3 ways Georgia Tech can improve going into Louisville matchup

Following Georgia Tech’s 37-20 loss to Syracuse on Saturday, coach Geoff Collins called the impending open date a chance to regroup.

Aside from giving injured players an extra week to recover, Collins said, “We’ve got to fix the unforced errors, we’ve got to fix ball security. All of those things we’ve got to improve on.”

After no game this weekend, Tech will play Louisville at Bobby Dodd Stadium in a rare Friday-night home game Oct. 9. Aside from the obvious that Collins noted – 12 turnovers and errors including 32 penalties – there is plenty that Tech can address this week.

1. More emphasis on run game?

Tech’s 275 rushing yards against Syracuse, following games of 161 yards against Florida State and 227 against Central Florida, were evidence of the offense’s considerable improvement from last season. In 2019, Tech had only three games in which it exceeded 4.9 yards per rush, which is the Yellow Jackets' average thus far.

The productivity of all four backs – Jordan Mason, Jahmyr Gibbs, Jamious Griffin and Dontae Smith – and the choreographed run blocking of Tech’s line could inspire conversations of whether the Jackets can lean even more to the run. Thus far, Tech is 57/43 run/pass.

What would help is avoiding the slew of pre-snap penalties that often reduce Tech’s options on offense. In three games, the Jackets have had 12 false starts, including seven in the loss to Syracuse. The eight interceptions that quarterback Jeff Sims has thrown maybe aren’t the most accurate reflection of his decision-making, as he (and Tech) have been the victim of some unlucky bounces. Still, they reflect the risks of passing, particularly for a freshman.

2. Avoiding big plays

Tech’s defense has shown progress from last season, both against the run and the pass. Opposing passers thus far are completing 57.3% of passes, compared with 60.4% last season. Defensive end Jordan Domineck has taken another step this season in creating pressure. Defensive end Antonneous Clayton, who played his first game against Syracuse after transferring from Florida in 2019, figures to help as he gains his form. Blitzes seem to be more effective at disrupting passers.

However, Tech has faltered in giving up big pass plays, certainly against UCF but also against Syracuse, which had done little throwing the ball in its first two games. Both teams were able to find ways to ramp up protection and exploit coverages. Of teams that have played three games, only two have given up more pass plays of 20 yards or more than Tech with 13.

Cornerback Tre Swilling, who missed the first three games with a foot injury, will be a help in pass coverage when he returns, which could be for the Louisville game.

3. Get more out of kickoff returns and coverage

The placekicking continues to be its own issue, but outside of Gibbs' 75-yard return to open the Central Florida game, kickoffs have continued to be a struggle for Tech. Out of 19 kickoffs that the Jackets have received, seven have failed to be returned to the 25-yard line. Meanwhile, Tech opponents have been pinned inside the 25 once in 11 returns. (Kicker Austin Kent does have three touchbacks, matching last season’s team total.)

At the same time, the Jackets' opponents have brought returns out to the 30 or farther four times (not counting a failed onside kick try) while Tech has done so just once (Gibbs' game-opening return against UCF). It was particularly distressful against Syracuse, when the Orange answered Tech touchdowns with kickoff returns to the Tech 47 and their own 35, giving them a head start to counter with their own touchdown drives.

It was Collins' plan that putting muscle and weight on players would help even out special-teams shortcomings from last season. With Pressley Harvin, the punt team has been exceptional, and Marquez Ezzard has been productive on punt returns. The play on kickoffs, namely blocking on returns and tackling on coverage, can be better.