We talked to our friend Josh Brundage at From the Rumble Seat to discuss Georgia Tech football prior to this weekend’s game.
More of a meta question-- how do you feel about the Tech program in the Coastal under Paul Johnson in 2017, as Virginia Tech and Miami are on the rise, North Carolina is coming off 19 wins over two seasons, and Duke and Virginia are improving? Are years like 2014 the ceiling, and if so is that acceptable?
For whatever reason, this is still a divisive question amongst most of our fanbase. Johnson has taken the Jackets to 3 conference title game appearances, with 1 win, and 2 NY6/BCS Bowls, with 1 win. That’s success that hadn’t been had in this program since the national championship year in 1990. Hell, our in-state rivals in Athens haven’t even made a NY6 Bowl in that span.
With the way college football recruiting is tilted now, I’m not sure Georgia Tech will ever compete for a National Title, regardless of who’s coaching. The academic restrictions prevent us from pursuing a lot of kids who either couldn’t or don’t want to deal with the class load that Tech requires.
We’ve seen an uptick in recruiting lately, and our defensive starters will almost entirely be former 4* recruits over the coming years, but we’ve never had a 5* recruit in football, and I don’t see that changing. It’s no fault of the coaches, either. If you’re an all-world talent who just wants the easiest path to the NFL, you’re probably not coming to Tech with its class load and smaller fanbase. And no, recruiting is not hurt whatsoever by our offense.
All of that to say, which Johnson is quick to point out, that a smaller budget and the academic restrictions of a STEM school don’t mean we can’t be competitive. We’ve beaten Georgia, who has every advantage known to man, 2 of the last 3 years, and been to 2 NY6 Bowls since their last one. Things are going about as well as they can for Tech football.
I think Tech will have no problem being competitive in the resurgent Coastal under Johnson these next few years, and it wouldn’t shock me at all if they won it outright this season.
Besides TaQuon Marshall and Kirvonte Benson, who are some players to watch on the Yellow Jacket offense on Saturday?
Perhaps the meanest person on offense is true-sophomore left guard Parker Braun. I can’t find the quote, but one of the Coastal coaches at Media Days earlier this year called him, “a ball of knives” at his position. He’s made ACC OL of the Week twice already this young season. He was credited with taking 22 defenders to the ground last week against Pittsburg. Don’t be surprised if we find running room on that left side behind him.
The Tech defense is giving up over half a yard less per play than it has in any season since 2008—what's different about the 2017 Yellow Jacket defense, and is it sustainable?
I think it’s sustainable because it’s a combination of things. First, we returned our entire starting secondary from last year. They all have a lot of playing time together and have really gelled as a unit. Secondly, we lost a couple guys in the front 7, but have largely replaced experience with talent up there, and it’s worked out. The Yellow Jackets have a pass rush for the first time in seemingly a decade, and it’s made a world of difference.
Also helping is that Ted Roof has seemed to be more aggressive this season with his play calling. We’ve yelled and screamed and pulled our hair out over at FTRS for years now with how conservative he tends to be, and it seems he’s turned over a new leaf. We’re not blitzing every play, but we’re finally rushing more than 4 from time to time, and it’s worked really well with how talented our secondary is.
Who are some of the impact players on that side of the ball?
At corner, Lance Austin is the name you will hear called a bunch. He’s certainly made some impressive and big plays for us over the years, but that’s because he’s not as talented as his counterpart at the other corner position, Step Durham. Durham largely flies under the radar when watching our games because he’s so good, that he hardly gets thrown at.
Opposing quarterbacks have just an 18.1 passer rating when throwing at him, which is good for 4th in the ACC, and 2nd if we don’t count Clemson and their absurd amount of talent.
What is the hierarchy of rivals to a Tech fan, right now? Said another way, who of your annual opponents (Clemson, Georgia, Coastal) do you most look forward to beating?
Even though they’re not in our conference, Georgia is our biggest rival. It’s the nothing-but-bragging-rights game, it’s the in-state rival, and we generally hate them.
I would put Miami second in our rival hierarchy... We’ve struggled with them for a while now, and especially since Richt took that job, there’s not love from us for that team. Plus, have you experienced the Miami fanbase in person?
Does anything about the 2017 North Carolina team worry you?
I think I’ll be scared of North Carolina for the foreseeable future after last season’s game. We gave up what, like 5.9 points per drive to y’all? There was almost no point in even placing a defense on the field. I know UNC is decimated by injuries this year, but I don’t think anyone in the stands or on the field will be taking the Heels lightly, especially after losing 3 in a row.
Score prediction, general vibe of the game.
It makes me uneasy to say this, but I think Tech jumps out to a big lead. The offense this year hasn’t been as explosive as it was under Justin Thomas, but they’ve been ruthlessly efficient in marching the ball down the field. I think they control the ball, pop a handful of big plays, and only pass 4-6 times this game. I can see UNC scoring a couple times late to make it closer than it should’ve been, but I think Tech snaps the losing streak and wins 42-28