TGW: A Defensive Struggle

April 23, 2016

By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word

The weather was nearly perfect for Georgia Tech’s spring game Saturday, for a change, yet that doesn’t mean everything went off without a hitch as Justin Thomas led the White team to a 13-3 win over the Gold in Bobby Dodd Stadium.

The senior quarterback had his moments, chiefly a 76-yard run in the first quarter and a 25-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Ricky Jeune in the second.

The Gold team defenders were not allowed to tackle Thomas, however, and a game that totaled 403 yards of total offense from both squads – or about an average day for the Yellow Jackets in the fall – left something to be desired.

To be sure, there were defensive highlights like an interception by safety Shawn Kagawa, 8.5 tackles by redshirt freshman defensive tackle Brentavious Glanton, a pair of sacks by transfer defensive end Desmond Branch and a big hit delivered by redshirt freshman defensive back Christian Campbell – all of the White squad.

Head coach Paul Johnson was left wanting more juice, though, especially from his first string offense.

Instead, the White mustered but 173 total yards, rushed for a modest 131 and passed for a meager 42 on 6-of-17 completions. Thomas completed 4-of-13.

The brightest spots were freshman B-back Dedrick Mills, an early enrollee who ought to be attending his high school prom now, and redshirt freshman A-back Omarhi Jarrett. Sans tuxedo, Mills rushed 11 times for 47 yards and Jarrett added 52 yards on five totes – both for the Gold.

Beyond that, the Thomas-to-Jeune touchdown and a long run that came with an asterisk, the Jackets’ play caller didn’t see much to crow about but defense.

“It was pretty much a defensive struggle; couldn’t score many points,” Johnson said. “The offense really didn’t act like they wanted to be out there. That’s about the way they played, too. That’s disappointing . . .

“I think early in spring [practice] the defense got the better part, and then the offense got the better part and today [the defense]. The defense has won more than the offense. I was a little surprised at the way it went, but not once I saw the [lack of] energy in the huddle.”

It is impossible for a head coach to leave a spring game happy. One side of the ball or the other is always going to “win,” and leave concern for the other.

On a day when the Yellow Jackets scrimmaged without their senior linemen on either side of the ball as center Freddie Burden and defensive tackle Patrick Gamble did not participate, there were opportunities for younger lads.

Mills and Jarrett made impressions. The White team offensive line of tackles Eason Fromayan and Trey Klock, guards Shamire Devine and Will Bryan and center Andrew Marshall . . . not so much.

“I think Dedrick Mills is going to be a good player if he can get some help.” Johnson said. “He’s got to have somebody at least get in the way in front of him . . . The second offensive line was all walk-ons but one guy I think.

“I don’t know that they were any worse than the first bunch. The first bunch didn’t do much either. You had guys who’ve played who repeatedly busted plays. That’s the thing that’s disappointing.”

Thomas offered a more neutral assessment, suggesting that for all the player movement that’s taken place this spring – especially on the offensive line – the Jackets can expect better in summer practice. By that time, Burden is expected back in pads after offseason hand surgery.

“There was some energy at times. It kind of gets to this point at the end of the spring where you’ve got to kind of find the energy . . . ” he said. “They moved a lot of pieces around throughout. I think each week we’ve gotten better.

“I think in the fall we’ll have more of a stable set. We’ll kind of have an idea where we want everybody and how the rotations are going to be.”

Matthew Jordan and TaQuon Marshall alternated Gold quarterbacking duties until Brady Swilling took over late. They’re the candidates to back up Thomas.

Jordan, a redshirt sophomore, completed 1-of-3 passes for 5 yards and rushed 10 times for 16 yards. Marshall, a sophomore converted from A-back, went for 58 yards on 16 carries. He attempted three passes without a completion, and the pick pulled in by Kagawa.

“Matthew probably played better today, “ Johnson observed. “I think they bring different things. Matthew brings experience [and] he’s a little bigger. TaQuon’s a little quicker, but he’s got to turn the ball loose. He’s got to learn to throw it and pitch it. You can’t carry it every play.”

Thomas will be exempted from contact until the Jackets open the regular season against Boston College, in Dublin Ireland, on Sept. 3.

There was a glaring positive Saturday in that Tech did not fumble a single time. The Jackets, though, combined to convert just 5-of-25 third downs and failed on two fourth down tries. That was great news . . . for the defenses.

“When it starts going good for one [side] it just goes [for the other]. They’ve got to learn to fight back a little better,” Johnson said. “We don’t have many older guys. Somebody’s going to have to step up and be a leader.

“When we get Freddie back, we’ll have two seniors [on offense]. We’ll have him and the quarterback. The quarterback’s got to bring the energy.”

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