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#STINGDAILY: Short-Circuited

Sept. 27, 2013

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

– In trying to explain why Georgia Tech’s offense didn’t work in Thursday night’s 17-10 loss to Virginia Tech, which could be made an absurdly difficult process, it might be a good idea to over simplify and look at the foundation of the operation.

More often than not, for the Yellow Jackets to approach peak efficiency they have to achieve some success up the middle both in running the ball there and controlling interior defenders to prevent them from mucking up plays before they get wide.

The offense grows from the inside out.

Sometimes, the Jackets leave interior defenders unblocked on purpose, but as Virginia Tech’s men in the middle made mess after mess of the Jackets’ inner workings Thursday, they were frequently supposed to be blocked.

How do we know this?

Virginia Tech senior defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins, wrecked Georgia Tech from the inside out, crashing between center Jay Finch and guards Will Jackson (and Trey Braun) and Shaq Mason as if he was a 6-foot-1, 311-pound ball fired from a very big canon.

Rarely will a defensive tackle lead his team in tackles, but Hopkins did with a combined seven tackles and assists, and he mucked up the works many more times than that. Add the fact that four of the Hokies’ leading five tacklers were defensive linemen, and you have numerical evidence aplenty that the Jackets’ offense did not work.

Quarterback Vad Lee was hit soon after the snap several times, including when he lost a fumble on the game’s third play.

“The focus of our offense is owning the B gaps, and that’s where we get everything started,” said fullback Zach Laskey. “Their D tackles were … slanting and forcing us to get on the perimeter, and they were able to get pressure up front which at times threw off the timing of the play to get off the mesh.”

The Jackets did not own the B gaps, and when you add the fact that they repeatedly were their own worst enemy – seven of the nine penalties were on the offense, including six false starts – and coach Paul Johnson was left to refer to a “comedy of errors” and use the phrase “self destruct.”

It wasn’t just Virginia Tech’s D-linemen.

On that third play, Hokies cornerback Kyle Fuller, who spent much of the game near the line of scrimmage or literally hurdling it, rocketed cleanly into the Tech backfield through one of those gaps, hit Lee almost instantly as he pulled the ball away from center, and caused a fumble.

Two plays later, the Hokies led 7-0, and a gaping hole had been laid open for the first of many times.

Safeties and linebackers generally lead opponents in tackles against Georgia Tech, and they’re usually making most of them downfield. The Jackets’ longest run play against the Hokies was a Lee scramble for 15 yards.

The Jackets’ offense was unusual Thursday, when their preferred running game was good for a modest 129 yards and averaged just 3.1 yards per carry. The Hokies wanted to make Georgia Tech a passing team, and did. That did not go well. Lee completed 7-of-24 passes with two interceptions.

When Georgia Tech is humming, the Jackets’ interior run game sucks up the opposing safeties and brings in the corners. That in turn creates greater opportunities to run wide and hit a big pass now and then.

Lee connected on a couple big ones, as DeAndre Smelter and Darren Waller each broke back on underthrown balls for receptions of 41 and 40 yards. Otherwise, Tech completed 5-for-22 for 63 yards and two picks.

“We’re not going to throw the ball 24 times and win very many games,” Johnson said. “That’s not us.”

For two weeks running, the head coach has suggested that the Jackets are not good running the option, which is a big part of their offense. Actually, he went further than that Thursday night. “It’s been coming,” he said. “I told you all along we’re not very good with the option. We’re terrible in fact, and it showed.”

There is a tendency to point the finger at the quarterback, and Lee has a role in the Jackets’ problems. But he’s had help.

Linemen are making incorrect reads, sometimes sticking with defensive linemen when they should release to linebackers and vice-versa. Lee’s ball handling and reads have been inconsistent, and perimeter players are not executing the way they need to, either.

“Honestly, it’s nothing the other teams have been doing,” said A-back Robbie Godhigh. “It’s really been internal, little things here and there that we’ve been messing up on. Honestly, we’ve been stopping ourselves with mental mistakes and penalties . . . stuff where we know what to do but we weren’t able to do.”

Asked for easy-to-understand examples of what’s not working with the option, Lee did not have any. He summarized: “For the most part, we’re still not there.”

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