” Thomas said. “I’m trying to be a little more aggressive. I was talking to the guys last night, ‘I need a 100. I hadn’t had a 100 in 14 games.’ I see I was seven yards short. I’m still upset about that. As a whole we did better. Everybody got to their assignments. We have to keep progressing each week.”
Tech’s defense. The group isn’t going to wow you with big plays, but once again it did the job on Saturday. Ted Roof’s charges had just one sack and four tackles for loss, but the Commodores had just one sustained drive in the game. Some of that is a reflection of Vanderbilt’s poor quarterback play, but some of its a reflection of what Tech was doing. Though there was just one sack, Tech was able to bring some pressure on Saturday and was much better on third downs than it has been. The Commodores converted 4-of-13. Tech had allowed 12 of 22 before Saturday. Additionally, Vanderbilt, which was averaging 200 rushing yards per game, could muster just 85 on Saturday. Part of that was a reflection of Tech building a big lead in the third quarter, which forced Mason to pass more than run in an attempt to rally. Still, Vandy had just 68 rushing yards in the first half.
“Sometimes, it’s hard to watch but the end result is pretty good,” Johnson said.
The B-backs. Freshman Dedrick Mills bounced back from last week’s suspension to notch three touchdowns and 58 yards rushing on 14 carries. He called it a setback for a comeback. Marshall added the long touchdown reception. Johnson repeated after the game something he’s said a few times: the team is better at B-back this season than last season. He also twice mentioned that if Tech’s opponents want to try to take away the B-backs, which Vanderbilt attempted, then it will open up things on the outside. That seemed to be true with A-back Clinton Lynch getting 77 yards on just three carries, J.J. Green 23 yards on two carries, and Qua Searcy 12 yards on two carries.
Two things that didn’t work well
Mistakes. Johnson wasn’t happy with the penalties, particularly those made by the offense inside Vandy’s half of the field.
Tech was called for an illegal block on first-and-10 at the 32-yard line, and was called for the same infraction again a play later on second-and-13 on the 35. The drive eventually stalled.
Later, a 29-yard run by Lynch to Vandy’s 20 was brought back to the 30 because of a holding penalty. Tech was still able to eventually score.
Lastly, backup quarterback Matthew Jordan threw a poor interception in the end zone.
The defense also made its share of mistakes, including a facemask penalty on Vandy’s first drive.
“I think we’ve got a chance to be pretty good offensively if we quit shooting ourselves in the foot,” Johnson said.
Still no consistent pass rush. This is brought up because of Tech’s next opponent Clemson. If the Yellow Jackets give Deshaun Watson as much time as Kyle Shurmur had, and others before him in the first two games, then Tech’s secondary is going to be under immense pressure in Thursday’s game. Tech really wasn’t able to bring any pressure until Vandy was forced to pass on Saturday. As Johnson noted, Tech is going to face skill players who are much better than those they have faced.
Rating the position groups
Borrowing from something that is done with soccer, I’ll rate the different position groups game by game using a 1-to-10 system. Ten represents exceptional and one represents a total meltdown. This is just for fun and mostly for conversation, so please don’t take it too seriously. Feel free to post your own ratings in the comments section.
Quarterbacks 8. Hard to argue with what Thomas did. Jordan’s strong performance was hurt by the interception.
B-backs 8. Four touchdowns is a pretty good day’s haul. Teams will always try to stop Tech’s B-back first because it’s just fundamental, but it’s becoming more clear that Mills and Marshall are giving Tech weapons inside that they didn’t have last year.
A-backs 9. The group had 135 rushing yards and 112 receiving yards with a touchdowns. Plus, blocks by Searcy and Isiah Willis paved the way for Mills’ first touchdown.
Wide receivers 6. The group had just one catch but the blocking was mostly solid.
Offensive line 7. There were a few missed assignments that led to the B-backs getting blown up, but overall the line led the way for 289 rushing yards. Vandy had just one sack. It’s not clear if the linemen were responsible for both of the illegal block penalties.
Defensive line 7. The group of four helped hold the Commodores to 85 yards rushing, as well as the key stop on fourth down. Just one tackle for loss should still be worrisome.
Linebackers 7. What was said of the defensive line is true of the linebackers. They are doing their jobs, but at some point it seems impactful plays need to be made.
Cornerbacks 6. The cornerbacks were partially responsible for the Commodores having just one pass play of more than 20 yards. Dorian Walker also had an interception that he returned for 64 yards.
Safeties 6. Once again did a good job of keeping the plays in front of them. Corey Griffin tied cornerback Lance Austin for the team lead in tackles (six).
Special teams 7. Harrison Butker put four of seven kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks. Ryan Rodwell averaged 42.5 yards on four punts. He also had one downed at the 1.
What did next week’s opponent do?
Clemson warmed up for Thursday’s game by demolishing South Carolina State 59-0. The game got out of hand so quickly that both coaches agreed to shorten the second half from 30 minutes to 24. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of that happening before, likely because a recent NCAA rule change allowed for it to happen. I’m sure I wouldn’t have minded that happening in a few games I’ve covered.
Anyway, the Tigers amassed 555 yards in offense while limiting the Bulldogs to 102.
What does that mean for Tech?
It’s no secret that Clemson is the most talented team the Yellow Jackets will face this season. In fact, Johnson said just that after Saturday’s game.
Tech is 1-3 in its four against Clemson with the losses coming by at least 16 points. The win was 28-6 in 2014 and was aided by Watson suffering a knee injury early in the game.
Clemson (3-0) is averaging 36 points, 289.3 passing yards and 166.7 rushing yards per game.
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