The video review session for Georgia Tech’s offense on Monday was not light and breezy. Coach Paul Johnson said that, of the Yellow Jackets’ 56 plays, 29 of them were corroded by one or more missed assignments. (Johnson said 12 to 15 is a more typical number.) He assembled the entire offense to watch and Johnson himself led the review of the loss to Clemson.
“It’s always kind of dreadful coming in watching film on Monday when you know you didn’t play too well,” quarterback TaQuon Marshall said. “We’ve got to flush it. I saw the mistakes I made. Coach Johnson pointed out certain things that I could do better, so I’m going to grow from it and get better at it this week in practice.”
This isn’t to say the Jackets offense has been wandering around the gridiron in blindfolds and swim fins. They are converting 46.6 percent of their third downs, one of their most important indicators of health. It’s their highest rate since leading FBS in 2014 at 57.9 percent. They’ve run for 400 yards four times in seven games, the most that a Johnson-coached team at Tech has ever achieved. Football Outsiders, using a metric that measures per-drive efficiency and adjusts for the strength of opponent, ranks the Jackets’ offense 15th in the country.
Still, the Jackets believe that there’s more that they can be doing.
“I think our offense is really good,” wide receiver Ricky Jeune said. “When we’re on the same page, I feel like we get going and we’re very hard to stop. We just have to be on the same page.”
Further, the Jackets’ opponents in the final four games of the regular season field defenses that are quite familiar with Tech and range from decent to good (Virginia and Duke) to exceptional (Virginia Tech and Georgia).
Even prior to the Clemson game, Johnson wasn’t happy with the play of the offense. Tech ran for 427 yards against Wake Forest the week before but Johnson didn’t see play-to-play consistency.
Part of the problem has been Tech’s trouble with defenses shifting just before the snap, particularly along the line. The Tech line has had trouble either identifying the proper adjustment or communicating it across the line.
“We’ve been seeing that all year and it continues to be a problem,” left guard Parker Braun said.
The Jackets have also been unusually ineffective inside the opposition’s 10-yard line. It happened again against Clemson. B-back KirVonte Benson’s 65-yard run in the first quarter set up a first-and-goal from the Clemson 9-yard line, but the Jackets settled for a field goal. On third-and-goal from the 4, Tech tried a play-action pass that left A-back J.J. Green wide open in the end zone, but a pass-protection lapse forced Marshall to take a sack.
Tech has attempted (and made) four field goals from 25 yards and in, somewehat hollow points considering how close the Jackets had come to the end zone. In the previous five seasons, Tech tried a total of seven such kicks.
Pass protection has been leaky at times. The perimeter blocking can be better. Marshall can be more accurate passing the ball. While the team has been excellent in avoiding penalties – the Jackets are first nationally in both fewest penalties per game (3.6) and penalty yards per game (28.7) – the offense has been called for 11 false-start penalties, unforced errors that have often led to Tech giving up the ball on punts.
That noted, Tech had scored 24 or more points in 10 consecutive games before the 24-10 loss to Clemson. It had been the fifth longest active streak in FBS. Benson ranks second and Marshall third in the ACC in rushing at 111.6 and 103.9 rushing yards per game, respectively.
“We improve week in and week out,” Marshall said. “There’s always some things that we’re going to mess up. We’re human, but we fix those things and we come out and try to get better each and every day and practice hard each and every day so it can translate to game day.”
Saturday’s opponent Virginia presents challenges. A year ago, but for three big plays, the Cavaliers thwarted the Jackets’ aims for much of the game, a 31-17 Tech win at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Tech scored on run plays of 60 and 67 yards (Qua Searcy and Marcus Marshall, respectively) and a pass play of 54 yards (Justin Thomas to Clinton Lynch). Aside from those three plays, Tech averaged 3.7 yards per play.
Tech was 2 of 10 on third downs, which tied for the Jackets’ fifth lowest third-down efficiency rate in Johnson’s tenure. Virginia did it by stopping the Jackets on first and second down. Tech converted a pair of third-and-2 plays. Seven of the other eight were third-and-5 or longer.
It was the only instance in Johnson’s tenure at Tech that the Jackets won with a third-down rate that low.
“Just not a lot of consistency,” Johnson said of the offense’s play in the game.
Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall has experience preparing teams for Johnson’s offense. When he was coach at BYU, the Cougars defeated the Jackets in 2012 and 2013. In 2012, with a future first-round pick (defensive end Ezekiel Ansah) and second-round pick (linebacker Kyle Van Noy) in the lineup, BYU held Tech to 0 of 10 on third down.
Against Virginia, Tech might hope for a dry field (the Jackets have played in heavy rains two of the past three games) and a game plan with answers for linebacker Micah Kiser and safety Quin Blanding, two of the better defenders in the ACC.
“I think we’re coming along really well,” Braun said. “We’re still trying to put all the puzzle pieces together and sort of iron it out for the last third of the season. I feel really confident going into this next week and the last three games after that.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.