ATLANTA -- It has been common in past seasons for one of Georgia Tech’s speedy A-backs to break loose down the sideline or one of the stout B-backs fight through the line and go the distance. This year, even though the team is off to a 5-1 start, the Yellow Jackets have been doing without those big gains.
The Yellow Jackets have had nine runs of 25 yards or longer this season. None of those have gone for a touchdown.
“Those big plays come from assignments,” senior A-back Tony Zenon said. “You get everybody on the same page and everybody doing their assignments, and you feel like those plays will come.”
Georgia Tech has had 32 plays of 25 yards or more this season. Eleven have come on kickoff returns and one on an interception return. Among the remaining 20 long plays, 11 have come on pass plays and nine have come on runs. Through six games a year ago, the Yellow Jackets had 21 big plays on runs or passes with seven going for touchdowns.
Quarterback Justin Thomas has been responsible for five of the runs, the longest for 33 yards. A-back Charles Perkins has two of them, including the season-long 63-yarder. B-back Zach Laskey and Zenon have one apiece.
“Mainly we have to get some guys, including myself, to do their assignments, and those plays will come,” Zenon said.
Thomas has done a good job selling the play-action, which has been responsible for getting big chunks. Of the seven passes that Thomas has completed for 25-plus yards, three have come on first down, two on second down and two on third down. One of the most important was a third-and-16 pass to Zenon that went for 30 yards and help bury Miami.
“We have a lot of playmakers,” Zenon said.
The Georgia Tech defense has limited those big plays. Georgia Tech has allowed 22, with six on kickoff returns, 11 on passes and five on runs. After allowing 13 big plays in their first three games -- including a 92-yard against Wofford in the opener -- Georgia Tech has given up just eight in its first three conference games.
“We’ve just got to do a better job against the run,” Johnson said.
Georgia Tech must also return to producing touchdowns when reaching the red zone. Georgia Tech scored five of six times inside the 20 against Duke, but two of those were field goals. Georgia Tech has scored on 25 of 30 red zone possessions, with 21 touchdowns, a 70-percent success rate.
Opponents have scored 14 of 17 times inside the red zone, but Georgia Tech has allowed only nine touchdowns under those circumstances.
The Yellow Jackets’ defense will be tested this week by the fast-paced high-scoring North Carolina defense. The Tar Heels have only three runs longer than 25 yards, but 14 passes of that length, including a 91-yarder against San Diego State.