How Georgia Tech plans to use its quarterbacks vs. South Florida

Georgia Tech quarterback Tobias Oliver (8) shouts instructions in the first half at Memorial Stadium on the Clemson University campus in Clemson, S.C. on Thursday, August 29, 2019. Georgia Tech took the field for the first time with Geoff Collins as head coach. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Georgia Tech offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude would like to get to the point where one of his quarterbacks proves that he deserves to be the full-fledged starter. However, that point may not be soon.

In the season opener against Clemson on Thursday, the Yellow Jackets went by a plan to play all three scholarship quarterbacks, Tobias Oliver, Lucas Johnson and James Graham. Patenaude and coach Geoff Collins, both speaking Tuesday in advance of Saturday’s home opener against South Florida, indicated that all three will play against the Bulls.

“Ultimately, I think you’d always want to settle on one guy and have one guy be able to do everything, but I’m not sure we’re at that point yet,” Patenaude said. “All the guys can do certain things.”

In the 52-14 loss to the top-ranked Tigers, Oliver played 10 of the first 11 possessions, with Johnson getting one two-minute drive at the end of the first half. Starting with the final minutes of the third quarter, with the game well in hand for Clemson, Graham played the final three possessions.

“I think coming out and trying to establish the run with an elite athlete at quarterback gave us the best opportunity to move the ball out of the gate,” Patenaude said.

With Oliver at quarterback, the Yellow Jackets did attempt a run-heavy scheme at Clemson, running the ball 45 times out of 63 plays. Tech even ran a triple-option play out of its shotgun set, although the play resulted in a lost fumble.

Patenaude said that decision to rely heavily on the run against Clemson was based on what he felt his players could do well and also how they matched up against the Tigers. He said he was also trying to “protect the offensive line and not put them in as many bad situations from a pass-pro situation. That was a concern.”

Oliver proved his ability as a running quarterback last season as a backup to TaQuon Marshall, rushing for 876 yards and 12 touchdowns on 152 attempts. Against Clemson, he showed flashes of that form, lowering his shoulder to gain tough yards and also dashing through the secondary for a 39-yard gain.

With Oliver at quarterback, Tech was intermittently effective, often killing drives with negative-yardage plays and turnovers. Oliver did lead one touchdown drive, going 75 yards in three plays. He was 3-for-9 passing for 65 yards with two interceptions. Patenaude said that Oliver generally had the right targets picked out, but “he missed a couple throws.”

Graham played the final three possessions, two three-and-out series and a 90-yard touchdown drive in which he completed passes of 34 and 28 yards.

“I thought Tobias ran the ball really well,” Collins said. “I thought James threw the ball really well. Just trying to find creative things.”

Collins acknowledged also that Johnson didn’t get much of a chance to play, but was understanding of the circumstances. Patenaude said that, had the Jackets gotten into a throwing situation, “Lucas would go in because he could handle the protections the best. So it’s going to be that week to week, kind of figure out exactly is the team that we’re playing. Great coaching is taking the pieces that you have, try to fit them best together who how your opponent is and what they are schematically and put yourself in the best position to move the ball. Going forward, we could be very similar or vastly different, based on what we’re seeing.”

Given that Tech showed some proclivity for the run – running back Jordan Mason ran 13 times for 72 yards and a touchdown – it won’t be a surprise if the Jackets stick to that tack as they continue to develop. It would be highly expected against South Florida, which was steamrolled for 234 rushing yards by then-No. 19 Wisconsin in a 49-0 home loss Friday. Further, Oliver was highly effective off the bench against in last year’s 49-38 loss to South Florida, rushing 18 times for 97 yards and three touchdowns.

While Patenaude likes to be close to a 50/50 balance in run/pass ratio, it may be that, in the near term, that may not be the most pragmatic approach.

“I mean, we were moving Clemson’s front in the run game, which was very encouraging for guys that had been running the triple (option) and cutting people and going up to the second level and that type of thing,” Patenaude said.

On the whole, Patenaude was encouraged by what he saw against Clemson, noting the quality of opponent.

“That was the defending national champion team at their place, the first game of the year and the first game of our history, so I’m happy with a lot of the stuff that was on tape, and we’ll continue to build from it,” he said.

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