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Gritty Georgia Tech looks to rebound from another devastating loss

| Friday, November 19, 2021

Georgia Tech’s 3-7 record doesn’t fully tell the tale of their 2021 season. The Yellow Jackets have actually been decently competitive in most of their games. Of those seven losses, six have come by 11 points or less, with four by one possession. The Yellow Jackets also boast an impressive 45-22 win over UNC. 

In the last five games, the offense has notched 30+ points on four occasions. Unfortunately, this streak was only good for a 1-4 record. It’s really been about bad timing for the Yellow Jackets. In the first five games, the defense held the opposition to 22 or fewer points, but the offense sputtered and Georgia Tech won just two games. So the Yellow Jackets have talent, but putting it together into complete performances has been an issue for this rebuilding program. 

“Frustrated, disappointed. But you look at the tape — the effort, the togetherness that you look for as you build a program, all that was there,” Georgia Tech head coach Geoff Collins said regarding another tough loss, 41-30 to Boston College. 

That clash with the Eagles was a one-point battle into the final three minutes, but BC got a late score, turnover and field goal to ice the result.

“This year, there’s been one game that we haven’t been in it down to the last couple of minutes,” Collins affirmed, before quoting the legendary Bobby Bowden. “There are four stages to rebuilding a program. You lose big, you lose close games, you start winning close games, then you win big games … unfortunately we’re still stuck in that second phase, trying to get over the hump, but we are closer to it than are far away.”

Gibbs leads inconsistent offense

The main source of offensive talent is Jahmyr Gibbs, whose roster spot as a running back is a technical designation only. Gibbs does lead the team with 687 rushing yards on 5.3 yards per carry, but he’s also tied for the team lead with receptions and leads in receiving yards. He’s got 35 catches for 474 yards for two touchdowns. On Monday, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said that Gibbs would receive his vote for ACC player of the year. Gibbs is also a special teams contributor — he averages 26 yards per kick return and has taken one to the house this season. The Irish defense has not given up a touchdown in two games, but they’ll have their hands full with Gibbs. 

The jack-of-all-trades has been held under 100 total scrimmage yards just twice all season. Doing so would be a win, but another victory would simply be limiting explosive plays for Gibbs. He’s ripped off plays of 50+ yards in five different games. This past weekend, Boston College allowed 125 all-purpose yards to Gibbs, but his longest play from scrimmage was 14 yards — his least explosive effort since playing Clemson in September. 

Elsewhere, there are certainly question marks for the Yellow Jackets. Quarterback is a bit of a question mark. Jeff Sims has handled the brunt of the action under center, but he’s been mediocre or worse all year with some highlight-reel plays being covered up by an ugly topcoat of inaccuracy and inefficiency. Against BC this past weekend, the Yellow Jackets rolled with Jordan Yates. Sims was held out with an undisclosed injury, making it Yates’ third start of the year under those circumstances. 

The difference between the two signal-callers has been marginal, with Sims’ quarterback rating of 54.1 just edging out the 52.9 mark of Yates. Sims is the more dangerous playmaker for the Irish defense, which has struggled at times with dual-threat quarterbacks. Although they looked superb against the Navy triple option and Virginia’s backup dual-threat quarterback, signal-callers like Desmond Ridder and Sam Howell have punished the Irish this season. Sims averages 5.3 yards per carry. In his season-best effort against UNC, Sims ran for 128 yards and three touchdowns, so the playmaking ability is there. 

Slumping Defense Faces Big Challenge

Defensively, it’s been a struggle recently for Georgia Tech. They’ve surrendered at least 40 points three times in their last six appearances while allowing at least 26 points in each contest. They’re vulnerable everywhere, having given up 278 passing yards and 177 rushing yards per game. Notre Dame’s tempo offense has featured efficient passing and a dominant run game over the past five games, so expect the Irish to do more of the same. Sophomore tight end Michael Mayer figures to again command a large share of the targets. He had seven receptions against Virginia, while no one else exceeded three. 

“He certainly becomes a target on third down. He’s their leading receiver — he is elite — can’t imagine there are many that are more talented than him,” defensive coordinator Andrew Thatcher said, also lauding Mayer’s versatility. “That young man is as physical a blocker as anyone in the country.”

Thatcher noted that Notre Dame has ‘too much talent’ to double-team Mayer on every play, but they’ll be really focusing on the tight end on third down. 

When the Irish aren’t going through the air, Thatcher knows his defense has to find a way to stop Kyren Williams, a task that not many have figured out. After a slower start to the year, Williams’ workload has increased from 18 to 24 touches per game over the last five contests. With the increased workload, Williams’ performance has soared. “Kyren Williams is elite. He has a patient style, he’s electric, he’s another NFL back with elite body control,” Thatcher said of the Irish junior. “You have to wrap, squeeze and tackle — with this dude, you cannot leave your feet.” 

Notre Dame’s big focus will be avoiding turnovers. Last year, Georgia Tech hung with an undefeated Irish team by notching a fumble return for a touchdown with Notre Dame in the red zone. This year, the Yellow Jackets have forced 13 fumbles, recovering eight, and notched three interceptions. They’re vulnerable, but the offense is good enough to capitalize if given opportunities, and defensive touchdowns are instant momentum-switchers. The Irish have allowed two defensive touchdowns this season, and they need to avoid that on Saturday. 

Linebacker Charlie Thomas has 10 tackles for loss, three sacks, two interceptions, and a fumble recovery. He’ll lead the struggling defensive unit. Elsewhere, Jared Ivey and Quez Jackson each have six tackles for loss, and Jordan Domineck leads the Yellow Jackets with three forced fumbles. Similar to the offense, the defense has playmakers, but consistency for 60 minutes has been elusive for the Yellow Jackets. 

60 minutes is what will be needed on Saturday, and Collins knows there is no question the Yellow Jackets will need their best effort of the 2021 season. The No. 6 Irish are hunting for a CFP berth and want to dominate a struggling opponent and impress the committee. Georgia Tech has been a hard team to blow out, but they also haven’t been able to frequently put together a complete performance. 

“They’re a really good team. We saw them in person last year…we know how talented and well-coached they are” Collins said of Notre Dame, “A tremendous level of respect for them. We have to be ready to go and play at a really high level”.

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About Aidan Thomas

A junior marketing and ACMS major at Notre Dame, I've countered the success I've enjoyed as a New England sports fan with the painful existence of a Notre Dame football fan.

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