Georgia Tech’s Geoff Collins has no good argument for critics

It’s been less than a year since Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins said his program was making obvious progress and that those who disagreed just “don’t want to see it.” That was six games and five losses ago, by a combined margin of 224-40. Now even the most rabid Yellow Jackets partisan looking for signs of progress needs to borrow one of the powerful microscopes from the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience.

It’s much easier to see the evidence that the Jackets aren’t moving forward with Collins. Since Collins chided his program’s critics in November, the Jackets have performed even worse. Now there are more doubters than ever in his ability to turn the Jackets around. Collins has no results, statistics or trends he can cite as counterarguments to those who believe he’s had plenty of time to show he can win at Tech and just can’t do it.

“I understand all of that,” Collins said Tuesday, three days after Tech’s 42-0 home loss to Ole Miss. “But there is – I’m going to try to say this the right way – I have a tremendous amount of confidence, based on demonstrated ability. Now, has that shown up yet while we’ve been here? It has not.

“Do I have faith and belief in the process that we are going about doing it? Absolutely. Do I have faith and belief in the young men in that locker room that we have recruited and developed to be able to take the next step? Absolutely, 100%.”

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We’ve heard all of this from Collins before. The “demonstrated ability” is the success that he and his staff had at stops before Tech. For Collins, that includes good results as defensive coordinator at Mississippi State and Florida and a 15-10 record as Temple’s head coach. His solid track record as a coach and proven success as a recruiter were among the reasons I believed Collins was a good hire for Tech.

The results show that I was wrong. It’s not just the losing. It’s the repetitive nature of those defeats. The Ole Miss game followed a familiar pattern. The Jackets got down big early and stayed there while committing the same kind of mistakes that contributed to so many other lopsided losses.

Said Collins: “Nobody is more self-critical and wants us to be a good football team more than I do. The amount of investment I’ve put into every single one of those players, the amount of investment I’ve put personally into this program, how much I love this program and love this place. And you guys know how much I love the players in that locker room.

“It hurts. Committed to fixing (the problems) so when do have adversity like on Saturday, we’re able to respond much better than we did.”

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen the Jackets do that. Days after Collins chided his critics, the Yellow Jackets lost 41-30 at home to Boston College, a middling ACC team. That was the fourth of eight consecutive losses for Tech against FBS opponents. The losing streak continued at Notre Dame, at home to Georgia, vs. Clemson at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and vs. Ole Miss at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday.

All five of those opponents were ranked at the time. They are programs that put more resources into football than Tech. No reasonable person should expect the Jackets to beat them regularly. Everyone who cares about Jackets football should expect them to be competitive more times than not against the best opponents. Collins can’t even clear that low bar.

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And things could get uglier for the Jackets. They are at Central Florida on Saturday and at No. 24 Pitt the following week. A game against UCF of the American Athletic Conference should be a respite for the Jackets. This will be a game in which Tech is the program that has the advantage in resources. Instead, they are big underdogs for the game in Orlando.

As of Tuesday afternoon, UCF was favored by 20 points. Tech never has been such a big underdog against a team that doesn’t play in one of the Power Five conferences. In fact, according to the Odds Shark database, no other ACC team has been an underdog of 20 points or more against a Group of Five opponent. It’s yet another sign of how far the Jackets have fallen.

Of course, the betting markets are wrong sometimes. But Tech usually lives down to the low expectations set by oddsmakers. Tech’s opponent has been favored by 20 points or more 11 times since 1990. Collins was coach for seven of those games. The Jackets beat the spread only twice and kept the final margin within two scores once, last season at Clemson.

In fairness, three of those games were during Collins’ first season as coach. The Jackets were in the early stages of moving on from the triple-option. I’ve poked fun at Collins for being over-the-top when explaining the magnitude of that transition, but he wasn’t lying. That explanation has less legitimacy now. Tech is three-plus years past its option days and still turning in noncompetitive efforts.

Anyway, Tech’s biggest issue under Collins has been defense, his specialty. The Jackets ranked 79th nationally in points allowed per game in 2018, Paul Johnson’s final season as coach. They ranked 104th in 2019, 96th in 2020 and 110th last season. Collins got more involved with the defense this season, and Tech ranks 104th in points allowed, same as his first season.

That number is skewed by facing Clemson and Ole Miss, but there’s no indication that a dramatic defensive improvement is coming for the Jackets. There’s also little reason to believe they’ll score enough points to overcome the bad defense. Tech has managed only 10 points in its past four games against FBS opponents. Tech couldn’t even score when Notre Dame, Georgia and Ole Miss put in their backups.

“We have played at a high level at times, in spurts, (but) the biggest piece is the consistency,” Collins said. “That’s the challenge. That’s the focus for me as the head coach and for the guys, as well, is playing a consistent brand of really good football.”

Tech’s brand with Collins has been a lot of bad football. That’s easy for even the most optimistic Jackets supporter to see.