Georgia Tech will play its fourth game of the season Saturday, hoping to get back to 2-2. After a humbling defeat against The Citadel two weeks ago, the Yellow Jackets have had to wait through their open date for an opportunity to make amends. They finally get their chance at Temple in the first meeting between the two teams.
Here are five things to watch for when the Jackets take on the Owls at Lincoln Financial Field.
Homecoming for Geoff Collins
An unavoidable draw of the game is the return of coach Geoff Collins to Temple, along with five assistant coaches (including both coordinators) and 11 non-coaching staff members.
Tech coaches have not made it an issue with players in meetings and practice, though they can’t help but be aware.
“Obviously, the coaches being there adds a little bit more to the table, but at the same time, we have to be able to go out there and stack wins no matter who the opponent is,” cornerback Tre Swilling said.
But for Tech’s coaches and for Temple players, nearly all of whom were recruited and/or coached by Collins and his staff, it adds a different tension to the game.
With their old coaches on the opposite sideline and their team coming off a loss, “Certainly, they’ll be motivated,” defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker said of the Owls.
Jackets running on fresh legs
Tech is coming off its open date, and players spoke of the rejuvenating effect that not playing Saturday had on the legs.
“Hopefully, that’s an advantage,” Swilling said.
Temple had its first of two open dates in the second week of the season. It’s unclear who might have the physical and conditioning advantage if the game goes into the fourth quarter. Tech’s strategy of rotating players throughout the game serves to keep players fresh, and the Weather Channel forecast calls for a high of 87 degrees with 65 percent humidity Saturday.
However, the Owls have outscored opponents 33-9 in the fourth quarter, while the Jackets’ have been outscored 20-17 in the fourth quarter of their games. (There is some statistical noise with both teams’ numbers, as both have played in blowout games where the fourth-quarter totals did not have great relevance.)
Get the ball
After one giveaway in its season-opening win against FCS Bucknell, Temple has lost three fumbles (out of six fumbles total) and thrown four interceptions. Their eight giveaways are tied for 14th most in FBS.
The Jackets have been effective at procuring takeaways, with three fumble recoveries and three interceptions in three games, but have also given the ball away six times (also with three lost fumbles and three interceptions).
Quarterback Anthony Russo has a big arm – his 315 passing yards per game ranks 11th in FBS. Thacker, who was with him at Temple for the past two seasons, said that he can “spin it as good as anybody in the country.” The Jackets have a plan that they’ll trust to be effective.
“He’s a great quarterback with a great arm, but we study film and we see some weaknesses that we can attack, with everybody on the whole offense,” linebacker David Curry said. “So that’s what we plan to do.”
Staying free of the flags
Tech’s penalty-laden game against The Citadel (eight penalties for 80 yards, including three unsportsmanlike-conduct calls) would seem the outlier given that Tech was hit for two penalties in each of its first two games.
On Saturday, on the road against an opponent favored by 8.5 points, the Jackets likely can’t afford again to be so reckless. Playing a clean game has been a focal point of the team’s preparations for the Owls over the past two weeks.
“It comes down to, as (Collins) said, ‘I don’t want to slow you down. Go out there full speed, like your hair’s on fire,’” Curry said. “‘But at the same time, don’t make bonehead plays where you’re causing penalties.’’’
Temple has been called for 20 penalties through three games for 185 yards.
Possible advantage in the run game
On offense, perhaps Tech’s two most trustworthy elements are running back Jordan Mason and quarterback Tobias Oliver in the run game. Mason has run 44 times for 249 yards (5.7 yards per carry) while Oliver has run 40 times for 196 yards (4.9 yards per carry).
Both have run decisively, with elusiveness and tackle-breaking power, and Oliver has also contributed as a kickoff returner. Offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude praised Oliver for his performance against The Citadel (92 rushing yards on 11 carries, 2-for-3 passing for 27 yards) and his play overall.
“He has real, live speed,” Patenaude said. “So when he breaks a run or a kick return, he has a chance to go to the house with the ball.”
Buffalo defeated Temple with a 58/15 run/pass ratio, amassing 217 rushing yards on 58 carries. It would not be a surprise to see Tech test the Owls’ run defense in a similar manner.
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