Lynn Griffin of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets runs the ball during the second half against the Georgia Southern Eagles at Bobby Dodd Stadium on October 15, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

Jackets improving on third-down

Georgia Tech struggled to convert on third-down to start the season, but with three games left, the Yellow Jackets are converting 46.3 percent of third-down opportunities, ranking third in the ACC behind Clemson and North Carolina.

Although the Yellow Jackets have become more successful on offense because of the amount of time spent practicing and playing together, a-back Qua Searcy credits the Jackets’ improvement on third-down to their united mindset to drive the ball down field.

“You know, every Monday, coach Johnson talks about third downs and how we have to improve on third downs if we want to be a good team,” Searcy said. “I think that something that we’ve just taken pride in.”

In the three game stretch where the Yellow Jackets lost to Clemson, Miami and Pitt, Tech converted 29.1 percent on third-down. In their last three games — two wins and a loss to North Carolina — Tech converted 55.6 percent on third-down.

The Yellow Jackets (5-4, 2-4) have not only improved on third-down as the season’s progressed, but they improved over their 2015 numbers. The Yellow Jackets finished their 3-9 season with a third-down conversion percentage of 34.3.

Although much improved over last season, Tech is still short of the success they achieved on third-down in 2014, when they won the Orange Bowl and played in the ACC Championship. In 2014, Tech led all of college football with a third-down conversion percentage of 57.9.

Despite the improvement in numbers on third-down, quarterbacks and b-backs coach Bryan Cook knows low conversion rates don’t always mean the Jackets struggle under the pressure of a third-down play.

“I get upset when it’s second-and-six and we lose 15 yards and then we’re at third-and-20, so (not converting on third-down) is not the fault of third-and-20, that’s the fault of second-and-five or six,” Cook said. “So third-down, I think with what we do, or what offenses in general do on third-down, I think managing pass protection needs to be better out of the fullbacks. I think we need to engage and block better, but I think (quarterback Justin Thomas) sees things down the field pretty well.”

In their first ACC game of the season against Boston College, the Yellow Jackets had 10 third-and-long situations with more than six yards to convert and finished the game 6-of-15 on third-down.

Although they lost to No. 17 North Carolina 48-20 on Saturday, the Yellow Jackets demonstrated improved efficiency on first and second downs by only putting themselves in four third-and-long situations. The Jackets finished Saturday’s game against North Carolina 8-of-14 on third-down.

Against No. 18 Virginia Tech (7-2, 5-1) on Saturday, the Jackets will face a physical defense that has allowed opponents to convert 27 percent of third downs this season.

“They’re really athletic on defense,” coach Paul Johnson said. “They’re very talented on defense, they’ve got a couple of probable NFL prospects at linebacker and they’re usually pretty good in the secondary.”

When the two teams last met in November of 2015, the Hokies forced three turnovers and allowed Tech to convert 5-of-12 on third-down in Virginia Tech’s 23-21 win.

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