Week Three Preview: Scouting Georgia Tech's New-Look Offense
The Syracuse Orange scored their first touchdown of the season last Saturday against the Pitt Panthers. Now, they’ll try getting their first win. This week’s challenge comes in the form of Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets were picked to finish last (15th) in the ACC’s preseason media poll, yet they enter this game at the Carrier Dome as eight-point favorites. For what it’s worth, Syracuse was predicted to finish 14th in that poll.
Georgia Tech head coach Geoff Collins, now in his second season with the Jackets, is overseeing a bit of a schematic overhaul. Collins’ predecessor, Paul Johnson, ran the distinct and highly-specialized triple-option offense. Collins’ shift to a more conventional philosophy presented its fair share of challenges in 2019. Georgia Tech finished the year 3-9, sporting the ACC’s worst record and worst offense to match. But they’re 1-1 in 2020 with an impressive road win at Florida State already under their belts. One-plus year removed from the drastic change in identity, Georgia Tech players can finally focus on doing things Coach Collins’ way.
While you should expect to see the Jackets approach 35 passing attempts on Saturday, you’ll likely get a heavy dose of quarterback runs from duel-threat freshman Jeff Sims as well. Sims took off running 16-times for 82-yards and a touchdown last week in Georgia Tech’s 49-21 loss to Central Florida. Syracuse safety Andre Cisco knows Sims will command special attention at all times.
"We kind of all have to be aware of him, a guy that can get out of the pocket,” Cisco said to the media on Tuesday. “We all have to stay on our P's and Q's when it comes to not flowing too far outside our zone. We all have to worry about him the same way.”
Other members of the Orange defense, like DB Trill Williams, didn’t seem all that worried. In fact, Williams seemed to be as breezy and care-free as Matthew McConaughey’s character in Dazed and Confused.
"We stop the run, I feel like we'll be alright,” Williams said comfortably Tuesday night. “As long as we stop the quarterback from running, we'll be alright.”
Perhaps the reason for Williams’ confidence is the fact that the Yellow Jacket QB has had a bit of trouble actually throwing the ball in his first two games. The young Sims has thrown 4 interceptions already in this young season, getting picked off twice against Florida State and connecting with two more defenders in the UCF game. Syracuse’s Andre Cisco will be looking to add to his leading active interceptions total, which currently sits at 13.
"Any time you see turnovers on film, whether it's fumbles or picks, that's definitely something you take note of,” Cisco said. “Our coaches always emphasized turnovers. So, any time a team that turns the ball over is coming into town, we definitely take note of that.”
Teammate Trill Williams wouldn’t mind seeing a Sims pass or two thrown in his direction. It’s something he’s hardly seen at all in 2020 as opposing quarterbacks refuse to target his receivers.
"You know, I would say it gets a little boring out there,” Williams admitted. “If they want to throw at me, be my guest.”
When Sims is able find a teammate open downfield, he’s averaging more than 260 passing yards a game.
Ironically, though, the Yellow Jackets don’t live in the air. Their bread and butter is in the ground game. Georgia Tech runners have already swarmed for 388-yards in just 120-minutes of action. They were without All-ACC running back Jordan Mason in their match-up with UCF, who was thought to be out with a foot injury, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. With Mason sidelined, freshman RB Jahmyr Gibbs surprised Georgia Tech fans with a debut performance featuring 66-yards rushing, 60-yards receiving, a rushing score and a 75-yard kick-off return.
Fresh-legged runners have taken advantage of tired Orange defenders late in games this season. ‘Cuse DB Andre Cisco says the defense has to remain relentless for all four quarters in order to keep the floodgates from bursting open.
"Just flying the ball,” Cisco answered when asked how to stifle a potent Georgia Tech rush-attack. “The more guys you have near the ball, the better you'll be against the run. Understanding your job, understanding where you got to be, the right leverage and keeping leverage on the ball for your mates to come in and clean things up. You just worry about your own job, and everything will work out and fit together.”
Syracuse defenders did step their game up against the run from the North Carolina game to the Pitt game. Tar Heel runners totaled 160-yards on the ground for an average of 4.6-yards a carry, where as Panther rushers averaged only 2.9-yards per touch. Cisco is hoping to capitalize on that progress and turn it into a win.
"I believe that we've been improving from week one week two,” Cisco said. “So, if we we keep up at that, then yeah, it could be the turning point for us. It's really important to take advantage our home field, and then keep emphasizing the little things and the details and how important they are going into this long season.”
Home field won't come with home field advantage, necessarily. University administrators have determined that Syracuse's home-opener at the newly-renovated Carrier Dome will be played in front of no fans due to COVID-19 related precautions. Orange faithful will have to tune-into the TV broadcast on the ACC Network if they want to sneak a peek at the $118 million worth of stadium upgrades.