After an inspired effort in the season-opening 16-13 win at Florida State on Sept. 12, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets approached its second game of the season with optimism. That optimism was short-lived, as Georgia Tech was defeated at home by UCF, 49-21.
Now they'll get a chance for redemption on Saturday against the Syracuse Orange.
Following the loss, Georgia Tech head coach Geoff Collins stated, "We put up a lot of numbers and a lot of yards, but we have to capitalize in the red zone and we cannot turn the ball over."
A major part of the frustration for Collins was the continuing poor play of Georgia Tech's special teams. Freshman kicker Jude Kelley had a 27-yard field goal blocked by UCF, and this followed the Florida State game where the Seminoles blocked two of Kelley's field goals, as well as an extra point.
If there was a bright spot for Georgia Tech, it would be the play of true freshman running back Jahmyr Gibbs. Gibbs returned a kickoff 75 yards for a score on the opening play of the game and then added two more touchdowns to aid in Georgia Tech's effort. Gibbs could begin to earn more playing time after such an impressive performance.
The Orange have had little to cheer about as the 2020 season has begun. In the season opener, Syracuse lost at North Carolina, 31-6. While playing better in the second game of the season, Syracuse lost on the road to Pittsburgh, 21-10.
What must be concerning for Syracuse is the poor offensive line play. In just two games, Syracuse has allowed 14 sacks. Head coach Dino Babers had to replace starting quarterback Tommy DeVito after a fourth sack forced him to leave the game. Redshirt senior quarterback Rex Culpepper played well in a relief role, throwing a touchdown to Taj Harris, but Culpepper's efforts were not enough to get Syracuse back into the game.
With only 16 points scored in the first two games, Babers realizes that the offense needs to improve going forward. Following the game, Babers said, "You would like to think that if we can get something going on offense and special teams, that we're going to have a defense that we can really be proud of when the smoke all clears. But obviously, we've got to make some changes. We've got to start getting that ball moving in the right direction.”
Georgia Tech at Syracuse
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 26 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Georgia Tech -8
When Georgia Tech Has the Ball
True freshman quarterback Jeff Sims is going through some growing pains, suffering through two interceptions and a fumble inside the UCF 8-yard line. Sims also a threat as a runner, averaging five yards per carry with a rushing touchdown so far this season. Sims may have had his struggles but the talent is certainly there for him to make an impact any time he touches the ball as he was huge in the Yellow Jackets' come-from-behind win against Florida State two weeks ago.
The aforementioned Gibbs may have some help against Syracuse. Jordan Mason, Georgia Tech's leading rusher in 2019, could be back for this contest after sitting out last week's game vs. UCF. Mason was one of eight players to miss the home opener and no official reason was given by the school. Last year, Mason finished seventh in the ACC with 899 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 5.2 yards per carry. Syracuse is giving up 143.5 rushing yards per game and has surrendered four rushing touchdowns through two games, so now doubt the Yellow Jackets will test the Orange on the ground.
When Syracuse Has the Ball
As Babers stated, the Orange need to get better on the offensive side of the ball, and fast. Between a passing game that is only averaging 127.0 yards through the air and a running game that is averaging less than 60 yards, Syracuse is struggling to establish any semblance of an effective offensive identity.
Will DeVito remain as the starter at quarterback? Culpepper came in and provided a brief spark for Syracuse, and it remains to be seen if DeVito's injury will allow him to play against Georgia Tech. Look for Babers to insert Culpepper into the game, especially if DeVito is still not at 100 percent when the game kicks off. The Orange also need more from key playmakers like running back Jawhar Jordan (2.4 ypc thus far) and for a receiver other than Taj Harris (8 rec., 136 yds., TD) to step up.
Even with the offensive woes, Syracuse has been strong defensively this season, forcing two turnovers against Pitt and three in the seaosn-opening loss to North Carolina, including intercepting North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell twice. The Orange have had the tough task of facing two ranked teams on the road to start their season and are a heavy underdog at home against Georgia Tech. If Syracuse can establish some consistency on offense, the Orange may be able to spring the upset, but look for the Yellow Jackets to pull this one out in grinding fashion, behind a strong running game.
Prediction: Georgia Tech 20, Syracuse 14
(Top photo courtesy of ramblinwreck.com)