Now that Georgia Tech has arrived at another off week, it may be an appropriate time to gauge where the Yellow Jackets are excelling and where work remains to be done.
Although nearly everyone with the program would like to get a mulligan for the final quarter of the season opener against Tennessee, there is generally a sense of calm within the program as the team heads into the meat of the schedule.
Georgia Tech (3-1, 2-0 ACC) plays its first road game of the season at No. 13 Miami (3-0, 1-0) on Oct. 14. The Hurricanes play at Florida State on Saturday.
“We’ve identified four or five areas that we’ve really got to get better at,” Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson said. “We will start a little bit on Miami, and then we’ll devote half of practice to Miami and half trying to get better at those things.”
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There has been plenty of good news throughout the team.
One of the best things has been the development of quarterback TaQuon Marshall, who has more than ably filled in for the departed Justin Thomas. Marshall has rushed for 523 yards and nine touchdowns and thrown for 333 yards and four touchdowns. He has not thrown the ball especially well, but he has shown why Johnson chosen him to be the starting quarterback.
“I always have things that I need to work on and improve,” Marshall said. “I go into every week ready to work and practice hard so on Saturday I can put out what I have been practicing.”
The production at B-back has been outstanding. KirVonte Benson has rushed for 476 yards and four touchdowns and had three 100-yard rushing games. He has picked up the slack left by the dismissal of Dedrick Mills.
The offensive line, particularly the guard box, has been productive. Center Kenny Cooper was named the ACC Offensive Player of the Week and left guard Parker Braun received the honor earlier this year. Right guard Shamire Devine is playing at the highest level since coming to the school and is beginning to live up to his potential.
“I think the center-guard box has a chance to be pretty good,” Johnson said. “It’s still a work in progress. We’ve had so many guys injured. We’ve haven’t played the same offensive line in two games, I don’t think.”
The team is averaging 396 yards rushing per game — best in the country — and has surpassed more than 400 yards twice.
The defense has been aggressive and has created turnovers. It is allowing 3.8 yards per run and 158.2 yards per game. The Yellow Jackets have intercepted four passes and recovered two fumbles. They rank fourth in the ACC in rushing defense (101.8 yards per game) and took the run away from both Pittsburgh and North Carolina.
The defense has been particularly good on first downs; last week against North Carolina it allowed 4.0 yards against the run on first down and 2.8 yards per play on first down. The Yellow Jackets have created 11 negative plays and two interceptions on first downs.
“We’re a different defense. We’re more mature,” defensive end Antonio Simmons said.
There have been only a few minor issues with the team.
On offense, the A-backs have yet to have a breakthrough game. Nathan Cottrell’s 79 yards against Tennessee is the high watermark for that group this season. They’ve also failed to provide much help in the passing game, although the blocking has been acceptable.
The offensive line needs to get healthy. Tackle Andrew Marshall, the team’s most experienced lineman, should be ready to come back from a knee injury that has kept him out of the first four games. Tackle Jahaziel Lee missed the North Carolina game and should be ready to face Miami. The Yellow Jackets burned a redshirt on freshman guard Connor Hansen, so he’s going to get a chance to play, and they need to see improvement from tackle Bailey Ivemeyer.
On special teams, place-kicker Shawn Davis appears to have settled into his role as the starter after a rough start. But he needs to become more proficient at burying the ball in the end zone on kickoffs. He has kicked off 23 times and seven have gone for touchdown, none in the past two games.
Fixing the problems will be necessary now that the Yellow Jackets are finished with the easier portion of the schedule. The next three games — Miami, Wake Forest (4-1) and No. 2 Clemson (5-0) — will determine much more about how things shake out.
“The competition level is going to move way up next game,” Johnson said.
Georgia Tech at Miami
Noon or 3:30 p.m., Oct. 14
ABC, ESPN or ESPN2