And In That Corner … Georgia Tech heads to Notre Dame beaten up and on a four-game losing streak

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 13 Boston College at Georgia Tech
Getty Images
5 Comments

When Geoff Collins took over as the head coach at Georgia Tech in December of 2018, he took an unenviable task. The Yellow Jackets’ roster was geared for a triple-option offense, its skill players not known for their excellent hands or outright speed, its offensive line inarguably undersized for a Power Five conference.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly can understand that difficulty. Most coaches do, few of them wishing to trade places with Collins. His task began with the roster he inherited, but turning it over faster than the usual four-year cycle was paramount.

“Part of it is that it still requires development of the talent that you have,” Kelly said Monday. “You have to develop players and identify players in the recruiting. So recruiting and then player development and they work hand-in-hand. When you’re talking about turning over a roster, it’s taking the players you have, developing them and then from a recruiting standpoint, identifying those players that you can develop because that’s the quickest way to turning it around, taking the players you have and developing from the roster.”

Collins has the first few pieces of that recruiting focus, in particular two offensive names about to be discussed, but one of them may not take the field at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday (2:30 ET; NBC). To get a better idea of Collins’ progress and the health of his offensive stars, let’s turn to Ken Sugiura of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution … 

DF: It has been a roller-coaster season for Georgia Tech (3-7), a roller coaster on a long downward trajectory at the moment with no finishing rise in sight. I’ll first focus on the players that led to the initial upswings in the season, namely sophomore running back Jahmyr Gibbs. Brian Kelly made a case this week for Gibbs to be ACC Player of the Year, and while that may be a bit extreme, his point has merit. Gibbs leads the Yellow Jackets in both rushing and receiving, taking a combined 164 touches for 1,161 yards. If Notre Dame wants to go a third game without giving up a touchdown, shutting down Gibbs’ production will be the first priority.

The odds are, Georgia Tech will reach the end zone, obviously, and Gibbs will find his yardage. What makes him both so reliable and potent? Or is this more a result of the Wreck simply not having many other options?

KS: Gibbs has a lot in the toolbag. The most impressive thing is that he can hit a gear that most players don’t have and can do it in an instant. Until the Boston College game last Saturday, he went five games in a row with a play from scrimmage of at least 50 yards, which speaks to his home-run ability. (He didn’t get one against the Eagles, but he did take a kickoff back 98 yards.) So there’s his speed, but then you add vision, agility, excellent tackle-breaking power for someone his size and the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, and you’ve got a pretty dangerous player. I think what Notre Dame (9-1) wants to avoid, and this is perhaps a little obvious, is letting him get out in the open field.

Georgia Tech does have some other options — slot receiver Kyric McGowan is shifty and outside receivers Adonicas Sanders and Malachi Carter can both go get the ball and break tackles after the catch. And the Jackets have two other backs who are also pretty effective (they sometimes use two-back sets) in Jordan Mason and Dontae Smith. But Gibbs is easily the biggest threat.

The other piece to note in Atlanta is sophomore quarterback Jeff Sims. He is considered the piece that could elevate Geoff Collins’ team in the next few years, but he has struggled a bit this season, completing only 60.1 percent of his passes and throwing seven interceptions in just seven games. He missed last week’s 41-30 loss against Boston College, and per your reporting, it sounds like Sims is just beat up this year. Do you expect to see him play at Notre Dame?

He’s taken a lot of hits; he was in a protective walking boot last Saturday. Whether he plays is a little unclear so far. I’m hoping to find out definitively sometime before kickoff.

Without Sims, Georgia Tech turned to junior Jordan Yates, not a rarity this season. He has played a primary role in three games, going 1-2 but being part of the mix that gave Clemson a scare in mid-September. He is not the dual-threat that Sims is, but Yates is a bit more efficient as a passer. How much does the Wreck offense change when he is behind center?

Yates doesn’t have as big of an arm as Sims, and he’s not as much of a run threat as Sims, but he’s probably more accurate and better at distributing the ball around. He has a little bit of a sandlot style in his ability to run around and keep plays alive.

That 14-8 loss to Clemson seemed to serve two national notices back in week three. One, that Clemson was going to struggle this year, and two, that Georgia Tech might not be as bad as its season-opening loss to Northern Illinois suggested it would be. But now the Yellow Jackets have lost four straight and face a pair of top-10 teams to end the season. A 3-9 year looks rather likely and would be the third straight season under Collins of only three wins. There have been moments of promise under Collins, but nine wins in three years hardly shows progress. Realizing he took over a team built to run the triple-option, how much runway does the former Temple head coach have left to turn around this program?

That’s hard to know for sure. I think athletic director Todd Stansbury believes in Collins and very much wants him to make it for multiple reasons. He’s safe through next season, but expectations will be higher.

Of course, an upset in South Bend would serve those purposes. As a 17-point underdog, what do you anticipate on Saturday?

You wouldn’t think a team that has lost four in a row would have much of a chance against the No. 8 team in the country on the road and on Senior Day, no less. And that’s probably the case. It’ll be really difficult for a team that has not played well to compete with a top-10 team. I wouldn’t be surprised if the final margin were greater than the spread. Injuries may not help, either.

But, the Jackets showed what they are capable of against North Carolina, sacking Sam Howell eight times and forcing three turnovers in a 45-22 win. If they can somehow get close to that level of play and win special teams, it could be more competitive than expected. We’ve all seen so many examples of college football delivering highly unlikely results. But for that to happen, again, Tech has to be close to its peak, and it’s really only done that once this season against FBS competition.