Georgia Tech offense off to torrid pace

Georgia Tech’s offense has been very good through three games, so much so that it’s trending toward having an historic season. It also has a chance to be even better than it already has been.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of surprises when the time comes,” Tech running back Trey Cooley said Wednesday. “I think a lot of people are gonna raise eyebrows like, ‘Whoa. We obviously didn’t see that coming.’ But it’s coming.”

The Yellow Jackets (1-2, 0-1 ACC) go into Saturday’s showdown at Wake Forest (6:30 p.m., Peachtree TV) having scored 105 points in three outings. That puts them on pace to finish the regular season with 420 points. Should they play a 13th game and maintain its current scoring average, it would reach 455 points – the most since the 2014 team put 530 in 14 games (which is a program record).

Tech, of course, is doing it differently these days. The offenses of the previous decade lit up scoreboards with Paul Johnson’s triple-option attack. This year it’s coordinator Buster Faulkner, quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke and quarterback Haynes King setting a new standard.

King, who also has rushed for 95 yards and a touchdown, has been nothing short of remarkable in his first three games with the Jackets. A sophomore, King leads the ACC in passing touchdowns (9), passing yards (910), passing yards per game (303.3) and points responsible for per game (20). King’s 168.8 passer efficiency rating ranks second among ACC quarterbacks, as does his 335 yards of total offense per game.

At the current rate, King is on pace to throw for 2,730 yards this season. That would be the fourth-most passing yards in a single season in program history.

“Definitely a great guy first,” Cooley said of King. “He’s a great leader, someone that I can go to day in and day out and just ask him questions, and he’ll answer it. Just on a personal level, as well, we sit down, we chop it up every day. Great teammate, great person and somebody that definitely helps keep this offense going.”

King also has been judicious in distributing the ball. Fourteen Jackets have caught a pass this season, led by sophomore Malik Rutherford’s 14 receptions. Freshman Eric Singleton and junior Christian Leary, an Alabama transfer, have each caught 10 passes. It must be noted, as well, that Chase Lane, who came to Tech from A&M along with King, missed Saturday’s game with an injury after grabbing six balls for 105 yards and a score in Tech’s first two games.

The Jackets haven’t just relied on the pass, either. The team’s 203.3 rushing yards per game ranks fifth-best in the ACC. Converted wide receiver Jamal Haynes and Cooley, a Louisville transfer, have combined for 432 yards on the ground while Dontae Smith, the starting back Sept. 1 against Louisville, has only 12 carries for 50 yards and didn’t play against Ole Miss.

Tech’s offensive line, with freshman Ethan Mackenny at left tackle, sophomore Joe Fusile at left guard, junior Weston Franklin at center, Princeton transfer and senior Connor Scaglione at right guard and junior Jordan Williams at right tackle, has allowed only three sacks and surrendered a modest 16 tackles for loss. Fusile is Tech’s highest-graded offensive player, according to Pro Football Focus, this season.

“I think this offense has shown flashes of a lot of greatness. I think if the O-line keeps playing the way we’ve been playing, I think there’s a lot of opportunities to score a lot of points and continue to win games,” Scaglione said. “I think in practice it’s really impressive watching everybody, just with such great effort, get after every single rep, every single period. I’m really excited for where the offense is headed for sure.”

Tech’s offense had been up to the challenges that Louisville and Ole Miss, respectively, presented earlier this month. Its next foe, Wake Forest, presents some unique issues as well.

The Demon Deacons lead the ACC in defending third downs, having allowed the opponent to convert only 25.6% of the time. They also lead the league in interceptions with five, tackles for loss with 25 and in stopping the opposition from scoring in the red zone 57.1% of the time. Wake Forest also has a national-best 16 sacks.

Wake Forest is holding teams to 93.3 yards per game on the ground as well.

Coach Dave Clawson this week lauded the play of King and the Tech offense.

“King is playing at a very high level. He has good arm strength and is really athletic and fast. Every time he throws the ball you have to defend the actual play, and if you’re not in the right rush lanes, he can take off for 40 yards. He’s athletic, fast and has a live arm,” he said. “Their offensive line is big and physical. They have excellent skill. They have 3-4 running backs and 6-7 receivers. They have good slots, outside receivers and tight ends.”

Should Tech score at least 23 points at Wake Forest, that would mark the first time since the 2017 season the Jackets have put up at least 23 points in each of the first four games of the season. The ‘17 squad scored at least 24 points in the first six contests of that season.