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Notre Dame’s Opponents: Daunting schedule will doom Georgia Tech to further Wreck status

Georgia Tech v Boston College

CHESTNUT HILL, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 24: Jeff Sims #10 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets looks to throw during the second half against the Boston College Eagles at Alumni Stadium on October 24, 2020 in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)

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Somewhere in the whirlwind that was the 2020 season, late to kick and interrupted as it was, Notre Dame beat Georgia Tech, 31-13. Quite literally, the game was easily forgotten, with the Irish methodically putting together a 17-7 halftime lead and coasting to the victory with nary a worry.

A three-possession win is one indication of an easy weekend. That the triumph is so easily forgotten in the season’s narrative amplifies the casual nature of the success.

All of that is not necessarily an outright knock on the Yellow Jackets. Transitioning from more than a decade of relying on the triple-option takes time, and losing an offseason of that process to the pandemic may have extended the needed runway.

At the very least, Georgia Tech made little progress last year. It started off well, with a 16-13 upset at Florida State. In retrospect, though, that was more a reflection of the Seminoles’ struggles than the Ramblin’ Wreck’s progress.

Whatever the cause, that Georgia Tech win set a high bar for freshman quarterback Jeff Sims, a one-time Florida State commit, as he threw for 277 yards and a touchdown on 24-of-35 passing with another 64 yards on 13 rushes. Suddenly, Geoff Collins’ Atlanta reclamation project looked to be far ahead of schedule.

Things went off the tracks soon enough for the Wreck, losing to both Central Florida and at Syracuse in the coming weeks before enduring back-to-back-to-back routs to Clemson (73-7), Boston College (48-27) and Notre Dame.

The 3-7 finish arguably marked progress for Collins, who went 3-9 in his first year at Georgia Tech taking over for Paul Johnson’s triple-option dependence, but it was still a humbling 2020. Giving up 36.8 points per game was hardly the worst of Tech’s problems, also committing 26 false starts in just 10 games, per Pro Football Focus, and turning over the ball 25 times.

Renovating a triple-option program was always going to be a tall task for Collins, but the roster issues were separate from the sloppiness that led to those penalties and turnovers. In one respect, that kind of mistake is easily fixed and should not continue into 2021, but that will need to be seen to be believed.

For some losing programs, returning production is not necessarily good production, but when in the midst of a roster rehaul in order to adjust to the 21st century, every lost contributor can reveal a hole in the depth chart.

The most difficult transition coming out of the triple-option is along the offensive line, where smaller and quicker linemen were once the preference but now more traditional wide and strong bodies are necessary. So when the Wreck loses two multi-year starting offensive linemen in one summer, it is even more a concern than it would be for nearly any other program.

When it loses its leading receiver — Jalen Camp, a sixth-round draft pick after catching 29 passes for 439 yards and four scores — there is concern about what other true receivers are ready to step in, particularly after Ahmarean Brown (11 catches for 183 yards and a touchdown) transferred to South Carolina.

Defensively, those concerns are not as severe. The triple-option is an offensive approach, obviously, so the defense can still be traditionally constructed. Nonetheless, linebacker David Curry’s 84 tackles with 7.5 for a loss will be difficult to replace.

Georgia Tech has the luxury of a mobile quarterback — Sims ran for 492 yards and six scores last year — and one of the country’s best running backs in sophomore Jahmyr Gibbs, who averaged 5.2 yards per carry in 2020. The ground game will propel the Yellow Jackets, even as the offensive line recalibrates to three transfers brought in to fill those two vacancies.

But if Sims does not find some traction in the passing game, defenses will be able to sell out against the run. Sims threw 13 touchdowns last year and matched those with 13 interceptions. He averaged 7.32 yards per pass attempt, at least a yard less than a competent offense will rely upon.

Worse than all that, though clearly tied to it, Georgia Tech’s offense essentially moved backward each time it dropped back to pass. From an analytical standpoint, every play increases an offense’s chances of scoring more points or decreases them. On average, a Wreck pass attempt created -0.188 points for Tech last season, a degree of struggle that will be difficult to rebound from in just one year, even with the transfer of receiver Kyric McGowan from Northwestern, who would have been the Wreck’s leading receiver with 34 catches.

The Yellow Jackets’ rebuild should not be as difficult defensively, yet they gave up 36.8 points per game last year. Even after removing the Clemson embarrassment, Georgia Tech gave up 32.8 points each week.

Most notably, the Wreck gave up 189.2 rushing yards per game, in no small part because the defensive line has lacked both depth and strength. Georgia Tech brought in four transfers to try to change that, but let that also reflect what it had on hand.

Collins has a long leash to turn around the Wreck, almost entirely because of the project left for him by Johnson. Even at 6-16 through two seasons, that leash is not yet shortening. And his 2021 record will show little more in terms of progress.

PointsBet sets the Georgia Tech season win total over/under at 4.5, but any schedule with four preseason top-10 teams on it will make reaching five wins a difficult task. In order of appearance for the Yellow Jackets — Clemson, North Carolina, Notre Dame and Georgia all await Collins’ crew, not to mention a trip to Miami, as well.

If granting the distinct likelihood that those are all losses, Georgia Tech will need to go 5-2 in its remaining games to crack that over, which would mean wins against at least two of Pittsburgh, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Boston College.

The Wreck may be headed toward another season of being forgotten about.

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