Injury sidelines the rapid rise of Georgia Tech freshman Jahmyr Gibbs

Georgia Tech running back Jahmyr Gibbs (21) scores a touchdown during the first half at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta on Saturday, November 28, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Georgia Tech running back Jahmyr Gibbs (21) scores a touchdown during the first half at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta on Saturday, November 28, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

It almost feels like a foregone conclusion that Jahmyr Gibbs will create at least one explosive play in every game. The freshman running back has done just about everything for Georgia Tech this season and has cemented himself as one of the most electric athletes on the team — in only the first seven games of his career.

Saturday night’s 56-33 win over Duke at Bobby Dodd Stadium was no exception. On the third play of the game, Gibbs broke through a hole in the middle of the offensive line and took off at top speed. Sixty-one yards later, he was in the end zone for his sixth touchdown of the season. The touchdown run topped Gibbs’ previous career-long rush of 59 yards and also instantly became Tech’s longest offensive play of the season.

And Gibbs was just getting started. In the second quarter, a 26-yard touchdown run gave Tech a 21-14 lead. It started to feel as if when Gibbs touched the ball, something good was about to happen for the Yellow Jackets. But on Tech’s next drive, Gibbs’ strong start took a turn.

After catching a pass from quarterback Jeff Sims and taking it for a 42-yard gain, Gibbs went down and visibly was in pain. He left the field under his own power, though he soon went to the locker room for further evaluation. When Gibbs did return to the sideline in the second half, it was in a blue hoodie — not his No. 21 jersey — and on crutches.

Though Gibbs didn’t play in the second half, his 48 receiving yards still led the team when all was said and done. Combined with his 91 rushing yards, Gibbs had his seventh consecutive game (all of the games he’s played) with more than 100 all-purpose yards. In his absence, Tech scored 35 points to finish with 56 — a new high total under coach Geoff Collins.

“I thought he was playing at a really high level,” Collins said. “Six carries for over 90 yards, four catches for almost 50 yards. He is a really good player. I think the added layer that he can give you catching the ball out of the backfield is a differentiating factor in this day and age of college football.”

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Gibbs is the only freshman in a Power Five conference since 2003 to have at least 350 yards, 250 receiving yards and 200 kickoff return yards in his team’s first seven games — a stat line made all the more impressive by the fact that Gibbs didn’t play in the season opener against Florida State and thus racked up that yardage while playing in six of the seven games. He’s also the fifth Power Five player since 2015 to achieve those metrics, joining names such as Christian McCaffrey, Joe Mixon and Saquon Barkley.

Gibbs has drawn comparisons to Marshawn Lynch and Alvin Kamara in his young career, and he entered Saturday’s game ranked No. 35 in the nation in all-purpose yards per game with 138.17 yards — the third-highest mark among freshmen. And while Tech’s other running backs, particularly Jordan Mason and Dontae Smith, had big games after Gibbs’ injury, Gibbs’ health could be an important factor for Tech’s success going forward.

The nature of the injury is unknown as of Saturday night, but in the event that it keeps Gibbs out of the lineup, it sounds as if his teammates will have a bit of extra motivation to win. They already showed it Saturday.

“When (Gibbs) got hurt, he came up to me and told me, ‘Finish this game. Do what you do,’” Sims said. “I told him, ‘I got you.’ The offense really started to get together and finish off the game for him just because we knew that he wanted to be out there playing.”

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