Georgia Tech and South Florida are both in the same boat this weekend when they play for the second straight season. They’re both eager to move past an opening game that saw them skewered by a higher-ranked opponent.
Georgia Tech is eager to say so-long to the memory of last week’s 52-14 loss to No. 1-ranked Clemson. South Florida, likewise, would like to bury the thoughts of last week’s 49-0 drubbing to No. 19 Wisconsin.
For Georgia Tech, this is another one of those competitive non-conference games that can get away in a hurry. A year ago, the Yellow Jackets allowed two kickoff returns for touchdowns and dropped a 49-38 decision to the Bulls in Tampa.
Here are five things to watch on Saturday when Georgia Tech hosts South Florida for the 2 p.m. kickoff at Bobby Dodd Stadium:
1) Will the Yellow Jackets rely as heavily on the run as they did against Clemson?
Georgia Tech tried a little rope-a-dope against the Tigers last week, sticking with a more-conservative run-based plan. Since South Florida had trouble stopping Wisconsin on the ground, you might expect the Yellow Jackets to try to run the ball, too.
“We’re going to play to our strengths as they continue to develop,” Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins said. “It was, this is what we do well, these are the things we need to do to compete at a high level.”
The experience of running back Jordan Mason paid off. He ran 13 times for 72 yards and one touchdown.
2) Who will start at quarterback?
This could be an ongoing question each week until Collins settles on a starter. Tobias Oliver was the surprise starter last week — Clemson had prepared all summer for Lucas Johnson — and he ran 20 times for 56 yards. But Oliver was 3-for-9 passing with two interceptions.
Collins said Oliver, Johnson and James Graham will all play against South Florida. There are different packages for each quarterback. That means the game situation will likely dictate who plays and when.
“They work really well together,” Collins said. “They’re highly competitive, which I love about all three of them, but they’re still team-oriented guys. They understand the multiplicity of the attack we can have with all three of them is a differentiating factor moving forward.”
3) Expect a better effort from the defense.
There were too many big plays allowed against Clemson. Sometimes it was a minor slip-up that allowed Clemson’s talented athletes to get away. This week they’ll face a South Florida unit that has played one game with Kerwin Bell as its offensive coordinator, so there are many unknown factors.
“I’ve got call plays to allow us to play fast and find schemes to take away their best offensive plays,” Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker said. “We have to be complex, but not complicated with our kids.”
South Florida features senior quarterback Blake Barnett, who threw for 2,710 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. He was 13-for-30 for 109 yards and two interceptions against Wisconsin in the opener.
4) Will the freshmen have a bigger role?
There were 22 freshmen on the field against Clemson; 60 snaps at wide receiver from true freshmen. Some of those true freshmen will play three more games and retain their redshirt status. Other first-year players could play a larger role, should they continue to get better and learn more about the system.
Among the freshmen who impressed last week were defensive back Kenan Johnson, tight ends Dylan Devaney and Dylan Leonard, running back Jamious Griffin, wide receiver Kalani Norris, linebacker Demetrius Knight and defensive end Chico Bennett.
Collins was particularly impressed by Johnson, a 6-foot-1, 170-pounder from Mineola, Florida. Johnson had three tackles, one for loss, in the opener.
“He got reps during the game and did so well, even on some special-teams plays. You might see him playing even more on special teams, even more on defense and elevating his status,” Collins said.
5) The emotions must be kept in check for the home opener.
Excitement is off the chart this season for the first game at Bobby Dodd. That’s especially true for Collins, who has always viewed this as his “destination” job. His family used to attend the annual Georgia Tech-Georgia Freshman game on Thanksgiving Day and he spent many afternoons in the stands as a fan and a recruit.
“So, it’s going to be special,” Collins said. “But the thing that makes it the most special is just the guys that I’ve gotten to be so close with. Having them have an opportunity to compete, play together and represent this great institution, that’s the thing that really matters to me the most.”