Flats lines: Reviewing Georgia Tech’s win over Mercer

September 10, 2016 Atlanta - Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets players and fans celebrate their victory over the Mercer Bears at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday, September 10, 2016. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets players and fans celebrate their victory over the Mercer Bears at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday, September 10, 2016. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

 

Reviewing Georgia Tech’s 35-10 win over Mercer:

The game in 100 words

Georgia Tech defeated Mercer 35-10, but this was a game that even if the Yellow Jackets won by 100 it was going to be clearly difficult to gain any better understanding of this team from Week 1 to Week 2 because the Bears are an FCS team that only restarted their program in 2013.

Still, Tech’s offense rushed for 364 yards and the defense limited the Bears to 320 yards. And, Tech is 2-0 for the fourth consecutive year and a step closer to re-starting its bowl streak after not making one last year.

The schedule becomes much tougher next week with Vanderbilt coming to Bobby Dodd Stadium and then Clemson the week after that.

3 things that worked well

Tech’s A-backs. After rushing for less than 5 yards in the season-opening win against Boston College, Tech’s A-backs had 159 yards on Saturday. Qua Searcy was the big-play guy for the second consecutive week with 91 yards rushing on seven carries and one reception for 12 yards. It was the most rushing yards by an A-back since 2013. Coach Paul Johnson said the perimeter blocking was better than in Week 1, which helped the A-backs find room. He said Searcy has become a real playmaker for the offense.

Matthew Jordan. Because Justin Thomas was dinged, back-up Matthew Jordan played most of the second half. He still seems more confident keeping the ball, putting his head down and pushing for yards rather than pitching, finishing with 12 carries for 44 yards and two touchdowns. Johnson said he told Jordan that he wanted him to do “downhill” in the game, which may explain his number of carries. Jordan didn’t attempt a pass. Johnson said he had every confidence in Jordan, who hasn’t played more than a handful of snaps in various games the past two years. Taquon Marshall, the third-string quarterback, also got to play.

Special teams. With the exception of one bad punt, Tech’s special teams once again looked sharp. Harrison Butker put all five of his kickoffs through the end zone, resulting in Johnson calling him a real weapon. Tech blocked a field goal for the second consecutive game. And, of most importance, Tech pulled off a fake punt that turned the game’s momentum. On the play, linebacker Chase Alford, lined up as a blocking back in the punt formation, received the snap and rushed for 21 yards. Johnson said Tech usually has the play on, but will check out depending up on the opponent’s alignment.

3 things that are still unknown

The offensive line. After opening holes that resulted in just 119 rushing yards against Boston College, Tech’s offensive linemen said there were communication issues that affected their performance. Johnson said he wasn’t going to accept that as an excuse and wanted to see someone come off the ball and hit someone in the game against Mercer. Starting center Freddie Burden said the communication issues that affected the group against Boston College were better on Saturday. But the Bears didn’t force the Jackets’ front five into a lot of decisions because their defensive linemen and linebackers typically remained static before the snap, and only occasionally stunted or twisted after the snap.

Tech rushed for 364 yards against Mercer, which would indicate that the line played better but there didn’t seem to be a lot of enthusiasm from Johnson after the game to support that. After the boilerplate answer of “I need to look at film” when asked for his critique of the line, he said his first impressions of the performance was “iffy” and “OK.” He was slightly more positive about them later, asking what more could be wanted from a group that just paved the way for a lot of yards. Again, the Jackets were playing an FCS-level team.

Overall, Johnson said the offense was a little more recognizable than it was in Week 1.

There was just one negative yardage play.

The pass rush. Granted, Mercer ran a lot of screens, which makes it very difficult to generate a pass rush — even the threat of a screen can slow down blitzers — but Tech’s pass rush was not impactful for the second consecutive game. After one sack against Boston College, the Yellow Jackets had two against Mercer. Bears quarterback John Russ completed 24-of-38 passes for 225 yards and a touchdown. He was able to escape the pocket and a potential sack on his touchdown pass.

The defense overall. Characterizing the defense as bend-but-don’t break, Johnson said Ted Roof’s group has to produce more three-and-outs. It had just two against the Bears, which resulted in Tech barely holding more time of possession. Johnson also noted that despite Mercer throwing so many screen passes, it seemed that whoever was assigned to the screen receiver wasn’t taking him.

This quote best summarizes Johnson’s thoughts on the defense:

It was a struggle to get them off. I thought they did a nice job with their scheme and staying on the ball. When you look at it, they didn’t score a lot but they were able to keep their defense off the field. The time of possession was even and they punted once. It shouldn’t be that way, not against us. It’s kind of a dichotomy, a reversal of last week, we had a hard time getting them off the field last week, they did score. We’ve been bend but don’t break for two weeks, we need some three and outs.

 

Rating the position groups

Borrowing from something that is done with soccer, I’ll rate the different position groups game by game using a 1-to-10 system. Ten represents exceptional and one represents a total meltdown. This is just for fun and mostly for conversation, so please don’t take it too seriously. Feel free to post your own ratings in the comments section.

Quarterbacks 7. Justin Thomas’ pitches and decision-making seemed sharper against Mercer than they did against Boston College. He rushed seven times for 69 yards and completed 5-of-10 passes for 80 yards. Again, his better decision making may have been the result of the different tactics the two defenses used. Jordan’s running was solid. His ability to pass is still unknown.

B-backs 5. The two lost fumbles — one by starter Marcus Marshall and one by reserve Quaide Weimerskirch — were “inexcusable,” according to Johnson. Marshall had 10 carries for 51 yards and a touchdown.

A-backs 8. It’s hard to argue with the results of the group. Clinton Lynch added five carries for 37 yards with a long of 16, Lynn Griffin three for 20 with a long of 11, Nate Cottrell one for 6 and Austin McClellan one for 5.

Wide receivers 6. Ricky Jeune had three catches for 57 yards. Mikell Lands-Davis had one for 11. Tech didn’t attempt a pass in the second half.

Offensive line 6. The rushing game averaged seven yards per carry. Thomas wasn’t sacked. A blown block on third-and-2 in the third quarter peeved Johnson, who noted it in his post-game press conference. That missed assignment led to the fake punt on fourth-and-1.

Defensive line 6. The Bears averaged three yards per carry in rushing for 85 yards. The Bears, like Tech’s offense, lost just nine yards rushing. Patrick Gamble and Anree Saint-Amour had both of team’s sacks. The linemen had Tech’s four tackles for loss.

Linebackers 5. No sacks. No tackles for loss. No forced fumbles. No interceptions. No passes broken up. Mercer converted 10-of-18 third downs. If the linebackers are the playmakers, plays need to be made.

Cornerbacks 5.  The group had no interceptions and no passes broken up.

Safeties 5. Strong safety Corey Griffin gave up Mercer’s first touchdown when he ran underneath Avery Ward on a lofted, deep pass. Russ was under a little bit of pressure on the play, but the lineman chasing him took a bad angle and allowed him to get outside the pocket.

Specialists 8. Butker had another all-conference day. The fake punt worked. Brad Stewart returned two punts for a total of 23 yards. J.J. Green returned two kickoffs for 40 yards. Tech’s punting game remains a work in progress after Grant Aasen got a fortunate bounce forward on a shanked punt that resulted in a 42-yard effort.

What did next week’s opponent do?

The Commodores defeated Middle Tennessee 47-24 to improve to 1-1 this season.

Vanderbilt rushed for 231 yards and five touchdowns. They gave up 399 passing yards and 96 rushing yards. Vanderbilt converted 4-of-12 third downs, but was 7-of-7 on red-zone scoring, including six touchdowns.

What does that mean for Tech?

Within that 231 rushing yards were 211 by Ralph Webb. If Tech can’t slow him down, it could be an interesting afternoon. Webb averaged 7.3 yards per carry and had a long run of 49 yards.

That they gave up 399 passing yards doesn’t mean a lot because Tech isn’t go to throw for even half of that.

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Georgia Tech vs. Boston College.

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