Sims still is the player who can elevate Tech’s offense. A great season for him would mean Tech finally breaks through after being stuck on three wins for three consecutive seasons. Sims has played 18 games for Tech. It just seems longer because he made such a strong first impression. Now is the time for Sims’ talent, experience and maturity to coalesce.
“My mindset has definitely changed,” Sims said Saturday at Tech’s media day. “I’m an older guy now. I’m not worried about a lot of things I used to worry about. I’m not worried about outside noise and things like that. On the physical side, I’ve been putting in a lot of work, too.”
There’s a lot of work to do. Tech is replacing pretty much every offensive starter from 2021, including star running back Jahmyr Gibbs. Lots of new players in the lineup isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the Jackets. They ranked next-to-last among ACC teams in scoring, with 24 points per game. Tech’s four highest-scoring games against FBS opponents included three that Sims started and finished and another in which he came off the bench to rush for three touchdowns and throw for another.
Sims played his first two seasons under coordinator Dave Patenaude. Tech had no coach dedicated to his position. For Year 3 Collins replaced Patenaude with Chip Long and hired Chris Weinke to coach the quarterbacks. Long called the plays for some good teams at Notre Dame. Weinke won a Heisman Trophy and national championship at FSU before coaching QBs for two seasons with the Rams and two at Tennessee.
Said Sims: “They push me every day. I love it. Coach Weinke, he’s hard on me. He’s a great coach. He’s a great dude. His biggest thing when he first got here was to build a relationship with us before he started coaching us hard. So, when he rips us, we know he cares about us, and it’s coming from a good spot.”
Sims is a good quarterback for Long and Weinke to build around. Tech added two transfer quarterbacks for this season, but that’s for depth. Sims always has been the starter when healthy, and he’s still the guy now. Sims is old enough now that Tech is his team.
Sims said that’s a point Weinke has made.
“He’s definitely pushed me to another level in my leadership, going out there and being vocal and getting the guys going and operating (the offense) and making sure everybody is good,” Sims said.
Sims no longer has Gibbs in the backfield. That loss can’t be downplayed. Collins did well restocking the running back position with transfers, but Gibbs is the highest-ranked recruit signed by Collins. He lived up to the billing before transferring to Alabama after last season.
Sims is Collins’ second-best recruit. It’s not fair to say he’s failed to meet expectations when he’s played in only 18 games. But Sims is so talented that everyone is looking for more.
“I think we all can agree he’s not your average-looking quarterback,” Tech senior wide receiver Malachi Carter said. “He is very gifted. And it’s not just how he looks. The man can play. I’ve seen so much growth in him.”
Sims had a productive freshman season: 1,881 yards passing on 257 attempts, 492 rushing yards 19 total touchdowns, 13 interceptions. Those numbers are enhanced by the circumstances. The Jackets still weren’t far removed from the triple-option, and the pandemic cost Sims some valuable development time in the summer. He still became the first freshman to start an opener for Tech since Reggie Ball in 2003.
Sims showed why he got the chance with is winning performance at FSU, which once had secured his commitment. He rallied Tech to victory over Louisville in October by running and throwing for go-ahead touchdowns in the second half. Sims passed for three TDs in a victory over Duke. Those were Tech’s only victories of the season.
Tech’s chances to get better in 2021 took a hit when Sims hurt his shoulder in the first half of the opener and didn’t return. Maybe the Jackets would have beaten Northern Illinois if that hadn’t happened. Sims sat out the next two games. When Sims returned, he again showed why he’s a difference-maker for Tech.
Sims came off the bench to beat No. 20 North Carolina with three touchdowns rushing and one passing. The next week, Sims passed for 359 yards on 33 attempts in a loss to Pitt. Sims followed that by saving the day at Duke with a game-winning touchdown in the final minute. Then Sims totaled 365 yards at Virginia, another loss.
The good run didn’t last. In the next two games Sims’ weaknesses — inaccurate passes and throwing the ball into trouble — outweighed his playmaking. I don’t knock Sims for that. He was a young QB behind a thin offensive line doing what he could to lift the Jackets.
Sims said his injuries were “minor,” but I suspect he’s just trying not to make excuses. The Jackets shut him down for the final three games of the season. Sims is healthy now, and he has two new coaches who he said are helping him. The Jackets may be lacking in several areas, but they are set at quarterback.
External expectations are low for Tech in 2022. But the same was true on that September day in Tallahassee two years ago. Sims showed then that he’s good enough to change Tech’s outlook. Sims can do the same for Tech with a star turn this season.