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Summer Scheming: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Football

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Geoff Collins enters into Year 2 of his tenure in Atlanta. Will the Jackets improve from 2019?

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Georgia v Georgia Tech Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Georgia Tech has been playing football for 119 seasons, which included stints in the Southern, SEC, and ACC conferences. When the Yellow Jackets won a share of the National Championship in 1990, it was as part of the ACC under then coach Bobby Ross. The Jackets had a rough go under coach Bill Lewis before promoting George O’Leary to head coach for the 1995 season. O’Leary peaked at Tech with a 10-2 season and Gator Bowl win as part of the 1998 season. He was succeeded by Chan Gailey who saw moderate success.

Then came a new and different era of Georgia Tech football under flexbone triple option guru Paul Johnson. Johnson abandoned the pro style offense of Gailey and O’Leary for his offense that saw much success at the Naval Academy. Johnson’s pinnacle seasons were in 2009 and 2014, both ending in trips to the Orange Bowl, with a victory in the latter.

Paul Johnson “retired” after the 2018 season and the Jackets went to a younger, social media and recruiting focused head coach in Geoff Collins. Collins came from Temple where in two seasons as head coach the Owls finished 15-10 with a bowl win and another appearance (Collins didn’t coach the second bowl game). Collins “Year One” at Tech saw a 3-9 finish, but the Jackets were three close loses from being 6-6. Not bad for a team that’s completely revamping their entire culture, as well as their offense.

The Jackets are ranked a preseason 58th overall by Bill Connelly’s SP+ analytics. GT is expected to rank 104th on offense but 35th on defense. That 104th comes from a lack of a proven quarterback commodity. Miami is 23rd overall and expected to be 63rd on offense and 9th on defense.

Personnel

One of Collins initial observations upon arriving at Tech was the lack of NFL talent on the Jackets roster. That was evident in the Jackets scoring only 16 points per game in 2019, good for 120th of 130 FBS programs. Even heading into 2020, Georgia Tech doesn’t have an Athlon preseason All-ACC player until linebacker David Curry on the second team defense. Curry finished the season with 97 tackles including six tackles for loss.

Alcorn v Georgia Tech Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images

The third team offense has running back Jordan Mason, while the defense has cornerback Tre Swilling. Punter Pressley Harvin III also made the 3rd team, for specialists. Mason finished the 2019 season strong, totaling 899 yards and seven touchdowns behind a bad offensive line. Swilling led the team with 10 pass break ups, he also had an interception. Harvin III threw a touchdown against Miami and averaged 44.8 yards per punt.

Offensive lineman Jack DeFoor made the 4th team offense and safety Juanyeh Thomas made the 4th team defense. Thomas logged 3 PBU’s and an interception a year ago.

I’m fairly shocked by the omission of wide receiver Ahmarean Brown. Brown came on late in the season averaging 18.9 yards per catch and seven receiving touchdowns last season. He’s an NFL caliber talent who would thrive with a better QB situation (see: every Miami receiver, too).


Scheme on O

This will sound familiar, Georgia Tech uses a ton of 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end) groups but plays from 11, 10 (one back, no tight end) and 20 (two backs, no tight end) personnel pictures. A scheme can only go as far as the quarterback can take it and Tech struggled in that department in 2019. James Graham averaged only six yards per attempt last season completing only 45-percent of his throws. He’ll be joined by Jordan Yates, Jeff Sims and Tucker Gleason are all in the mix for the starting job in 2020.

The run game is based on inside zone, counter and outside zone while utilizing run-pass options (RPO’s) like most of the Power 5 does at the FBS level. Below you can see a fairly standard diagram of Power, a play Jordan Mason excelled at running in 2019. along with Mason, the Jackets have four-star true freshman Jahmyr Gibbs out of Dalton High School in Georgia.

Power is a run that uses a fullback or h-back to “kick out” the play-side defensive end, while having the back side guard pull and wrap inside for a linebacker. The purpose of power is to get more blockers at the point of attack. The GIF below shows power, but also Jordan Mason’s ability to run through and cut past defenders.

The passing game is a standard NCAA Offense affair. You’re going to see four verticals, mesh, shallow cross, smash and slot fade concepts like from most FBS programs.

Below- Brown catches a slot fade for a touchdown on Clemson. He was a steal of a signing for Tech out of the Tampa, FL area.

Below- Brown catches a mini little corner throw off of a stacked formation, that looks like a form of mesh being ran. Either way, it was a touchdown for GT and helped in the victory over NC State.

The passing game will be ran through Brown as he’s an electric talent. But GT wants to stay balanced and use their tight ends, backs and other receivers in the passing game. Also with Yates, Graham and Sims at QB- the OC has the option to use his passer as a runner, too.


Scheme on D

Geoff Collins brought in Andrew Thacker to serve as defensive coordinator. Collins, a former DC himself, hired Thacker to run his 4-2-5 defense. The Jackets converted from a 4-3 to a 3-4 to the 4-2-5 in three consecutive seasons. That’s a lot of philosophy, terminology, and tweener pieces that fit in here but not there.

The linebackers and defensive backs are solid but the defensive line leaves a lot to be desired. The offensive and defensive lines have been a huge part of Collins “Recruit or Die” formula in Atlanta- they brought in nearly a dozen linemen this off-season.

Above- As an OC I see a nice bubble to the right. Clemson has their TE/H lined up right and will attack that side of the defense. GT has only one inside linebacker truly in the box. It’s an OC’s, but also a QB’s, job to attack bubbles or zone either in the run or pass defense of an opponent.

Below- watch Clemson rip through Jackets defense. GT is completely outnumbered at the point of attack on this guard wrap style run.

When Collins was at Temple the Owls had good-but-not-great talent compared to the AAC. At Tech, he’s having to rebuild the roster and defense that had almost no pro talent in the ACC. The defense might get away with this look with good talent but not with what they had on the field in the front six in 2019.


Canyonero keys to victory

The first key to victory for Miami over Tech is to play sound football. Collins is an ‘attention to details’ coach and his staff found the weakness in Miami’s punt coverage. They saw DJ Ivey not running with the gunner on short-field punts. Thus, they dialed up a fake punt which led to a touchdown in Tech’s overtime victory over Miami.

Getting a pass rush on GT’s quarterback is a must. OC Dave Patenaude wants to have a balanced, 11 personnel pro style attack. If Miami can get a pass rush with just four up front the linebackers can help the defensive backs in coverage on speedy talents like Brown. The QB situation is in so much flux in Atlanta, that the starter won’t have as many 1st team reps as necessary, especially during COVID.

Miami needs to take advantage of the athleticism curve that allegedly the ‘Canes have over the Jackets. A year ago, Dan Enos didn’t do a very good job of targeting Brevin Jordan against the Yellow Jackets. Talents like Jordan need to be used to expose the talent drop off.