Bradley’s Buzz: Does Tech already have the Key to its future?

Under Geoff Collins, Georgia Tech went 7-19 in ACC play. Taking Collins’ team, Brent Key just went 4-3 in league play. The losses weren’t pretty. The Jackets were outscored 92-39 by Virginia, Florida State and Miami, only one of which is above .500. The victories were nigh-amazing.

Two came against ranked opponents on the road. Another, also on the road, came with the Jackets deploying a backup quarterback and trailing by 10 points inside the final 10 minutes. The other came in overtime after Tech blew a 14-point lead and lost its starting quarterback at the end of regulation.

Considered Tech’s most gifted player, Jeff Sims, last took a snap 8-1/2 minutes before halftime of Game 7. The Jackets lost QB2 Zach Pyron to a fractured clavicle in Game 10. Game 11 saw them travel to Chapel Hill and, behind Nos. 3 and 4 Zach Gibson and Taisun Phommachanh, beat Coastal Division champ North Carolina by scoring the game’s final 21 points.

The day began with Carolina’s Drake Maye touted as a closing-fast Heisman candidate. Maye’s passer rating Saturday was 103.2; Gibson’s passer rating was 153.4. Carolina ranks eighth nationally in total offense; the Jackets rank 110th. And yet: Tech outgained its opponent by eight yards and made three more first downs.

It shouldn’t have happened, but it did. A Tech team on its second head coach and its third/fourth quarterbacks beat a team that will play for the ACC championship. It was another shining moment in what’s no longer a dismal season.

Saturday in Sanford Stadium won’t yield a similar happy return. Georgia is favored by 36.5 points. Tech will finish 5-7 overall, 4-4 under Collins’ stand-in. Soon, Tech will have a new coach. Still, we must ask: Is the most qualified guy already on campus?

This scribe has an aversion to stripping the “interim” off interim coaches. When that happens, it’s often because sentiment overrides common sense. That said, Brian Snitker was once the Braves’ interim manager; Nate McMillan was once the Hawks’ interim coach. Those teams are doing OK. Ed Orgeron, ex-interim, won a national championship at LSU. (He also gone two years later, making him both point and counterpoint.)

We hear it often: Tech isn’t like other schools. We can make the case that only an alum can understand what playing football for a technical institute entails. Key is an alum. He played right guard under George O’Leary. He worked under O’Leary here and at UCF. He was seen as heir apparent in Orlando, but the Knights started 0-8 in 2015, prompting O’Leary to quit. New AD Danny White hired Scott Frost instead.

Key coached Nick Saban’s O-line at Alabama for three seasons before agreeing to work for Collins. When the master marketer was canned, Key distanced himself from hashtags and affectations. (In other words, he said, “Here’s our depth chart.”) In 3-1/3 seasons under Collins, Tech never won consecutive games. It went 2-0 in Key’s first two weeks.

Not to make with melodramatics, but there came a moment Saturday when you thought, “For a team with no reason to care, Tech cares a lot.” With 2:10 remaining, the Jackets faced third-and-9. Carolina still had two timeouts. One stop and Maye would have a last chance. The Jackets handed the ball to Hassan Hall. Key’s line knocked the Heels, who care nothing about defense, backward. A simple run netted the needed yards. Force trumped finesse.

Tech could hire a bigger name. Tech might not find a better fit, and fit is a huge deal at the Flats. Paul Johnson wasn’t a Tech guy, but he understood the Tech mentality in a way Chan Gailey, his predecessor, did not. Johnson was succeeded by a man who got it backward: Collins served the sizzle, not the steak.

O-linemen care nothing for sizzle, but they do like their steaks. The Jackets won’t beat Georgia this year no matter how hard they try, but that’s not the pressing concern. At issue is how long it will take to buy back the credibility lost under Collins. It took O’Leary, who knew Tech well, a while to right the wrongs of Bill Lewis.

This correspondent admitted last week he doesn’t know if there’s a Mr. Right for Tech. After a bit more cogitation, the thought occurs: The past seven games stand as evidence that the Jackets don’t need a sleek offense or a buzzy catchphrase as much as they need someone who can coach football. Brent Key can coach football.

The above is part of a regular exercise, written and collated by yours truly, available to all who register on for our free Sports Daily newsletter. The full Bradley’s Buzz, which includes more opinions and extras like a weekly poll, arrives via email around 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. We’d be obliged if you’d give it a try.

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