The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets celebrate following the game against the South Florida Bulls at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Tech won 14-10. (Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

Analysis: Five takeaways from Georgia Tech’s 14-10 win over South Florida

Georgia Tech evened its record at 1-1 with its 14-10 win over South Florida Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium. The Bulls’ point total was the fewest for a Yellow Jackets’ FBS opponent since a 33-7 win over North Carolina in 2017.

Five observations from coach Geoff Collins’ first win of his Tech tenure:

1. Worries on the offensive line

Tech suffered injuries where it could perhaps least afford it when left guard Mikey Minihan and center Kenny Cooper both left the game in the first half with what appeared to be leg injuries and did not return. As a position group, the offensive line might have the least depth and experience on the team (Minihan himself played only four snaps as a redshirt freshman last season), and both had done well in the opener.

Offensive tackle Jack DeFoor subbed for Minihan, walk-on center William Lay came in for Cooper and two-way lineman Jahaziel Lee played left tackle. DeFoor’s good work Saturday at a different position spoke to the cross-training work that line coach Brent Key has done.

However, the fact that the remaining four “above the line” linemen played minimally, if at all, highlighting the depth situation. The severity of the injuries wasn’t immediately known. The timing could have been worse, as Tech plays FCS Citadel next Saturday and then has an open date before playing at Temple September 28.

2. Charitable partner

The Jackets were the beneficiaries of considerable help from across the field Saturday. South Florida committed nine penalties. Many were critical, starting from the first (a pass interference that kept alive Tech’s first touchdown drive) to the last (a targeting penalty on the Jackets’ final drive that essentially sealed the game).

By comparison, Tech was flagged only twice for the second game in a row, an area that appears to be a strength.

The Bulls were fairly careless with the ball, particularly running back Jordan Cronkrite’s fumble on the goal line. Beyond that, with the Jackets playing the run well, South Florida averaged 4.8 yards per play in losing its eighth consecutive game.

Tech may not face many (or any) teams this season offering as much assistance.

3. Charlie Thomas shines

On a day when the entire defense performed well, linebacker Charlie Thomas was probably Tech’s most effective player of the game, leading the Jackets with nine tackles, matching his career high, with a career-high two sacks and a forced fumble. (Safety Tariq Carpenter was also a standout with a number of open-field tackles.) Thomas made a key stop on Tech’s goal-line stand, a one-on-one tackle of quarterback Jordan McCloud on second-and-goal that was just shy of the goal line. Cronkrite fumbled on the next play.

He also made an important tackle in the fourth quarter, using “incredible leverage,” in Collins’ words, to corral McCloud in the open field on a third-and-6 short of the marker.

Thomas has adapted well to playing in the middle of the field after playing safety in high school and outside linebacker last season as a freshman.

“I feel like I’ve got an advantage because I’m way more slippery and way faster than most inside linebackers,” he said.

Thomas also had the line of the day.

“It wasn’t too bad,” he said of the heat, which reached 96 degrees. “I’m from south Georgia.”

4. Quarterback spot still muddy

Offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude would like one of his quarterbacks to grab the job. Given the opportunity Saturday, Lucas Johnson was unable.

After playing one series against Clemson, Johnson got the start and played the majority of the game, starting seven of the 12 possessions and subbing in on a few others. He was 11 for 17 passing but amassed only 45 yards. That’s 2.6 yards per attempt, when 7.0 might be considered average. His best play might have been a 12-yard scramble in the third quarter to pick up a first down deep in Tech’s end.

“I feel like we’re all starting to put the pieces together a little more, but there’s still a lot more we can do,” Johnson said.

After playing most of the Clemson game, Tobias Oliver played less, although he returned the opening kickoff and lined up at slot receiver in a package with the third quarterback, James Graham. (The two ran the triple option together.) Oliver led the Jackets’ 76-yard touchdown drive at the end of the first half, scoring on a seven-yard run, that ultimately provided the winning margin.

“Tobias, he’s a competitor,” Collins said. “Once he gets the ball in his hands, he’s going to will something to happen, and he did that.”

Graham made Tech’s best throw of the game, a 20-yard strike to slot receiver Ahmarean Brown on a third-and-10 in the third quarter.

“James did some things,” Collins said.

5. Practice matters 

The distribution of playing time and Collins’ comments after the game drove home his emphasis on practice in determining playing time.

While evaluating the quarterbacks, Collins said that Johnson had “a really good week” in practice, throwing the ball well and commanding the offense.

“Those kind of things in this program are rewarded,” Collins said. “All we worry about in this program, regardless of position, how you practice determines how much you play.”

The decision to play kicker Brenton King over Wesley Wells was also based on this week’s practice, Collins said. A small firestorm erupted on social media when King was used on a 51-yard field goal in the first quarter and missed. Wells proved up to the job last year, 9-for-9 on field-goal tries and 39-for-39 on extra points, and made two PAT’s against Clemson. King was 5-for-6 on field goals as a freshman but 1-for-4 last season while playing with injury.

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