5 takeaways from Georgia Tech’s win over Louisville

October 9, 2020 Atlanta - Georgia Tech's quarterback Jeff Sims (10) scores a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game at Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta on Friday, October 9, 2020. Georgia Tech's won 46-27 over the Louisville. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
October 9, 2020 Atlanta - Georgia Tech's quarterback Jeff Sims (10) scores a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game at Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta on Friday, October 9, 2020. Georgia Tech's won 46-27 over the Louisville. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

In its first Friday-night home game since 1958, Georgia Tech was dismissed as a 4.5-point underdog and given a 28% chance of winning by ESPN. The Yellow Jackets' 46-27 win over Louisville at Bobby Dodd Stadium was an effort in which offense, defense and special teams made contributions to coach Geoff Collins' first double-digit win in his 16-game tenure. The 19-point margin is more than in Collins’ four other victories combined.

Five takeaways from the win:

1. Turnover mindset yields results

Three takeaways collectively changed the outcome of the game. Nickel back Charlie Thomas' strip of running back Hassan Hall (which landed in the arms of linebacker Quez Jackson) ended a promising opening drive for Louisville that had reached the Tech 33.

On a third-quarter kickoff return, running back Bruce Jordan-Swilling raked the ball out of Hall’s grasp as Hall was lying on top of him, claiming it for himself. The takeaway gave the Jackets a short field at the Louisville 27-yard line after they had just scored to close their deficit to 21-20, denying the Cardinals a chance to add to their lead.

The last was by defensive end Jordan Domineck, hailed by defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker this past week for his effort. Louisville led 27-26 early in the fourth quarter and had gained 33 yards in its first three plays of the possession when Domineck ended it by ripping the ball away from running back Javian Hawkins, setting up the offense at the Tech 49 for a 51-yard touchdown drive to take back the lead for good.

On the night, Louisville ran for 242 yards, ran 81 plays and held the ball for almost 37 minutes. That combination typically results in victory, but not when three turnovers also are in the equation.

“That’s basically the difference in the game,” Louisville coach Scott Satterfield said.

2. On the other hand

Tech’s takeaway excellence was necessary, as the Jackets were having trouble getting off the field. The Cardinals were 9-for-17 on third downs (52.9%) and 2-for-3 on fourth downs. Further, third-and-long often was not much of a hurdle. Louisville faced eight third downs needing between eight and 19 yards and converted five of them.

It followed the Jackets' challenges on that front in the first three games, when opponents converted 43.8% of third downs. The shortcomings were varied – ineffective pass rush, failure to keep quarterback Malik Cunningham in the pocket, missed tackles, disadvantageous pass-coverage matchups and precise downfield throws by Cunningham, among them.

Ahead 32-27 in the fourth quarter, Tech was able to avoid paying for the most galling of conversions – a third-and-16 with a 27-yard run by Hawkins – when safety Derrik Allen made a successful challenge on a Cunningham pass on an ensuing third-and-6 that brought on the Louisville punt team. Collins did not betray much concern, praising Louisville’s unique scheme and collection of playmakers while citing “a couple of missed assignments” on the third-down defense.

It also certainly bears mention that the defense procured two punts from Louisville in the second half on top of the two possessions ended with takeaways in limiting the Cardinals to six points after halftime.

“We’ll get those things cleaned up,” Collins said. “But the way (players) addressed and took coaching at halftime was huge.”

3. Maybe the biggest play of the game

It wasn’t as memorable or as late in the game as his fourth-quarter touchdown-via-hurdle. But Tech running back Jahmyr Gibbs' 41-yard reception late in the first half may have been the game’s biggest play, another example of how his playmaking aptitude can be such a difference maker.

Tech was down 21-7 with 1:32 left in the half. The Jackets were on their 25-yard line after Louisville had scored touchdowns on its past three possessions. Tech was desperate for points and momentum. Quarterback Jeff Sims threw a screen to Gibbs, who played off a solid downfield block from right guard Ryan Johnson to rocket into the secondary, where he ran through two arm tackles and then angled through the Cardinals defense, getting more blocking help from wide receivers Malachi Carter and Ahmarean Brown. In a matter of 13 seconds, Gibbs had advanced the ball from the Tech 25 to the Louisville 34, considerably simplifying the task of scoring.

“Him being in this offense really helps because he gives us that dynamic push, that dynamic edge,” Sims said.

Tech was in the end zone three plays later, on Brown’s gadget-play pass to Jalen Camp for a 9-yard touchdown pass. The Jackets went into the locker room down 21-14 and with renewed confidence.

“I thought that was obviously a huge point in the game,” Satterfield said.

4. A new step for the offense?

Could this have been the awakening of the Tech offense?

In three games, the Jackets churned out a total of 1,362 yards (good) for 57 points (not so good), yielding a dumpy average of 23.9 yards per point, one measure of offensive efficiency. On Friday, thanks to advantageous field position and Tech’s punching in five touchdowns in as many red-zone possessions, the Jackets' average was 9.8. Anything under 12 or 13 is exceptional.

Tech averaged eight yards per play and did not commit a turnover (or even a fumble, remarkable on a rainy night). Former coach Paul Johnson reached those twin benchmarks only twice against power-conference competition, according to Sports-Reference.com, once in the record-setting demolition of Kansas in 2011 and in 2018 against Louisville with TaQuon Marshall at quarterback.

In the red zone Friday, the Jackets did not commit any penalties and did not need to look to the shaky placekicking unit. Sims made smart decisions – like hanging in against pass-rush pressure to find Gibbs for his 19-yard touchdown reception – and offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude had tight ends Dylan Deveney and Dylan Leonard at his disposal. With both fully available together for the first time this season, Patenaude benefited from the extra blocking and flexibility of having both tight ends on the field at the same time. The Jackets scored four of their five red-zone touchdowns out of two-tight end sets.

The offense has plenty of playmakers and the offensive line has been highly effective. It’ll get a much sterner test a week from now against Clemson.

“We know what we can do on offense, and I feel like we kind of finally just unlocked the part of us that we haven’t been showing this season, how explosive we really are,” said wide receiver Malachi Carter, who had three catches for a career-high 89 yards.

5. Credit due

As disappointing as the loss to Syracuse was a week earlier, this was an impressive win. Coming back from a 21-7 deficit when the Louisville offense was playing with high efficiency wasn’t easily managed. And, it bears mention, the Jackets were picked to finish last in the ACC and are now 2-1 in the league.

There is plenty to fix, including two false starts and an offsides that in the moment were costly, the third-down defense and the Jackets' sixth blocked kick of the season (this one because of a lapse in protection). But the offense has been effective at moving the ball and, Friday night, the defense rose to the occasion. Few would have thought that this team would be 2-2 after four games.

“This group, and I told them, has a chance to be really good in the present,” Collins said. “I don’t think we have to talk in future tense.”

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