How Georgia Tech’s coordinators have assessed this season

Georgia Tech offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude addresses media at Bobby Dodd Stadium after a preseason practice on August 24, 2021. (AJC photo by Ken Sugiura)
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Georgia Tech offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude addresses media at Bobby Dodd Stadium after a preseason practice on August 24, 2021. (AJC photo by Ken Sugiura)

In late August, Georgia Tech’s season opener against Northern Illinois was quickly approaching. As is the case with every team in every preseason, optimism was in full flower. Yellow Jackets offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude and defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker shared their bright hopes for the season ahead.

Thacker liked the unit’s depth and increased size on the defensive line. Patenaude liked the talent at each position group and the increased speed at wide receiver.

“The expectation should be that we’re better,” Patenaude said. “That’s where we are. We’re in Year 3.”

Asked if he was comfortable and confident in his unit, Thacker replied, “I really am. It’s a very obvious answer relative to the last three years, but much more confident in the depth.”

Tech’s body of work is nearly complete after 11 games and 735 snaps for the offense and 775 for the defense. With a 3-8 record, the season has not gone as any Jackets coach or player would have guessed in August, which has brought both coordinators under scrutiny.

Asked to assess how both have done this season, coach Geoff Collins credited their work ethic and largely left it at that. Tech finishes the season Saturday at home against No. 1 Georgia.

“That’s a conversation that we’ll continue to have,” Collins said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. “Continuing to put our guys in position to have success, both sides of the ball and on special teams. Just how hard they work, how they try to uncover every single thing to give our guys a schematic advantage and a play-calling advantage. Two of the hardest-working men I’ve ever been blessed to know, and they continue to fight and compete and work to give our guys the best opportunity to have success on Saturdays, and I’m truly appreciative of it.”

It has become widely expected that Collins will make changes to his staff following the end of the season.

Tech’s offense ranks 73rd in FBS in yards-per-play (5.8) after ranking 66th in 2020 (5.6) and 120th in 2019 (4.8). Scoring has improved from 124th in 2019 (16.7 points per game) to tied for 95th in 2020 (23.9) to tied for 80th this season (26.2).

After scoring 30 points in a game twice in the first two seasons, the Jackets have reached that threshold six times this season, once against FCS Kennesaw State.

The Jackets have hit more big plays with the development of running back Jahmyr Gibbs and the development of the passing game with quarterback Jeff Sims, but continue to struggle in red-zone play and on third down. Injuries, particularly on the offensive line, where Patenaude said five scholarship players have been injured in recent weeks, have hampered play.

“I think when we have all of our guys and we are healthy and play with a healthy roster of guys that are able to get out and do things that they need to do, I think we’re really good,” Patenaude said. “That being said, you just got shut out (against Notre Dame). So I get it. I get it. There’s no one more frustrated, there’s no one more upset than the coaches and the players when you’re in that situation, and being so close doesn’t cut it. To say, ‘Hey, well we could be this.’ But we’re not. So what you have to be able to do is really say when we were fully healthy and doing our thing and kind of rolling along, we were pretty good.

“There wasn’t anybody that was questioning anything against North Carolina or Pitt or Virginia. But then guys get banged up, and I don’t want to use it as an excuse, but it’s reality.”

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September 25, 2021 Atlanta - Andrew Thacker, defensive coordinator, reacts during the second half of an NCAA college football game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Saturday, September 25, 2021. Georgia Tech won 45-22 over North Carolina. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

September 25, 2021 Atlanta - Andrew Thacker, defensive coordinator, reacts during the second half of an NCAA college football game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Saturday, September 25, 2021. Georgia Tech won 45-22 over North Carolina. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Caption
September 25, 2021 Atlanta - Andrew Thacker, defensive coordinator, reacts during the second half of an NCAA college football game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Saturday, September 25, 2021. Georgia Tech won 45-22 over North Carolina. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Tech’s defense ranks 113th in FBS in yards-per-play (6.5), down from 85th in 2019 (5.8), 79th in 2020 (5.9). The progression of scoring defense: tied for 103rd in 2019 (32.4 points per game), 109th in 2020 (36.8) and tied for 106th this year (32.5). The Jackets have continued to have difficulty defending on third down. Red-zone defense has been better, though hardly superior. One thing the defense does exceptionally is create fumbles (tied for seventh in FBS with 14). They did it in the season’s unmistakable high point, when they forced and recovered three fumbles (along with eight sacks) against North Carolina in the 45-22 win Sept. 25.

But that standard could not be matched. They have particularly been poor at avoiding big plays, especially of late. Ineffective pass rush and mistakes in the secondary have been a painful combination. Until the Notre Dame game, injuries have not been a significant factor, although playing a series of high-level offenses and quarterbacks has.

Thacker, who has been uncommonly transparent and accountable about his defense’s struggles, declined to offer a season assessment Tuesday.

“It’s really a question for after this week,” Thacker said. “I’m usually really forthcoming with answers for you. That’s a tough question at this moment, coming off this performance right now (against Notre Dame), but we’re really going to answer that after this week.”

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