CHARLOTTESVILLE – Georgia Tech is, in many ways, where Virginia was in 2016, Bronco Mendenhall’s first season with the Cavaliers. The Yellow Jackets are rebuilding under new coach Geoff Collins, who has scrapped the triple option and is hoping to tap into the talent in the Atlanta region.
It’s been a bumpy road for Collins in Year 1, but as the Yellow Jackets upset of Miami shows, they still have to be taken seriously by other ACC Coastal teams.
Ken Sugiura, a former Richmond Times-Dispatch intern back in 1994, has been at the Atlanta Journal Constitution since 1998. Sugiura, who grew up just outside of Chicago, has been covering Georgia Tech since 2001.
All season long, we'll bring you a look from the other side, getting the insight and thoughts of newspaper beat writers from Virginia and Virginia Tech's opponents. These are the local journalists who cover these teams on a daily basis. We hope it reminds you the value of reading local newspapers and their websites.
Sugiura took time out to answer four downs worth of questions about Georgia Tech going into Saturday’s game at Virginia.
1) ACC teams had to dump all their triple-option notes after the coaching change at Georgia Tech. What is the style of offense Geoff Collins wants to run, long term, with the Yellow Jackets, and what is he doing this season as he transitions his personnel?
Collins has described the scheme as an NFL-based offense. It's a spread out of a shotgun. His vision is for a flexible scheme that can adapt to the talent on the roster. As for this season, given that he has more depth at running back and quarterbacks who came to Georgia Tech to play quarterback in Paul Johnson's option offense, it leans to the run.
2) Running back Jordan Mason seems like's been a bright spot for the offense. He had posted back-to-back 100-yard games before struggling against Pittsburgh. Is he the focal point of the offense and what does he do well?
I'd call him the focal point. As you noted, he had a tough day against Pittsburgh, as did the entire offense, as quarterback James Graham was a little off his game, also. Mason has really good vision to pick out holes and evade defenders and also the strength and agility to break tackles. While there are other running backs that Georgia Tech uses, namely Jerry Howard and Jamious Griffin, and Graham also is dangerous with the ball on keepers, Mason gets the ball the most.
3) Defensively, Georgia Tech looks more capable than its 2-win record would suggest. But the Jackets have given up a ton of rushing yardage. What's gone well and what's not working on that side of the ball? And how do you see the match up with UVA QB Bryce Perkins, who is coming off his best game of the year?
The defensive line is getting better, but is young and would do well to continue to add weight. But, as it is now, it's a defense vulnerable to the run, as offenses try to overpower Georgia Tech along the line (Their 4.73 yards-per-attempt average is 91st in FBS). The strength of the defense is in the secondary, notably cornerback Tre Swilling. Safeties Tariq Carpenter and Juanyeh Thomas are solid tacklers and athletic. The defense plays a lot of press-man coverage, so completing passes could be a challenge.
I think the challenge for Georgia Tech with Perkins is similar to what most teams face: his accuracy on the short throws and his ability to run out of the pocket. Defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker compared him to Tim Tebow and Cam Newton in that a) his delivery isn't textbook; b) he is very hard to tackle; c) "As the momentum of the game continues to go, he gets better and better and better. So an unbelievably huge challenge." Thacker is a fan. "He is one of the best players in the conference, period," he said.
Georgia Tech may try to account for him with a spy and will obviously try to force him away from the throws he likes.
4) Big picture, how has Collins been received by fans and - maybe more importantly - by recruits? There's been this sense around the ACC for a while now that if a coach went to Tech and ran something more modern offensively, it could attract some serious Atlanta-area talent. Is Collins making headway there?
Fans on the whole have received him well, although no one is excited about the team being 2-6, obviously. There've been some questions about how he's handled some things, namely a quarterback rotation that was used for the first three games of the season. But, he's made an impression recruiting-wise. They've secured commitments that they probably wouldn't have previously and have aims on competing with the biggest kids on the block (i.e., Alabama, Clemson and Georgia) for local prospects. He has an energetic and personable style that seems to appeal to high school kids and a lot of his staff is much the same way, and they've made a strong effort reaching out to high-school coaches, also. I do think he's gotten the notice of the top players in the state, but the next step will be not merely getting their attention, but actually signing them.