Nov. 29, 2015
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
On the Monday leading up to Saturday’s season finale against Georgia, Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson stated that the team on the field would look different next year, especially at A-Back.
“Some of those guys that are playing now may not be playing next year,” said Johnson, who proceeded to tick off a laundry list of players that would be counted on — many of them injured.
A healthy scratch from that list was Clinton Lynch, who was at the top of the depth chart.
Such an oversight won’t happen in any conversations of the future of the A-Back position, especially for 2016, not after the game Lynch put together against Georgia.
The redshirt freshman stepped stood out in the 13-7 loss, gaining a team- and career-high 78 rushing yards, with 21 more coming on a pass reception (he was targeted three other times, but those passes fell incomplete). His 99 yards of all-purpose offense accounted for more than 35 percent of the team’s total yardage and were second only to freshman Marcus Marshall (117 — 45 rushing, 17 receiving, 55 on three kick returns).
“Clinton played well all year,” said Johnson. “He played well as the year went on. He made a lot of plays.”
In his fifth game as a starter, against the fourth-ranked defense against the run in the SEC, Lynch ran a career-high-tying eight times, and averaged 9.8 yards per play. He thundered through the Bulldogs, running with confidence, for punishing runs of 19, 28, 17 and 11 yards. The effort was the culmination of this year of development.
“I slowly started to gain more confidence game-by-game and just finally getting actual game reps to put in the books and just gaining my confidence in making plays one game at a time,” said Lynch, who credited his teammates. “I did what I could. I had some great blocks on the perimeter with the other A-Backs like Ike [Willis] and Mikell [Lands-Davis]. I couldn’t really do that without them.”
Lynch, finished the year with 457 yards on 48 carries (a 9.5 yards per carry average), running for five touchdowns. He also caught 11 passes for 273 yards, a 24.8 yards per catch average, scoring three times. His eight touchdowns tied for 10th in the ACC, with teammate Patrick Skov and two other players. The contributions were part of him making the most of his opportunity as injuries ravaged the A-Back position.
It’s especially rewarding for Lynch, who wasn’t even listed on the depth chart until the Sept. 19 game at Notre Dame, as third-string A-Back.
While the Norcross, Ga., native and former Norcross High School star — he was a second-team Gwinnett All-Star wide receiver — got his opportunity through injury, he earned the respect of the Jackets’ defense with the way he practiced.
“Clint, man, he is a hard runner,” said corner D.J. White. “He’s not the biggest guy (6-0, 181) but he plays with a lot of heart. He’s made a lot of big plays for us on offense this year. I’m excited to see what he does next year. Clint’s got a bright future.
“Like D.J. said, he’s a hard runner and he’s deceivingly hard to tackle and you see that he’s an explosive guy,” said senior strong safety Jamal Golden. “He’s a guy that Coach Johnson wants to give the ball to. He’s going to have a pretty bright future and he’ll probably be one of those premier guys that you see in our offense for years to come.”
The Jackets put the ball in Lynch’s hands 59 times (48 rushes, 11 receptions), with outstanding results. He finished second on the team in all-purpose yards (640 yards — 388 rushing, 252 receiving — 58.2 yards per game) and was the big-play (plays of at least 25 yards) threat, making a team-high eight on the season, one more than wide receiver Ricky Jeune. He also showed a nose for the end zone, as he scored five of the Jackets’ final 10 touchdowns on the season over Tech’s last four games, including all three in the 27-21 loss at Virginia.
Unfortunately for the Jackets, he would not add to that total against UGA, as only Ricky Jeune got into the end zone, making a spectacular tip-toe catch on the right sideline off a perfect 15-yard back-shoulder throw from Justin Thomas with 3:24 left in the game.
Not getting into the end zone Saturday added a layer of frustration to the Georgia Tech offense, which was frustrated all day. The Jackets were 2-for-13 on third down and had a pair of turnovers that ended promising drives — a second-quarter interception of Thomas at the Georgia one, which ended an impressive 11-play, 74-yard drive with Tech down 7-0, and a fumble by Jeune at the Georgia 33, ending the opening drive of the third quarter with the game still 7-0.
“We just killed ourselves with turnovers,” said Lynch. “I wish we were able to punch it in.”
It’s back to the drawing board for Georgia Tech, which will see its streak of 18 consecutive bowl games come to an end.
But out of the ashes comes optimism about 2016 and the start of a new streak.
That optimism is fueled by the return of several candidates for A-Back, a rich crop of which Lynch plans to be included.
He’s not going to wait long to put that plan into motion.
“I think we start preparation for next year on Monday,” he said.