Jahmyr Gibbs putting together season for the ages for Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech running back Jahmyr Gibbs (1) returns a kickoff for a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Boston College, Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021, in Atlanta. Boston College won 41-30. (AP Photo/Danny Karnik)
Georgia Tech running back Jahmyr Gibbs (1) returns a kickoff for a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Boston College, Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021, in Atlanta. Boston College won 41-30. (AP Photo/Danny Karnik)

Credit: Danny Karnik

Credit: Danny Karnik

With a fan base growing more captivated by his play with each passing game, Georgia Tech running back Jahmyr Gibbs represents the sort of college athlete who could seize the opportunities now permissible in the NCAA to cash in on endorsements or personal appearances.

He could do that.

“We asked him, and he said no,” said Dusty Ross, a mother figure to Gibbs. “He has no interest in that at all. And I’m not surprised.”

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Gibbs may be the Yellow Jackets’ breathtaking star and one whose profile is quickly rising, but he’s not in it for the glory.

“He’s not going to do anything to bring more attention,” Ross said.

Gibbs may find that preference increasingly difficult to preserve. His superlative play on the field has commanded more of the spotlight, and he’ll likely have even more eyeballs over the next two weekends, when the Yellow Jackets play at No. 8 Notre Dame on Saturday and finish the season against No. 1 Georgia on Nov. 27 at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

“I think he’s going to be a great NFL back,” Boston College coach Jeff Hafley said this week. “I think people are going to talk about that guy for a long time. And I think (in the) ACC and nationally, people should talk about him more.”

Against Hafley’s Eagles, Gibbs piled up 223 all-purpose yards in Tech’s 41-30 loss, gaining 98 of them on a first-quarter kickoff return for a touchdown when he saw a crease, broke against the planned return and tore down the east sideline of Grant Field. Carrying the ball with will and speed, Gibbs also gathered 96 rushing yards and 29 receiving yards. And, acting on his opinion that Gibbs should be talked about more, Hafley did.

“I’m glad we only have to play him once a year,” Hafley said. “He can accelerate. He’s got incredible vision. He can burst. He’s strong. He’s not just a little back that can run. He can break tackles. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. He can run routes. I just don’t see him as an explosive running back. I see him as an explosive football player who they can throw to, who can return, who can run the ball between the tackles.”

Hafley’s testimony to Gibbs’ versatility and playmaking threat is backed up in the numbers. Gibbs goes into the Notre Dame game ranked second nationally in all-purpose yards at 168 yards per game. He has totaled 687 yards on the ground, 519 via kickoff return and 474 as a receiver.

In all of FBS, Gibbs was one of seven players going into this weekend’s games who had accumulated 400 or more yards in two of the all-purpose categories – rushing, receiving, punt return and kick return. A second-year player from Dalton High, Gibbs was one of four from a power conference. Gibbs was the only one with at least 400 yards in three of the categories. He’s one of two players to reach 200 all-purpose yards against power-conference competition in three different games, and they’ve all been in Tech’s past three games.

It is truly a season rarely seen. Since 2000, Gibbs is the first FBS player to reach the plateaus of 650 rushing yards, 450 receiving yards and 500 kickoff-return yards through 10 games. He needs 200 yards to break Tech’s single-season record for all-purpose yards, set by Eddie Lee Ivery in 1978 (1,879).

“I think he’s the player of the year in the ACC, in my estimation, in terms of his talent and what he does to impact the football game,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said.

In a season where Tech hasn’t had much to celebrate, Gibbs has been a shining, 5-foot-10, 200-pound light. The kickoff return for a touchdown was the sixth game in a row in which he had broken a play of at least 50 yards.

“What I appreciate is when he breaks those long runs,” offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude said. “I don’t have to call any other plays. That part of it’s really good.”

For his play against Boston College, Gibbs was named to the weekly honor roll for the Paul Hornung Award, given to the most versatile player in FBS. He was, however, a curious omission for the award’s group of five finalists, announced Wednesday.

It’s perhaps just as well for Gibbs.

“It’s great,” Gibbs said of the publicity, “but I’d rather us get a win than me getting recognition when we’re not winning.”

Gibbs’ staggering playmaking is far more than the product of his physical gifts. According to Patenaude, Gibbs has continued to grow in his understanding of the Tech playbook and has a better feel for how to exploit defenses. Gibbs credits running-backs coach Tashard Choice with the mental side of the game, such as showing him what to watch for when studying game video.

“So while we’re out there, the game is slower, and we know what to do when the bullets start flying,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs gave an example of a third-and-5 play against Boston College late in the game. Lined up to the left of quarterback Jordan Yates, Gibbs ran diagonally to his left at the snap on a pass route. He recognized that likely either the linebacker positioned as an end or the linebacker behind him would be defending him and the other would rush Yates. However, the first linebacker blocked him to keep him from releasing, and Gibbs noticed that the second wasn’t rushing, but instead double-teaming him.

“So I just hit a move, got past him,” Gibbs said of the first linebacker. “I looked at Jordan; he was scrambling and I knew the linebacker was going to try to cut it off, so I cut back. I knew Jordan could make that throw and he just hit me, basically.”

It was an impressive split-second counter move. He maneuvered past the first linebacker, recognized the double team, knew he could trust Yates to make a difficult throw – Yates was scrambling left away from pressure as Gibbs was darting right, requiring Yates to throw across his body – then cut back sharply enough to evade the second linebacker and catch Yates’ on-target throw, which was good for a first down.

In his comments about Gibbs, Hafley also apparently made reference to the same catch, saying that Gibbs “killed the play. Like, laughing at it schematically. But he was able to beat our player to the edge. He’s got that ability in his body.”

Gibbs has done so with an approach of putting his team first. Asked what he had found most satisfying in a disappointing season, Gibbs responded, “I guess how we’re staying together. We’re not falling apart like how some teams can. We’re all together.”

“No questions, no fuss, no prima donna,” Patenaude said. “No, ‘Hey, I’m not going to class, man.’ ‘I’m this, I got this.’ None of that. Just rock solid. Rock solid. In everything that he does. Gets great grades, really good dude, good teammate, never an issue off the field. Like most of our guys.”

Patenaude’s challenge is finding more ways to put the ball in his hands. This season, Gibbs has averaged 16.4 carries and receptions per game, good for 116.1 yards per game. He had a season-high 24 rushes and catches against Boston College, generating 125 yards.

“We are trying to get him the rock,” Patenaude said. “But I think what you have to be able to do is you have to say, ‘Well, OK, these are the things that they have seen. Well, what haven’t they seen? Can you do this with him? Can you do that with him? Where can you put him? Where can you move him?’ Without overloading his plate and coming back to, well, now he’s really thinking and he’s not playing as fast.”

Undoubtedly, Notre Dame and Georgia will be determined – and better equipped from a talent standpoint – to force Tech to move the ball without his help. But if the Jackets can successfully utilize their unassuming back, Gibbs will have much more attention to deflect.

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