ATLANTA -- Georgia Tech fans grew accustomed to watching the team’s offense perform at a high level a year ago, running up big yardage numbers and scoring lots of points. It was more of the same for the first two games this season, when all of a sudden the brakes were applied.
A loss to Note Dame signaled a warning but was seen by most as one of those things that happens to good teams on the road. But after a second straight offensive meltdown last week at Duke, the red lights started flashing and the alarms began blaring.
Critics again began to repeat the same old question: Is the offense is outdated? That’s not the problem, Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson said. It’s not the system, it’s the execution, he said. And it’s an issue that must be addressed immediately, starting Saturday against North Carolina, which is off to a 3-1 start for the first time since 2011.
“We’ve just got to get better on offense,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with the option. It has to do with blocking people and going to the right places. We’re young, and we have some guys injured, but nobody cares. We can certainly play better than we’ve played the last two weeks.”
The injuries have been a factor. The A-back rotation has been thinned to the point that two true freshmen could make their debuts this week. The wide receiver corps, already bereft of experience, is also looking in the direction of freshmen for help. The offensive line already has a couple of players banged up, too.
As a result, the team’s best offensive player, quarterback Justin Thomas, is trying to create opportunities on his own, and that has led to some missed reads and bad decisions, simply because he is trying to get something done.
“I think sometimes when things haven’t gone well, our quarterback is pressing, and he gets out of the system,” Johnson said. “And as good a player as he is and he can make plays, he’s not going to do stuff that’s out of his system, and he ends up hurting you worse. We’ve just got to take care of our own business.”
Last week, Thomas carried 24 times for 58 yards; he had 25 negative yards and was sacked twice. Many times, the losses came because the opposition was unblocked and allowed to blow up a play or occurred when Thomas was trying to create a positive out of a negative.
“He tries to push,” Johnson said. “You have got to play within the system. There is nothing wrong with the system. We have done it for 35 years. It works. You have got to play within the system and let everybody do their job.”
On Saturday, the system will be tested by an improved North Carolina defense. But it might be a good opportunity for Georgia Tech to heal its offense against a Tar Heels defense that allows 223.8 yards rushing (113th in the nation) per game.
“Our defense has been very solid, very consistent,” North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora said. “Obviously the team we’ll pay this week will really stress them, and we’ll find out a little bit more about us.”
The Georgia Tech defense has been doing its part. The defense shined in the second half at Notre Dame and for the final three quarters at Duke. It will be tested again by a North Carolina team that is loaded with talented players at the skill positions.
“I think we are better defensively, and we are going to have a chance to find out,” Johnson said.
That’s because North Carolina has one of the top set of skill position players in the ACC, starting with quarterback Marquise Williams. A year ago, he threw for 390 yards and rushed for 73 yards and the Yellow Jackets. Williams was instrumental in the team’s success on third down (10-for-15) and fourth down (2-for-2) in that game.
The elusive Williams hasn’t been as good this year; he actually was relieved by Mitch Trubisky a week ago against Delaware. Williams has thrown for 711 yards and six touchdowns and averages 227.2 yards of total offense but has made bad decisions and costly mistakes.
Fedora said the staff had not made a decision on whether Trubisky would get playing time this week but said, “One word (to describe Williams) would be inconsistent at this time.”