Even Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson doesn’t fully understand where his team is at after four games. He doesn’t expect that to be the case after Saturday.
The Yellow Jackets (3-1, 2-0 ACC) face their toughest test of the season Saturday when they travel to play No. 11 Miami (4-0, 2-0). If there’s any such thing as a midterm exam in college football, this is it.
“We’re still a little bit of an enigma,” Johnson said. “You usually know by this time, but we’ve only played four games. Other than the first game, which we gift-wrapped and gave away, we’ve kind of got out front and had some pretty good wins. We’ll know a lot more after Saturday.”
The major points of concern for Georgia Tech may be its defense and its extremely thin offensive line.
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The Georgia Tech defense has been very good through the first four games of the season. The Yellow Jackets have been excellent against the run, more than adequate against the pass and effective at creating turnovers. But there’s no question the level of competition and quality of athlete will be higher this week against Miami.
“We’ve probably, at this point, been a little better defensively than we were a year ago, but we haven’t played against some really good teams,” Johnson said. “Hopefully, that will continue when we play teams with better offenses.”
Miami junior Malik Rosier has had little trouble transitioning into the starting job left vacant when Brad Kaaya jumped to the NFL. Rosier is the program’s first quarterback to start his career 5-0 since Brock Berlin.
But the Hurricanes will be without running back Mark Walton, who is out for the year after an ankle injury. Walton had 434 yards and surpassed the 2,000 career rushing milestone last week before leaving the game.
Miami has some excellent receivers, particularly game-breaker Braxton Berrios, who was the ACC’s Receiver of the Week for his performance against Florida State. The senior caught eight passes for 90 yards and two touchdowns to help the Hurricanes end a seven-game losing streak to the Seminoles. But his health may also be an issue. Berrios was dinged up and wore a non-contact jersey in practice earlier this week.
Health is certainly a problem for the Georgia Tech offensive line. It was disclosed Thursday that tackle Andrew Marshall will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury suffered in the preseason. It was originally believed that the senior would be able to return, possibly as soon as this week. Also out this week are backups Brad Morgan and Scott Morgan.
Tackle Jahaziel Lee, who missed the last game, and guard Shamire Devine, who left in the fourth quarter, are both able to play. But Devine may have his snaps limited because of the heat. That means more responsibility for tackle Jake Stickler and backups Bailey Ivemeyer and freshman Connor Hansen.
The line will be tasked to open holes against its toughest opponent of the year. The Hurricanes have better athletes, more speed and more strength than any of Georgia Tech’s previous opponents. They are one of the top-ranked defenses in the country for sacks and tackles for loss.
“They may have the best group of linebackers in the league,” Johnson said.
To date no one has been able to slow the Georgia Tech offense. The Yellow Jackets are No. 2 in the nation in rushing (396 yards per game) and have surpassed 400 yards in three of their four games. Most of the damage has been done by quarterback TaQuon Marshall (523 yards) and KirVonte Benson (476 yards) and much of the yardage has come up the middle.
Likewise, the lack of success against the run concerns Miami head coach Mark Richt.
“Whatever your rushing defensive stats are, you can throw them out the window because it’s just a whole different world of how you’ve got to try to stop this thing,” Richt said. “I don’t know if the stats mean much. Our rushing defense hasn’t really been lights out. We’ve really got our work cut out for us.”