Oct. 24, 2014
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Georgia Tech plays its biggest game of the season to date when it travels to Pittsburgh to take on the Coastal Division rival Panthers Saturday afternoon. Kickoff at Heinz Field is set for 3:30 p.m. The game can be seen on ESPNU.
The Yellow Jackets will look to put the brakes on a two-game losing streak, which has made Saturday a must-win. A victory would put Georgia Tech ahead of Pittsburgh (both would have two conference losses, but Tech would control the tiebreaker) and pull them to within a game of Coastal leader Duke, which has a bye. It also would set up an interesting battle next week with Virginia, also 2-1 in the Conference.
But first things first. The Jackets must stop the Panthers. Head Coach Paul Johnson issued a challenge to his defense, which has struggled the last two weeks.
“They’re a power running team and if you can stop the run you go a long way towards stopping them,” said Johnson. “They’ve got the one big-time great receiver but they haven’t been as successful in the passing game as a conventional offense. Our challenge is to go in and stop them from running the ball down our throat, which has happened the last two weeks.”
The Yellow Jackets lost a 48-43 track meet at North Carolina last weekend despite rolling up 611 yards of total offense, 376 of them on the ground. The Jackets got 75 of those yards on a reverse to DeAndre Smelter, who got around the left corner and went the distance almost untouched to give Tech a 43-42 lead with 3:07 to play. But UNC quarterback Marquise Williams led a 75-yard, 12-play drive that ended in a two-yard TD run by T.J. Logan with 11 seconds remaining, breaking Georgia Tech hearts. Quarterback Justin Thomas had a superb day, throwing for 235 yards and three touchdowns on 8-for-18 passing, adding 36 yards on the ground. Smelter also caught two passes for 58 yards and a TD. Redshirt senior A-Back Charles Perkins led the Jackets with 79 yards rushing while B-Back Zach Laskey added 75 with two touchdowns. Defensively, Tech’s leading tackler Paul Davis added to his lead, making 14 tackles (11 solo), with half a sack), while CB D.J. White added 11 stops (eight solo), Demond Smith had 10 (nine solo) and KeShun Freeman had a team-best two tackles for loss. The loss was even more costly, as Laskey left the game following a carry late in the fourth — actually, two plays before Smelter’s reverse — with a shoulder injury. He will not play Saturday.
The Panthers know where the Jackets are coming from, as they got a much-needed win Thursday night at Heinz Field, snapping a three-game losing streak, by beating Virginia Tech, 21-16. Quarterback Chad Voytik ran for a game-high 118 yards and threw a 53-yard touchdown pass, and running back James Conner ran for 85 yards and two scores to lead Pitt. The Panthers defense smothered the Hokies, allowing 26 yards on the ground on 22 attempts (1.2 ypc) and holding them to 291 total yards for the game. Pittsburgh’s D got three sacks and stymied the Hokies on third down, as Tech went 2-for-14.
He likes the resilience of his team.
“I think our kids just kind of keep playing. They’ve done that in every game,” Johnson said. “A couple of times it’s been good enough to win the game and a couple of times it hasn’t. I think our guys are going to play to the end. That’s just the nature of who we are.”
Here is some statistical stuff to keep you going until the end of pre-kickoff for the Ramblin’ Wreck’s visit to the Steel City.
The Series: Tonight is only the ninth game in the series that dates back to 1918. The Jackets trail in the series, 5-3, but snapped a two-game losing streak with last year’s 21-10 win at Bobby Dodd Stadium. They are 0-3 all-time in Pittsburgh, where the first three games of the series were played, but haven’t been to “The Burgh” since 1920, when first-year coach William Alexander matched wits with Pittsburgh’s Glenn “Pop” Warner at Forbes Field, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
.579 – The percentage of games under Paul Johnson in which Georgia Tech has rushed for at least 300 yards. The Wreck has rambled for three bills in 44 of 76 games under Johnson.
.795 – Tech’s winning percentage when running for at least 300 yards in a game. The Jackets are 35-9 and have won nine of the last 11 games. (see the value of 300 for Pittsburgh below).
.613 – Georgia Tech’s combined success rate on third- and fourth-down plays. The Jackets lead the ACC, successfully completing 59.3 percent of third downs (48-of 81), and are tied for fifth in the FBS on fourth, achieving success on 6 of 7 tries (85.7 percent, tied for fifth). Tech is the only FBS school ranking in the top 10 in both third- and fourth-down success.
.500 – The percentage of tackles made last week at North Carolina by freshman DE KeShun Freeman that resulted in lost yardage. Freeman had a team-high and career-best 2.0 tackles for loss in the game. He leads the team in sacks (2.5) and TFLs (7.0).
-22 – The amount of minus yardage accumulated in Freeman’s TFLs.
.406 – Georgia Tech’s difference in winning percentage in the Paul Johnson ERA when scoring first vs. when the opponent scores first. Johnson’s Yellow Jackets have a .792 winning percentage under Johnson when drawing first blood (38-10), while they only have a .368 win percentage (14-24) when opponents do.
.600 – Georgia Tech’s winning percentage in 2014 when scoring first. They are 3-2.
1.000 – Georgia Tech’s winning percentage in 2014 when opponents score first. Tech is 2-0, with a road win at Tulane on Sept. 6 and a home win vs. Miami on Oct. 4.
1 – The rank in the ACC of sophomore linebacker Paul Davis in solo tackles per game. Davis averages 6.6 solo stops a game (which ranks 10th in the entire FBS), with his 46 over the first seven games. Senior LB Quayshawn Nealy isn’t far behind, as his 5.4 solos stops per game (38) rank fifth in the conference.
1 – Georgia Tech’s rank in the ACC in rushing yards per game. The Jackets’ 306.3 rypg, fourth nationally, is 18.6 yards per game ahead of the nearest conference school, Boston College. The Jackets are one of only five schools in the country rushing for more than 300 yards per game, joining Wisconsin, Navy, Army and New Mexico.
.2 – The amount by which redshirt senior corner and kick-returner extraordinaire Jamal Golden trails Drew Hill for the all-time school single-season record for kickoff return yardage. He brings a 29.8 ypr average into Saturday (an ACC-high 477 yards on 16 kickoffs). That’s 14th in the nation. Hill averaged 30.0 (570 yards in 19 attempts), in 1978 when he also returned two kicks for touchdowns.
3.4 – The number of yards by which Golden currently holds the GT career kickoff yards per return average. He is averaging 28.8 yards per return (1,267 yards on 44 attempts). Hill averaged 25.4 from 1975 through 1978 (2,357 on 94).
3 – The number of times this season that A-Back Charles Perkins has re-set his career-high for single-game rushing yards. Perkins, who came into the season with a single-game best of 44 yards (set on Nov. 19, 2011 at Duke), ran for a new career best on Saturday, gaining 79 yards at North Carolina. Two weeks prior, he ran for a career-best 65 against Miami and two weeks before that he ran for 59 against Georgia Southern.
3 – The number of touchdown passes by Georgia Tech last week at North Carolina. That’s one more than the Yellow Jackets had in their previous 14 quarters.
5.6 – The yards per carry this season for B-Back Synjyn Days. Days has 89 yards in 16 bruising carries. That’s up nearly a yard from his career average of 4.8.
6.4 – The number of times Georgia Tech’s offense has failed to gain at least one first down on a possess. That’s the lowest percentage in the nation.
13 – The number of big plays (plays over 25 yards) for Georgia Tech in the last two games. The Yellow Jackets went for five big plays against Duke (three pass plays, two kickoff returns) then had eight at North Carolina (five pass plays, two kickoff returns and a run). Duke and Carolina combined for four — two big plays each.
5 – The number of different receivers that caught big plays through the air against UNC. Tony Zenon (25 yards), Borderick Snoddy (33), De Andre Smelter (46), Deon Hill (47), and Darren Waller (55) each had a big-play hook-up with QB Justin Thomas.
16 – The number of opponents’ conversions in 28 third down attempts over the last two weeks. That’s 57.1 percent. The Jackets have been below 50 percent in getting opposing offenses off the field. Duke was successful on 6 of 13 attempts, while North Carolina extended its series 10 of 15 times. Prior to the last two games, only Virginia Tech (8-of 14) converted more than five third downs in a game.
10 – The career-high number of tackles made by redshirt junior SAM linebacker Demond Smith at North Carolina. That’s three better than his previous mark, set last Oct. 26 vs. Virginia. His nine solo stops also were a career-best, nearly doubling his previous best of five, recorded twice, the last time last Nov. 2, against Pittsburgh.
11 – The number of tackles made by D.J. White at UNC. That’s his season high, one better than his 10-tackle day at Virginia Tech on Sept. 20, and two off his career-best, against Ole Miss in the Music City Bowl last Dec. 30.
7 – Jamal Golden’s season-high tackles last week at North Carolina. The seven stops (five solo) passed his previous best of six (also five solo), set Sept. 13 vs. Georgia Southern and twice in 2012, Sept. 3 at Virginia Tech and Sept. 29 vs. Middle Tennessee State.
21 – The number of consecutive starts for DT Adam Gotsis. Gotsis celebrated number 20 with three stops, two of them solo.
133 – The number of all-purpose yards by DeAndre Smelter against North Carolina. Smelter had a pair of catches for 58 yards, including a 46-yard touchdown connection with Thomas at the beginning of the fourth quarter then had the 75-yard scamper on a reverse pitch from Thomas late in the fourth, which gave the Yellow Jackets a 43-42 lead.
151 – The number of receiving yards the last two games for senior WR Darren Waller. That includes a 55-yard TD at North Carolina. Waller had 30 yards over his first three games in 2014 (he sat out the season’s first two games).
209.11 – QB Justin Thomas’ pass efficiency rating last week at North Carolina. Thomas went 8-for-18 for 235 yards, with three TD passes and no interceptions.
239 – The number of career tackles by redshirt senior safety Isaiah Johnson, following his season-high seven stops (six solo) made last week in Chapel Hill. Johnson’s next tackle will tie him with 2014 Georgia Tech Athletics Hall of Fame inductee James Butler for fifth place in school history.
463.3/2,144, 6.0 – Georgia Tech’s ACC-leading averages for total offense per game, rushing yards per game and yards per rush. The Jackets average better than 10 yards a game more than Florida State, which is next, have run for 130 yards more than Boston College and is the only team earning north of 6.0 yards per carry — B.C. is next at 5.7.
10 Things To Know About Pittsburgh (and why 300 is anything but a perfect game)
1 – The rank in the ACC of Pittsburgh’s sophomore running back James Conner, for rushing yards (he has run for 959 yards — eighth in the country), and rushing touchdowns (he has 11, fifth). Should Conner gain 41 yards Saturday, he would become the seventh Pittsburgh sophomore to rush for 1,000 yards and would tie for the second-fastest Panther to 1,000 yards in a season, joining a list that includes freshman and junior Tony Dorsett (1973, 1975), junior Craig “Ironhead” Heyward (1987), freshman Dion Lewis (2009), and sophomore LeSean McCoy (2008).
148.5 – The number of yards Conner, who is on the Doak Walker, Maxwell Award, and Paul Hornung Award watch lists, has averaged in his last eight games, dating back to last year’s Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. He has run for 1,188 yards on 198 carries (6.0 ypc), with 12 touchdowns.
4 – The national rank of Pittsburgh’s defense in total defense. The Panthers, who allow 280.4 ypg (behind only Louisville’s 245.8 in the ACC) and surrender 4.6 yards per play (fourth in the conference), also lead the ACC in pass defense (168.3 ypg, seventh in the nation), are third in scoring defense (18.6 ppg, 14th), and first downs (15.4, 12th), are fourth on third down (28.0, seventh), and pass efficiency and fifth against the run (112.1, 18th).
11 – The number of games in the Paul Chryst Era in which Pittsburgh has held an opponent under 100 yards rushing in a game. They’re 10-1 in such games, 3-0 this season. The only loss came to Virginia Tech last October 12, a loss the Panthers avenged last week, beating the Hokies, 21-16 and holding them to 1.2 yards per carry average (26 yards on 22 attempts).
6.5/318 – The size of the average Pittsburgh’s offensive lineman. The O-line allows only 4.4 tackles for loss per game (16th in the nation), while paving the way for the ACC’s third-ranked rushing attack (239.0 rypg). The smallest of the group is 6-5, 300-pound sophomore left guard Dorian Johnson, while the shortest is 6-4, 335-pound freshman center Alex Officer. Junior right tackle T.J. Clemmings weighs in at 6-6, 315, and sophomore left tackle Adam Bisnowaty and senior right guard Matt Rotheram tip the scales at 6-6, 335. Junior DT Adam Gotsis is Georgia Tech’s biggest starting D-lineman at 6-5, 282.
17 – The number of games it took sophomore wide receiver Tyler Boyd to get to 100 catches. That tied Larry Fitzgerald for the quickest in school history. Boyd, who is on the Biletnikoff, Maxwell and Hornung Award watch lists, enters Saturday’s with 121 catches in 20 games. He’s 13th in school history and only seven receptions away from tying for the top 10. As a freshman, Boyd rewrote the record books by catching a school-freshman-record 85 passes (also an ACC-freshman mark, passing Clemson’s Sammy Watkins, who had 82). His 1,174 yards easily passed Fitzgerald (1,005 on 69 catches in 2002). He averaged 13.8 yards with seven TDs. Both Fitzgerald, who had more TDs than Boyd (12) and Antonio Bryant (1999), who had a higher average per catch than Boyd (16.5 ypc) won the Biletnikoff Award as sophomores.
35 – The number of seconds per game separating Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech in time of possession. The Panthers are fourth in the ACC, holding the ball for 232:06 this season, 33:09 per game. Georgia Tech is sixth, at 228:02, an average of 32:34.
37 – The improvement percentage-wise that sophomore kicker Chris Blewitt has made in the number of touchbacks this season. Blewitt has had touchbacks on 56 percent of his kickoffs in 2014 (23 of 41), up from 19 percent (13 of 67) as a freshman. He’s still money on scoring kicks, however. Pittsburgh’s freshman kick-scoring leader — his 82 points blew away David Abdul’s 67 in 2002 — Blewitt is converting 90 percent of field goals (9 of 10) this season. He finally missed a kick last week, when he had a 38-yarder blocked against Virginia Tech.
81 – The number of underclassmen on the Panthers’ roster. The 53 freshmen and 28 sophomores make up 78.6 percent of the team, the highest among FBS schools. Of that group, 14 start on offense, defense or special teams. The offense features QB Chad Voytik, RB James Conner, and WR Tyler Boyd, the team’s leading receiver (36 catches for 514 yards) and scorer (five TDs), while the defense includes strong safety Terrish Webb, who has a team-high-tying two interceptions, middle linebacker Matt Galambos and corner Reggie Mitchell, all sophomores and all among the team’s top six tacklers. On special teams, Boyd is the main kick and punt returner, while sophomore PK Chris Blewitt and punter/holder Ryan Winslow is a freshman anchor the kicking game.
90.3/93.3 – The red zone offensively and defensively for the Panthers. Pittsburgh ranks third in the ACC with a 90.3 percent efficiency rating on offense, converting 28 times in 31 visits, scoring 22 touchdowns (14 running, 8 passing), and is 6-for-7 on field goals. Defensively, however, they’ve been quite porous, as opposing teams have scored 14 out of 15 times inside the 20, a 93.3 percent scoring rate, worst in the ACC. Teams have reached the end zone 11 times (seven runs, four passes) and are perfect (3-for-3) on field goals.
300 – The minimum amount of yards of total offense Pittsburgh has allowed in all three of its losses. In starting 3-0, the Panthers held Delaware, Boston College and FIU to 64, 276 and 293. They lost the next three to Iowa, Akron and at Virginia allowing 311, 382 and 346. Last week, they won, holding Virginia Tech to 291.
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