Nov. 7, 2016
Jon Cooper | The Good Word
Leading up to his legendary “Rumble in the Jungle,” Muhammad Ali issued the following about himself and his opponent George Foreman:
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee/His hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see/Now you see me, now you don’t/George thinks he will, but I know he won’t.”
Georgia Tech redshirt sophomore A-back Clinton Lynch can kind of relate to Ali. Opponents have barely been able to hit him and, in fact, have covered him as if they can’t see him at all.
Over the last three games the 6-0, 187-pounder has not only scored on long pass plays but has been wide open prior to receiving the ball.
Lynch’s latest disappearing-then-reappearing act came with the Jackets at their 17, down 10-0 and less than three minutes remaining in the opening stanza this past Saturday afternoon at North Carolina.
No. 22 in white lined up to the far right. As quarterback Justin Thomas took the snap, he took a step right as if to run the option with back to B-back Dedrick Mills, who was lined up behind him. Lynch also a step left as if preparing to block, then gunned it up field, blowing past a pair of Carolina defenders. Thomas stopped, set and hit a wide-open Lynch in stride. UNC senior corner Des Lawrence actually caught Lynch but, completely intent on stripping the ball, allowed him to slip away. It was clear sailing the final 48 yards as only teammate Qua Searcy was anywhere near Lynch as he ran to paydirt, getting the Jackets back in the game at 10-7.
The play jump-started Tech’s offense, which had punted on its first two possessions, running a total of eight plays and gaining a total of 31 yards. The Jackets wound up racking up 518 yards of offense and averaging 7.6 yards play in the 48-20 loss.
So how did he get SO open?
“I just become an actor. Make them it look like I’m blocking and run past them,” he said.
Lynch is becoming quite the stealth presence and a productive one for the Jackets.
He began the “act” against Georgia Southern back on Oct. 15, when he victimized the Eagles for a 65-yard scoring pass play. There wasn’t much deception, as Lynch simply tore straight down the middle of the field when the Eagles were caught overloading the box. Thomas saw it, checked it and hit Lynch as he cruised the vacant middle. The speedy A-back did the rest.
Then, on Oct. 29 against Duke, Thomas again caught the defense cheating up, Lynch similarly flew a stealth pattern, this time sprinting unchecked up the right sideline, and Thomas found him for a 46-yard TD connection.
While last Saturday’s touchdown was Lynch’s only reception, it gave him three-straight games with TD catch and at least 80 receiving yards (and his fourth such game of the season). His career high coming into this season was 69 receiving yards (at Virginia on Oct. 31 last season).
The 83-yard play was Lynch’s career-long and the longest reception for Georgia Tech since A-back Embry Peeples had an 87-yard connection with Joshua Nesbitt on Oct. 31, 2009 at Vanderbilt. It was also the Jackets’ longest play of any kind since A-back Orwin Smith took a handoff and rambled 95 yards against Kansas at Bobby Dodd on Sept. 17, 2011.
Lynch now has five big plays (20-plus yards) in the last three games, one fewer than he had over the first six games of the campaign combined. He has 687 yards on 40 touches — that’s 17.2 yards per touch. His 687 yards of all-purpose offense lead the team, as do his 389 receiving yards and 43.2 receiving yards per game. His six TDs rank second on the team (Mills has 11), his 36 points are third (behind Mills’ 66 and kicker Harrison Butker’s 53), he’s second on the team with 32.4 yards per catch (behind only Marcus Marshall’s 40.5) and he’s fourth in rushing yardage (298) and rushing yardage per game (33.1 ypg).
He’s already surpassed his receiving total from last season — 116 more than his freshman campaign — his yards per catch are up almost eight yards from last year’s 24.8, he has five TD receptions, two more than last year, and has nearly doubled his receiving yards per game from last year’s 22.8.
Lynch has been as efficient and productive running the ball, as he averages better than a first down every time he carries the ball at 10.6 ypr — up more than a yard from last season’s 9.5. As a double-edged weapon, Lynch is averaging almost 13 more all-purpose yards per game than last season (76.3 vs. 60.9 in `15).
Lynch’s scoring is also up. He has eight touchdowns, five of them through the air — he had six all of last season — and they’re big scores. His second score against Duke, an acrobatic 21-yarder with a defender draped all over him, provided the game-winning score against Duke. His 22-yard run at Pittsburgh gave Tech a fourth-quarter, a lead and his TD at UNC got Tech back in the game.
With all this success and potential explosiveness, one would think he’d have a hard time finding room to operate against opposing defenses.But if they insist, he’ll continue to oblige.
Next up is No. 18 Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. The Jackets will prepare and Lynch will see if he can continue to find seams in the Hokies’ defense.
“We have to look at the film, watch it, evaluate yourself and, after that, flush it,” he said. “Whether it’s a win or a loss, you have to be positive with it.
“[Saturday] wasn’t our day,” he added. “We have got to keep working in practice and keep our heads up. I think everybody was ready. Everybody had the right mentality. We have to execute and keep working.”