Georgia Tech upsets FSU with dynamic freshman QB Jeff Sims

Quarterback Jeff Sims of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on a passing play during the game against the Florida State Seminoles at Doak Campbell Stadium on September 12, 2020 in Tallahassee, Florida. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Character Lines)
Quarterback Jeff Sims of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on a passing play during the game against the Florida State Seminoles at Doak Campbell Stadium on September 12, 2020 in Tallahassee, Florida. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Character Lines)

Credit: Don Juan Moore

Credit: Don Juan Moore

The game started late because of lightning in the area. Once it did, Jeff Sims provided an immediate jolt of electricity for Georgia Tech. The freshman quarterback was so exciting on his first drive that I got annoyed when lightning again delayed the game before Sims could get another shot at Florida State.

Once he did, Sims offered more evidence that he’s a player the Yellow Jackets can build around. The Yellow Jackets came back to upset Florida State 16-13 at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Fla., on Saturday. Tech was a 13-point underdog. That number didn’t account for the instant impact of its dynamic freshman quarterback.

Sims made mistakes. He made poor decisions on two interceptions. Sims also made lots of plays. His 15-yard touchdown pass to Malachi Carter tied the score early in the final quarter after Tech trailed 10-0 at halftime.

The Seminoles blocked the extra-point try. They blocked three kicks in the game. FSU had been vulnerable all game. The Jackets moved the ball and played good defense. They couldn’t stop stubbing their toes until finally changing their fortunes later in the fourth quarter.

Curtis Ryans sacked FSU quarterback James Blackman. Teammate David Curry recovered. The Jackets were in business at FSU’s 11-yard line. Tech’s Jude Kelley got another chance to kick. He made the 32-yard try.

Tech’s defense made the lead hold. The group was missing two starting defensive linemen but played tough. The Jackets were stout all day. They did it once more when Ryans stripped Blackman of the ball again on fourth down. They did it again by forcing Blackman to throw incomplete.

That secured Tech’s biggest win since coach Geoff Collins was hired before last season. The Jackets hadn’t played at FSU since Oct. 10, 2009. That 49-44 victory was Tech’s only one in seven tries in Tallahassee. That season, coach Paul Johnson’s triple-option cut through the ACC for his one and only league championship (later vacated by the NCAA).

The Jackets are in Year 2 of their transition from the triple-option to the modern spread. Year 1 was painful. They can accelerate the process with Sims at quarterback.

Sims is one of the better products of Collins' upgraded recruiting. But sometimes things won’t go smoothly with a freshman quarterback. As Patenaude put it during the preseason: “He’s young, so it’s hard to expect him to do all the things you need him to do.”

Yet Sims is no ordinary freshman. Tech lists him at 6-3 and 215 pounds. I believe it. Sims is big but light on his feet. Tech faced a lot of down-and-distance deficits against FSU because of penalties. Sims overcame some of them by making plays when there didn’t look to be any to be made. When Sims throws the ball, it comes out fast with a flick of his wrist.

Sims, a Jacksonville native, signed with Tech after initially picking the Seminoles. The home fans at Doak Campbell Stadium immediately saw what they might be missing.

Sims completed his first two passes to gain a first down. On third-and-8, Sims, standing tall behind good protection, delivered a crisp pass to tight end Dylan Deveney for seven yards. The Jackets quickly snapped the ball, and Jordan Mason powered for a first down. Two plays later, Sims faked a sweep handoff and darted through FSU’s defense for 18 yards.

It was an exhilarating sequence. It wasn’t just that Sims made plays on his first college snaps. It was the big reveal that, on its very first drive of 2020, Tech’s offense instantly looked better than it did in 2019. Last season, the Jackets spent a lot of time stuck in place or going backward, but they opened this season forging ahead confidently.

It didn’t last. Sims' first incomplete pass came on his fifth attempt. His first big mistake came two plays later, after a penalty wiped out Mason’s catch-and-run to FSU’s 12-yard line.

Sims rolled to his right and locked his eyes on his target. He didn’t appear to see Asante Samuel Jr. lurking. Samuel, son of the former Falcons cornerback, snagged the fluttering pass and ran it back to near midfield. The 'Noles converted that turnover into a touchdown for a lead they held until the fourth quarter.

Lightning halted the game after that score. Tech’s second drive didn’t amount to much. Sims showed his ability again on Tech’s next drive.

The Jackets faced a third down on the first play of the second quarter. Sims threaded a pass through a tight space to Peje' Harris for seven yards and a first down. On the next play, Sims sidestepped a pass rusher and lofted a touch pass over Janarius Robinson, FSU’s 6-foot-5 defensive end. Tech receiver Marquez Ezzard caught it near the right sideline and ran to the 5-yard line.

That’s when a chop-block penalty pushed Tech back, leading to the first blocked field-goal attempt. The Jackets got the ball back after FSU’s three-and-out. They got in scoring position again on Mason’s 18-yard catch-and-run and Sims' 13-yard strike to Jalen Camp. That threat ended when Sims, under pressure, carelessly tossed a pass right to Samuel.

The Jackets quickly got the ball back on Quez Jackson’s interception, but Tech couldn’t gain a first down. FSU blocked another field-goal try. That’s how it went for the Jackets in the first half. They finally scored on their first drive after halftime.

Sims kept it alive by nimbly scrambling for 7 yards on third-and-5 and then passing 19 yards to Camp on third-and-13. Mason finished the drive with a 19-yard touchdown run. That was Tech’s first score on four chances inside FSU’s 20-yard line. It was a frustrating game for Tech’s offense before that.

FSU’s Samuel hardly had to move to snag his two interceptions. His second pick ended a good touchdown chance for Tech in the red zone. FSU blocked two field-goal attempts from short range. Tech committed three 15-yard personal fouls on FSU’s side of the field.

The Jackets will have to play cleaner to keep winning. They know they have the quarterback to do it. Nothing energizes a team more than that. With Sims playing behind what looked to be much improved pass blocking and a deep group of running backs, Tech’s offense has a real chance to go from bad to pretty good in one year.

A season after Tech quarterbacks labored to make basic throws, Sims delivered impressive passes short, medium and long. His running ability, on designed or broken plays, is something else for opponents to worry about. Sims showed good composure against FSU’s swarming pass rush.

Jackets coach Geoff Collins tried to keep the starting quarterback decision under wraps before the FSU game. AJC Tech beat writer Ken Sugiura reported Friday evening that Sims was the pick. It was easy to see why.

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