Georgia Tech is wobbly as it heads into a non-conference matchup with Bowling Green on Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium. The Yellow Jackets have lost three consecutive and are 1-3 for the first time since 2003.
But Tech is getting healthier, particularly on the offensive line, and in the Falcons appear to have an opponent that could help the Jackets gather some momentum.
Trying to find their footing
Tech has fumbled 14 times this season, most in FBS, after putting the ball on the ground eight times against Clemson. The Yellow Jackets have also been called for eight false starts this season. Those mistakes are symptomatic of the self-inflicted errors that have plagued the team through the first four games of the season, prompting coach Paul Johnson to declare that the Jackets would be focused in on fundamentals this week.
The Jackets likely can overcome more mistakes against Bowling Green, which appears to be among the weaker teams in FBS, than they could against Clemson. Regardless, they need to demonstrate progress as they return to ACC play Oct. 15, a Friday, at Louisville.
“It’s going to be a simplified game plan, and we’re going to eliminate the mistakes and hopefully eliminate the turnovers and see if we can’t play a little better,” Johnson said.
What should help is the expected return of offensive lineman Will Bryan, out the past two games. Center Kenny Cooper, one of the team’s best players last season, also is expected to play after leaving the Clemson game with an ankle injury.
Play start to finish
Another element of Tech’s three-game losing streak has been its inability to put together a full game in all phases. Against South Florida, the Jackets overcame back-to-back kickoff returns for touchdowns to take a 38-28 lead early in the fourth quarter before giving up the final 21 points of the game.
Against Pittsburgh, the Jackets fell behind 21-0 in the first half, too much of a deficit for Tech, which outscored the Panthers 19-3 in the second half. Against Clemson, the Jackets were intermittently effective, but were no match for the Tigers.
Coaches are looking for offense, defense and special teams to play without mistakes for the full 60 minutes rather than taking turns.
Getting the calls in
Among the difficulties faced by Tech’s defense has been getting calls signaled in from the sideline in time for players to line up before the offense’s snap. It was a problem at times against Clemson, which runs its offense at a fast tempo.
“I think what we’ve struggled with with tempo is getting the calls so everybody’s on the same page,” Johnson said. “I think that’s legit. We have certainly struggled with that.”
Bowling Green operates its offense at a similar tempo, giving the Jackets more work against what they’ll see in varying degrees for the rest of the season.
Defensive end Desmond Branch added that players aren’t consistently communicating with one another on the field, calling it “unacceptable.”
In the periphery
The game will take place under circumstances unusual for Johnson’s tenure. Fan apathy and frustration have mounted in recent seasons and may have hit a peak with the current three-game losing streak. Athletic director Todd Stansbury was moved to use his regular communication with donors and season-ticket holders to issue his support for Johnson and urge fans and alumni to get behind the team. Quarterback TaQuon Marshall, who has been inconsistent in his second season as a starter, took his Twitter and Instagram apps off his phone to separate himself from public criticism.
Tech has eight games remaining this season, the outcomes of which may determine the future of the program. It could prove a test of players and coaches’ ability to eliminate distractions and focus on football.
“I know one thing that we can’t do,” linebacker Victor Alexander said. “We can’t beat up on each other because, shoot, we’re leaving that to social media.”
About Bowling Green
This will be Tech’s first meeting with Bowling Green and, for that matter, any current member of the Mid-American Conference.
Bowling Green might be best known as the school where Urban Meyer got his start in head coaching, in 2001-02. It has later served as a launching pad for Dave Clawson (2009-13) before going to Wake Forest and Dino Babers (2014-15) before he took the Syracuse job.
In his third season, coach Mike Jinks is now 7-21 in his first head-coaching job. The Falcons have some talent at wide receiver and running back Andrew Clair, who ran for 113 yards against Oregon in the season opener. On defense, it’s not the most imposing unit. Having played two power-conference teams (Oregon and Maryland), Bowling Green is 123rd nationally in defensive yards per play (7.03).