Last time we saw them, the Yellow Jackets had the unenviable task of transitioning from running the flex-bone triple option and debuting against the top rated opponent in the country. 2019 didn’t get a much better on offense, with the team limping through the season ranked 125th in points per game. The Yellow Jackets even suffered a defeat to a FCS team running their old offense. It was a dictionary-definition rebuilding year, the year zero of year zeros.
This year’s team is miles ahead of that one, with a clear identity on offense, and already 2/3rd’s of the way to matching last season’s win total. Quarterback Jeff Sims and running back Jahmyr Gibbs give the Yellow and White a pair of dynamic freshmen in the backfield. Gibbs is one of the best recruits the program has gotten in years, turning down serious attention from Ohio State.
Malachi Carter, Marquezz Ezzard and Jalen Camp give the team size at receiver while Ahmarean Brown is a lightning bug in the slot. Both tight ends are capable blockers and occasionally punish teams that forget them in pass coverage. Much like last week, Georgia Tech’s offensive line is easily the weakest unit on the team.
Ironically, for all the talk about changing the offense, the Yellow Jackets remain an option and power running based team. They tend to operate out of 11 or 12 personnel shotgun and pistol looks, running a mix of inside zone, stretch, pin-pull outside zone, power, draw and counter. In addition, there is heavy use of receiver motions and flare passes. Sims is a better runner than passer at this point, and (in addition to his tendency to scramble) gets the ball on designed runs and in the option game. He and Gibbs have a nice chemistry developing on zone-reads.
The blocking in front of them is hit or miss. Gibbs is a problem in the open field, and the coaching staff has done a good job scheming as many ways as possible to get him the ball in space. He’s Georgia Tech’s best player on offense already, and their second leading runner and receiver with five of the team’s fifteen touchdowns.
He can’t move the ball alone, though, and an offensive line that struggled to open holes against defensive stalwarts like Louisville and Syracuse isn’t going to be giving him much help against Clemson. It also goes without saying that it’s hard to run the ball while playing from behind.
The RPO game is very much a work in progress. Sims has a strong arm and is a dynamic runner, but he’s completing less than 55% of his passes and has averaged two interceptions per game.
Despite his more egregious mistakes, you can see why Sims won the starting job. He has a strong arm, presence of mind under pressure and can make big plays downfield. While they’re not the most reliable passes, his ability to generate big plays punishes teams that try to overplay the run.
In addition, Sims is gifted at evading pressure and throwing on the move. While he sometimes forces bad passes instead of just taking the sack (only one on the year), he’s got the outlines of a dynamic improviser. The Yellow Jackets need Sims to be one back there, as he’s not going to get much protection behind this offensive line.
In addition to deep shots and broken plays, the Georgia Tech offense does a good job getting receivers open underneath by running mesh. By having the two crossing receivers essentially set a pick for each other over the middle there is typically a crosser open. The Yellow and White receivers for their part are hard to tackle and generally rack up a fair amount of YAC.
One concept that could give the Tigers trouble is this angle route. Gibbs is targeted often out of the backfield on swing passes and screens. On the angle route Gibbs begins by faking the swing before cutting upfield behind the defenders focused on the four receivers running vertically.
I don’t think Georgia Tech is going to be able to move the ball better against Clemson this year than any other year. This is a team that moves the ball mainly on the ground going up against a Tigers rushing defense giving up ~2.5 yards per carry. Sims is not capable of winning a game throwing the ball yet and may never be. Last week was the first time he finished a game with more touchdowns than interceptions. He’s yet to throw for three hundred yards. I think we’re going to see a lot of the thick punter, and that’s always fun.
SP+ favors the Tigers by nearly three touchdowns, Vegas by nearly four. Our friends at From the Rumble Seat are talking about hanging in this game for a couple of quarters and covering the spread. The Yellow Jackets are leaps and bounds ahead of last year, with a real identity on offense and emerging play makers. It’s just nowhere near enough to close the gap between these two programs.