Game by game, Georgia Tech’s James Graham is getting better

Georgia Tech quarterback James Graham answers questions about his progress and expectations ahead of game with Miami. (Video courtesy of Georgia Tech Athletics)

With two starts under his belt, Georgia Tech redshirt freshman quarterback James Graham can feel himself improving.

“I’m getting to know the game a little better, reading defenses better and just taking what the defense gives me,” Graham said Wednesday after practice. “Knowing when to run and not to just throw the ball in the middle of the field when it’s cover-1, cover-3.”

Offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude said that the passing game has made progress, but is still “extremely inconsistent” in pass protection and Graham’s accuracy. Patenaude said he’d like for the offense’s completion percentage to be in the high 50’s.

Graham completed 10 of 24 passes against Temple off the bench (42 percent), 11 of 24 against North Carolina (46 percent) and 15 of 35 against Duke (43 percent). Against the Blue Devils, he set a career high for passing yards (206) and also scored his first career touchdown, on an 8-yard run. Since taking over the position against Temple, it was his first game without an interception.

“I’ve improved,” Graham said. “Every week, I go back and watch the film from the game and I see stuff and am, like, God, why did I even do that? But now I learn from it and just go to practice with the mindset to get better.”

The Yellow Jackets play at Miami at noon Saturday.

Patenaude said that Graham’s growth has been “tremendous” and that “his growth has been on a very high climb, but he’s still got a long ways to go.” Coach Geoff Collins said Tuesday that Graham is taking steps as a team leader.

“You can see just his growth and his maturity every single day,” Collins said.

Graham is learning the nuances of the position, whether it’s taking a dropback of the correct depth, where to move in the pocket to get away from pressure or communicating with center William Lay (who also has started his first two games in the past two weeks) to set the pass protection.

“Both of those guys have grown in confidence over the last two games,” left guard Jack DeFoor said of Graham and Lay. “You can see it on the field. I feel like they have a lot better chemistry than when we first started out with those two.”

Patenaude praised Graham for one read he made against Duke when he found wide receiver Adonicas Sanders when he wasn’t his primary target.

“I saw it was blitz, so that play, if the blitz was to come, Adonicas was my read, and I learned from practice and repped it a lot,” Graham said. “I just saw it in the game and I was like, oh, OK. Here (is the throw). It was just practice.”

Miami collected five sacks last week in its 17-9 upset of Virginia on Friday, holding Cavaliers quarterback Bryce Perkins to 25-for-42 passing for 252 yards. Perkins had season lows for completion rate and yards-per-attempt. It looks like it could be the best defense that Graham has faced as the starter.

It’s one he’s glad to face. Graham has had to fight to be in this position, particularly after he became academically ineligible after the fall semester last year and had to take a heavier course load in order to regain his eligibility. He began the season as the No. 3 quarterback and has now moved to the top spot.

“It just pushes me to go harder every day in school, academics and on the field,” Graham said. “I know I don’t want to go back to there and I just want to keep this starting spot and get some wins for the team.”