Behind Enemy Lines: Georgia Tech

Vanderbilt+defeats+Middle+Tennessee+State+with+a+final+score+of+47-24+at+Vanderbilt+Stadium%2C+September+10%2C+2016.

Monica Gallagher

Vanderbilt defeats Middle Tennessee State with a final score of 47-24 at Vanderbilt Stadium, September 10, 2016.

Robbie Weinstein, Sports Editor

The Vanderbilt Hustler sports editor Robbie Weinstein and Technique sports editor Harsha Sridhar discuss the state of the Commodores and Yellow Jackets ahead of Saturday’s game.

Robbie Weinstein: Georgia Tech may have gone 3-9 last year, but nearly every loss was competitive. Did last season’s record belie the team’s actual talent level, and what are the expectations for the Yellow Jackets this year in the ACC?

Harsha Sridhar: Last year was an exhibition in the many ways to lose a close football game. We saw the Jackets drop contests thanks to special teams blunders, defensive breakdowns and offensive blunders. The team was dealing with the void left by star guard Shaq Mason, receivers like DeAndre Smelter and Darren Waller, and reliable contributors all over the field. It showed.

I think Tech’s “actual” talent level puts it between the Orange Bowl-capped 2014-15 campaign and the disappointment of 2015-16, closer to the former. I don’t think many of us expect Tech to come away with an ACC title, but there’s enough talent for the Jackets to play spoiler to the likes of Clemson and Florida State.
RW: Obviously, the Jackets are known for their triple-option offense. Vanderbilt’s defense has been much stronger against the run than the pass this year; do you expect coach Paul Johnson to stick with his typical offense or might he open up the passing game a bit more?
HS: The biggest difference between last season’s and this season’s offense is the passing game. Poor offensive line play and quarterback Justin Thomas’ inexperience airing it out led to a lot of throwaways and broken plays. But he has developed a rapport with receiver Ricky Jeune and A-back Qua Searcy, and we have seen some impressive efforts by the trio against Boston College and Mercer.
Johnson has always loved the triple option, even if it doesn’t necessarily prepare Tech players for the NFL (or attract prized recruits, for that matter) so you can expect to see lots of it. But if the Commodores are clogging up the interior run lanes and defending the perimeter, the Jackets could revert to a backup plan they didn’t have last year: throwing the ball.
RW: Tech has allowed very few yards this year on defense, but does it have any relative weaknesses that may not have been tested so far this year?
HS: Boston College and Mercer are far from offensive juggernauts. But you’re right: The Tech defense has looked a good bit more impressive than the offense so far. I do think the pass rush is a bit of a concern; two years ago, KeShun Freeman was one of the most impressive defensive freshmen in the country. Now, he’s struggling with injury. With star defensive tackle Adam Gotsis off to the NFL, the front seven is vulnerable.
RW: Four Yellow Jackets have registered 13 or more carries through two games. Who, if anyone, is the most dangerous threat out of the triple option?
HS: I think the beauty of the triple option is that a defense has to prepare for a variety of scenarios even after the ball is snapped. Is true freshman Dedrick Mills going to run it up the middle? Will Searcy sprint to the edge? Will redshirt senior quarterback Justin Thomas keep it himself? I think the last of these three will be the most interesting to watch. Thomas was benched for the second half of the Mercer game despite playing pretty well in the first 30 minutes, and Coach Johnson’s comments afterwards suggested he didn’t like the on-field decisions Thomas was making. He will be eager to redeem himself.
RW: How do you see this one playing out? Give a score prediction, if you would like.
HS: I don’t see the scoreboard operators getting a whole lot of work in at Bobby Dodd this weekend. But I think this one comes down to a last-minute field goal, and Harrison Butker is pretty good at that. Give me Tech, 16-13.