About a month ago, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets looked like they were in trouble. And the yearly complaints about Paul Johnson and his offense heated up yet again.
Coming off consecutive seven-win seasons, those concerns were understandable as the Yellow Jackets could have headed down a slide to another mediocre season. Instead, Johnson’s team showed a lot of character and rebounded from back-to-back losses to win its past three games in impressive fashion.
In two of those wins, the Yellow Jackets scored 56 points, beating Pittsburgh and N.C. State 56-28 and 56-23, respectively. Those wins were sandwiched around a 35-10 win over Virginia.
The Yellow Jackets’ defense hasn’t been great during that stretch, but it has played better, much better in fact than it did in the losses to Duke and North Carolina.
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The key, however, to this team is the offense, and that starts with sophomore quarterback Justin Thomas. Johnson’s team went away from its bread and butter the past two years and didn’t focus on the option offense as much. That has changed with Thomas under center, and the results have been dynamic.
Georgia Tech leads the ACC with 335.6 rushing yards per game, and a key has been success on third down as it leads the nation in third-down offense. Former Tattnall Square standout DeAndre Smelter has been terrific on the outside to give the offense a deep threat, and Thomas has thrown the ball well -- or at least as well as an option quarterback will throw it.
He’s probably never going to complete 60 or 65 percent of his passes (Georgia Tech is at 51.3 percent this year), but Thomas and Smelter can do enough to keep defenses honest to open things up even more for the powerful running game.
That could be important Saturday against a Clemson unit that is ranked No. 1 nationally in overall defense. Third downs could be pivotal in this game as the Tigers rank first in third-down defense, setting up some interesting situations. Which way those go could determine who wins this game.
If Georgia Tech can come out on top, it could be headed toward a special season with just Georgia left on the schedule; the Yellow Jackets have a week off before that game. Wins in both games would give the Yellow Jackets their first 10-win regular season since their national title season in 1990.
That’s special stuff, indeed.
No matter what happens moving forward, Georgia Tech fans have to like what they have seen from their team and how it has responded to plenty of adversity last month. That didn’t look possible after the losses to the Blue Devils and Tar Heels.
But this team has stepped up and displayed a ton of character since then, and that has the Yellow Jackets on the verge of something memorable.
Contact Daniel Shirley at 744-4227 or firstname.lastname@example.org