Geoff Collins addresses (sort of) Georgia Tech’s bowl chances

Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins may well believe that he can lead the Yellow Jackets to a bowl game this season. If he doesn’t, after all, that could be considered a bit problematic. At the start of his fourth season, Collins is under pressure to show progress in the win-loss column after three consecutive three-win seasons.

But Collins declined the opportunity Tuesday to publicly pronounce his team capable of making it to six wins and qualifying the Jackets for their first bowl game since 2018. With or without endorsements of bowl worthiness, Tech will begin its pursuit Monday against No. 4 Clemson at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in a Chick-fil-A Kickoff game (8 p.m., ESPN).

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“Obviously, we have high aspirations, we have high internal goals that we talk about a lot,” Collins said. “But every single day, how we handle our business, how we come into the building, how we come out to practice, how we compete and work every single day and just continue to stack those days throughout the year, and I don’t want to be cliché, but every single day matters, every single game matters.

“And I think our guys have that mindset, that attitude,” Collins continued, “and if we can continue that and work at a high level the right way, then we’ll be able to accomplish the internal goals that we have for ourselves, and that’s what we’re working toward every single day.”

Collins is not one to give much away or speak in specifics in public discourse. For instance, he released the initial “Above the Line” chart Tuesday, which, as usual, identifies players ready to contribute on the field but doesn’t name starters. He refuses to talk about player injuries. So it follows with his protocol that he didn’t proclaim his team capable of making a bowl game. It’s the sort of behavior that fans might find charming if Tech were winning, but are rankled by as the Jackets have not been.

Regardless, such reticence might be particularly prudent when his job is likely on the line and such an announcement could haunt him if the Jackets can’t reach that standard. (For instance, Collins created the motto “WIN21″ before last season, which did not turn out so well when the Jackets finished 3-9.) Tech has been picked to finish sixth in the seven-team ACC Coastal Division and is projected by ESPN metrics to win 3.9 games against a most challenging schedule.

If it helps, Collins made a moderately less vague forecast prior to the start of the preseason, that “if we play the brand of football that we’re capable of, I think people are going to be excited about the product on the field.”

On Tuesday, Collins also deflected a question about whether his team had reached a turning point in his fourth season, as the members of his first signing class (2020) were now entering their third season. It’s a group that includes starting quarterback Jeff Sims, starting right tackle Jordan Williams and potential starters in wide receivers Nate McCollum and Ryan King, defensive end Kyle Kennard and guard Paula Vaipulu.

In answering the question about the possibility of his team reaching a turning point, Collins did speak of his pride for the team’s bond and the way that transfers and freshmen have melded with returnees.

“But the big focus is just ourselves getting ready to play a high-quality opponent in a big-time venue,” he said. “Those kind of conversations are for other people to have. I’m just focused on this team and getting them ready to play at a high level.”

Collins did say, again, that the team “has an edge, has a demeanor about themselves, has a focus about themselves.” And he spoke of one of the team goals – “to make everybody that loves Georgia Tech football very proud of the way that they play and the way that they compete and the way that they represent” former players, Collins said.

He also addressed a change in his planned substitution strategy for the defense. Last week, defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker said the team planned to prioritize giving more snaps to the players that they trust rather than “subbing for the purpose of subbing.” In his first three seasons, Collins often rotated players heavily with the intent of keeping starters fresh and backups motivated.

Collins said that, “just certain positions, there’s maybe a bit of a gap” between starter and backup, reducing the benefit of splitting snaps between those two groups. Last week, Thacker identified safety Jaylon King and linebackers Charlie Thomas and Ayinde Eley as players that he wanted to play a heavy load of snaps.

As for the ATL chart, there were no significant surprises among the 63 players to make the list. Notably, there were no first-year players on the chart, a first for an opener in Collins’ tenure. Walk-on guard Joe Fusile and fellow walk-on linebacker Taylor McCawley both made the chart. McCawley, who plays special teams, has been on the chart previously. Fusile, a redshirt freshman, is on the chart for the first time. He is expected to play in a rotation at guard against Clemson in the first game action of his career.

Collins said of McCawley, who plays on special teams, that “he’s everything that’s good and right about college football.” Fusile “has just come on and worked really, really hard to put himself in that position,” Collins said.