Flats Lines: Reviewing Georgia Tech’s win over Duke

Atlanta, Ga. -- Georgia Tech senior QB Justin Thomas (5) congratulates sophomore QB TaQuon Marshall  (16) after their 38-35 win over Duke Saturday, October 29, 2016. SPECIAL/Daniel Varnado

Atlanta, Ga. — Georgia Tech senior QB Justin Thomas (5) congratulates sophomore QB TaQuon Marshall (16) after their 38-35 win over Duke Saturday, October 29, 2016. SPECIAL/Daniel Varnado

Reviewing Georgia Tech’s 38-35 win over Duke on Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

The game in 100 words or less

This game exemplified the good and bad of the state of the program: Tech’s offense was virtually unstoppable behind a brilliant Justin Thomas, while the defense could seldom do anything right and appears to still be struggling with communication issues and alignment. Coach Paul Johnson has never been happy to hear about “communication issues” when the offensive line said it had issues, so it’s going to be interesting to hear what he says about that on Monday.

Three things that worked well

Justin Thomas. He may not make an All-ACC team because of the depth of the position in the conference. He won’t make All-American. He likely won’t be selected in the NFL draft. But it’s not hard to make a case that Thomas 

may be the greatest player in Tech’s history. He should at least be included in a conversation as one of the greatest when focusing exclusively on the results and how it is being accomplished. Thomas had 17 carries for 195 yards and two touchdowns – including two monumental runs near the end of the game to bookend his 82-yard scoring run at the beginning of the game – and completed 10-of-14 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns. He did these things behind an offensive line that started two true freshmen, a B-back making just his second start this season and wide receivers who are solid but aren’t what would be considered game-breaking dudes.

A.J. Gray. Gray made one of game’s more remarkable plays when he chased down Shaun Wilson at the 10-yard line and stripped him of the ball. Two things were said a few times after the game: that it was “huge” and that it reminded many of Tech’s players of a similar tackle made by D.J. White against Pittsburgh’s James Conner in 2014. It was kind of lost at the time because Tech built a 28-7 halftime lead, but looking back on it if Gray hadn’t made that play Duke may have eventually won the game.

Big plays. Thomas and Gray weren’t the only players who made big plays. Brad Stewart had a 50-yard reception. Clinton Lynch had a 46-yard reception. Ricky Jeune had a 40-yard reception. Though the B-backs struggled without Dedrick Mills, Marcus Marshall had a 50-yard run to Duke’s 2-yard line.

Four things that didn’t work well

Third-down defense. Though Johnson rightfully asked afterward what didn’t Duke advantage of in the game, specifically the Yellow Jackets had a hard time getting the Blue Devils off the field. Duke converted an outrageous 8-of-13 third downs as Tech’s season-long struggles in that area continued. And these weren’t third-and-shorts that Duke converted. The third downs they turned into first downs were of the following lengths: 3, 6, 8, 6, 5, 3, 3, 7.

Communication on defense. At least twice Johnson had to call timeout because Tech’s players weren’t lined up correctly, including once when a Duke wide receiver was standing unguarded by himself a yard away from the end zone.

Defending tight ends. Duke torched Tech’s defense by using its tight end. The three tight ends combined to catch 12 passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns. Eight of the 12 catches either produced first downs or went for touchdowns. “I guess we weren’t covering ’em,” Johnson said. The favored play was a simply skinny post down the middle that Duke hit several times. There was also a touchdown when the tight end slipped through the line and to the left while everyone else ran right. No one from Tech went with him.

Johnson ominously said after the game that he doesn’t know what’s wrong but that he planned to find out on Sunday. The last time that Johnson appeared this exasperated with the defense was in Al Groh’s final games. I’m not hinting or wishing that he reassigns Ted Roof. I’m only pointing out the comparative levels of frustration.

Special teams. There were two big errors made on Saturday: a fumble by J.J. Green on a kickoff return early in the third quarter. Duke turned the short field into a touchdown one play later as part of cutting Tech’s halftime lead from 28-7 to 28-21 less than four minutes into the second half.

That was followed by Lance Austin’s decision to bring another kick out of the end zone instead of taking a touchback. He got to the 10-yard line, a sacrifice of 15 yards. Austin did it again in the fourth quarter, returning a kick 14 yards.

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 10. Our first 10 of the year goes to Thomas, who became just the 39th player in FBS history and fourth in the ACC to surpass 4,000 passing yards and 2,000 rushing yards in his career.

B-backs 3. Marshall and Marcus Allen combined for 99 yards, but Marshall had a fumble and Allen failed to pick up one yard on fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter.

A-backs 6. Duke’s gameplan seemed to focus on making Thomas run, which took out the A-backs. While they had just 53 rushing yards, Lynch did have three receptions for 91 yards and two touchdowns.

Wide receivers 7. Jeune and Stewart combined six catches for 150 yards. It was the most yards they have totaled in a game this season.

Offensive line 6. They gave up three sacks and filed to get enough of a push on the fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter. Still, Tech rushed for 341 yards and averaged almost 10 yards per play.

Defensive line 3. Duke ran 73 plays and Tech had just four tackles for loss. The Blue Devils rushed for 254 yards and three touchdowns. Stopping the run starts with the line.

Linebackers 2. The group played without leader P.J. Davis, who may return next week. The linebacker had just two tackles for loss and couldn’t cover the tight ends when it was their turn to try.

Cornerbacks 4. Duke passed for 305 yards and two touchdowns. The only pass broken up came from Terrell Lewis

Safeties 4. Gray’s saving tackle was the only bright spot for this group, which had played well against Georgia Southern.

Special teams 5. The mistakes have been covered.  

What did next week’s opponent do?

The Tar Heels were off last week. They are the second consecutive opponent to have an extra week of rest before facing Tech.

What does that mean for Georgia Tech?

Based upon their past meetings, and based upon how Tech played against Duke, and how North Carolina’s offense looks this year, next week’s game could end 100-99 after 10 overtimes.


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