Tech’s pass protection vastly better, run game far worse

When Georgia Tech fans last saw quarterback Justin Thomas, he was often fleeing opposing pass rushes that had besieged the Yellow Jackets’ pass protection.

There was some of that Saturday at Aviva Stadium, but Thomas was ecstatic with the way his line held up against the Eagles in Tech’s 17-14 win. Thomas threw from well-formed pockets, had time to throw and took advantage with eight completions (on 15 attempts) that gathered 119 yards. He was not sacked. The Jackets accomplished this against a defense that last year was No. 27 in sack percentage.

“I just know for me, I felt a lot more comfortable just sitting in the pocket,” Thomas said. “There were a few times (when pressure came) – they either brought an extra guy or it was more of a coverage sack if anything. So I think it was like night and day the way we’re blocking now.”

With the protection, Thomas hit wide receiver Ricky Jeune for a 14-yard gain on a 3rd-and-15 in the first quarter, setting up a successful fourth-down conversion, connected with wide receiver Brad Stewart for14 yards on a 3rd-and-11 in the fourth quarter and zipped the pass to A-back Qua Searcy to convert the crucial 4th-and-19 on the game-winning drive. Three plays after the pass to Searcy, Thomas hit Jeune on a 3rd-and-10 for 26 yards. Each play provided oxygen to Tech’s three scoring drives.

On the 4th-and-19, Thomas took a deep dropback and the Tech line sealed off Boston College’s four-man pass rush. Tackles Trey Klock and Andrew Marshall, guards Shamire Devine and Will Bryan and center Freddie Burden, with help from B-back Dedrick Mills, gave Thomas the time to drive his pass to Searcy. Marshall even had his man on the ground.

“They were eight (completions) for 119 (yards),” Boston College coach Steve Addazio said. “That’s where our issue was, right there.”

In January, coach Paul Johnson said that better pass protection for Thomas would be his No. 1 priority going into spring practice. To that end, he replaced special-teams coordinator Ray Rychleski with a second offensive line coach, Ron West. Saturday was a good start.

The run blocking was another story. Tech averaged 2.8 yards per carry on its 43 attempts for 121 yards. In coach Paul Johnson’s tenure, it was the fifth lowest rushing total and fifth lowest yards-per-carry average. Johnson said that a number of mistakes by backs and line contributed. Burden said that Boston College showed different fronts and switched alignments just before the snap.

“It was just kind of a calamity,” Johnson said of the running game. “I think you’ve got to give (Boston College) some credit, but it was really poor execution.”