This was almost definitely the best all around game played by the Hoos this season. And even with that, they needed to hold on late because of a special teams breakdown.
Let's forget about the onsides kick though, at least for a moment. The Hoos racked up 408 yards of offense, including 233 on the ground. Both of those are season highs. For the second straight week, the Hoos averaged over 5 yards per carry. If you continue to pick up yards at that rate, you're going to win a lot of games.
The Hoos ran the ball 40 times (not including 2 kneeldowns), versus 28 passes. Those rushing attempts include 3 scrambles and 2 kneel-downs, which means that Steve Fairchild called 37 runs versus 31 passes. The Hoos last 6 plays were all runs, in an attempt to run out the clock. So, prior to that, Fairchild had called 31 runs and 31 passes. A 50/50 ratio, not too bad.
Matt Johns was reasonably efficient, completing about 61% of his passes. Though he averaged just 6.3 yards per attempt (versus a season average of 7 ypa), he didn't really make any mistakes. Yes, he threw 1 INT, but it came on a screen pass and was a great read by Rod Rook-Chungong. On a screen pass, the QB isn't really making a read. He finds his RB and makes the throw. The blockers are supposed to ensure that there isn't a DL there and they didn't do their job. Sure, Johns could've seen it and eaten the ball, but very few QBs are going to do that. The fault there is on Fairchild for calling yet another screen on 2nd and long. Teams have watched film and seen the tendency and they are reacting.
OK, so a good day for the offense. What about the defense? Georgia Tech came into the game averaging over 280 yards rushing. The Hoos held them to 144, which includes an early 49 yard TD run. On that long run, two Wahoo defenders went to Justin Thomas and nobody took the pitch-man. This left him basically alone with one blocker and one defender in front of him. The defender was Tra Nicholson, who was being blocked by a bigger play. Nicholson's strength is not shedding blockers and making open field tackles, it is covering WRs. This is a combination of poor defensive design and poor assignment football.
In the 2nd half, the Yellow Jackets had 13 rushes for 35 yards. As a team, they average 5.5 yards per carry on the season, and the Hoos held them to less that 3 yards per carry in the half. That's a very good defensive performance. The Hoos performance against the triple option was so good that the Jackets were forced to throw the ball more than they ever have under Paul Johnson. (To be fair, it wasn't just the defense, but the game situation also dictated more passes.) Unfortunately for the Hoos, the pass defense wasn't quite as good as the rush defense. The Hoos continued to give up big plays in the passing game, including a 30 yard TD pass to RB Clinton Lynch, who was wide open on a misdirection play. William and Mary scored a TD on almost exactly the same play earlier this season. The Hoos, as a team, have been guilty of over-pursuing on several occasions this year. That is one of the dangers of the hyper-aggressive defenses that Jon Tenuta uses.
The Yellow Jackets' TD drive in the 4th quarter was far too easy. Yes, the Hoos were in a bit of a prevent defense. But, considering Georgia Tech is not a passing team, it should not have been so easy for them to drive down the field. Justin Thomas completed 6/9 for 104 yards on the drive. And two of those plays went to the sideline where the receiver was able to get out of bounds. If you're going to play a prevent defense, you have to defend the sidelines to prevent the ball going out of bounds (and the subsequent clock-stoppage). The Jackets went 95 yards in 151 seconds (due to penalties and a 4 yard loss, the Jackets had more total yards on the drive than the total drive length).
Prior to that drive, the Hoos had held Justin Thomas to just 6/17 for 133 yards. That is actually very good, especially considering the effort against the triple option. That one drive makes the Hoos defensive effort look much worse than it would've otherwise.
OK, so with all of that behind, let's talk about the onsides kick. I'm sure that special teams coordinator Larry Lewis has his guys work on onsides kicks. But it did not look like it. The players were hesitant. They looked as if they weren't sure what they were doing. Nobody went out and hit one of the GT players. Nobody went to go get the ball. The normal MO is for there to be a group of players whose job is to hit the kicking team members, and a couple of players whose job is to go get the ball. It seemed like everybody was just watching. If you watch a replay of the kick, the GT players were able to essential surround the ball and wait for it to go 10 yards. This is because nobody hit them. And it seemed like all the Hoos were afraid to go dive on the ball for fear that they'd have trouble corralling it. But, assuming this was the "hands" team, these should be the guys who don't have that fear.
What is most frustrating is that the Hoos have struggled with onsides kick recovery before. It is a very different situation when a team performs a "surprise" onsides kick as opposed to one that everybody knows is coming. This makes, I believe, 4 times in the past 2 seasons that the Hoos have succumbed to an onsides kick. Combined with the Hoos 105th ranking in kick returns, it seems like Coach Lewis has failed at that aspect of his job.
As always, some notes:
- I thought Coach Fairchild did a much better job of calling plays in this one. There was a good selection of interior runs and exterior runs plus a good combination of short passes and intermediate passes. Smoke Mizzell, once again, led the team with 5 receptions. But 5 other players caught passes, and at least 1 other was targeted. I especially liked the use of TE Evan Butts, who provides a really nice target in the middle of the field.
- While we're talking about Fairchild, he needs to work on his goalline/short-yardage offense. To steal a concept from Tuesday Morning QB (currently writing for the NY Times blog "The Upshot"), "do a little dance if you want to gain that yard". What that means is that you have to use some degree of misdirection in order to be successful on short yardage. Simply lining up in a jumbo package and running over guard isn't going to work. There are too many big bodies taking up space and no room left for a RB to find a hole. Unless your OL completely blows up the DL, the play isn't going to work. The Hoos OL isn't good enough to win enough battles at the point of attack for those plays to work. Even the "wildcat" that the Hoos used provides enough of a question mark for the defense that it can be successful. The Hoos, far too often this season, have been stuffed on power chances because they don't use any misdirection. There is no pre-snap motion. No fake handoffs. No counter plays. Nothing. A few times the Hoos have passed on short yardage, and have had some success. And they also have had success with exterior runs. These plays use the defenses aggression against them. The defense is expecting a run up the middle, so their focus is on the middle of the field. If you can get the ball outside, you're going to be dealing with fewer defenders, and generally smaller guys. The Hoos, just once, should fake the handoff and have Johns roll out. Or fake a handoff to the FB before pitching it to the RB to the outside. Frankly, anything other than the simply runs over guard that we saw this week.
- As mentioned the use of Evan Butts was promising. And Charlie Hopkins was targeted a couple of times as well, but was unable to come down with any receptions. So, I was happy with the use of the TEs. But where are the WRs other than Canaan Severin and T.J. Thorpe? I saw Keeon Johnson on the field a few times, but he was not targeted in the passing game. Olamide Zaccheaus had 4 rushing attempts but was not targeted in the passing game. This is the kind of thing that opposing defensive coordinators will pick up on and those running plays will not be there anymore.
- Once again, the Hoos were beaten on a deep TD pass late in the game. Why is Wil Wahee in single coverage on a deep pass in that situation? The Hoos were in a prevent and weren't blitzing. So where are the other defenders? The defense is supposed to be a zone, but the ball was in the air for a while and there was no other defender even on the screen when it was completed. Also, in that situation, when GT was obviously throwing, Wahee should've come off the field for a CB.
- Another once again. This time, is it Mike London not understanding game situations. When the Hoos scored to go ahead 26-14, they had the option of kicking a PAT for a 13 point lead, or going for 2 and a 14 point lead. A 13 point lead isn't any better than a 12 point lead. So the obvious answer here is to go for 2. However, it may not be quite so straight forward, because there was greater than 13 minutes remaining. It was entirely possible that the Hoos would score again. As it turned out, the Hoos ran just 6 more plays in the game and gained just 14 yards. If London was going to play so passively when getting the ball back with a lead, then he should've gone for the 2 point conversion to go up by 14. He didn't, and it almost cost him the game.