Georgia Tech has found its featured running back. Now if the Yellow Jackets can settle on the quarterback position.
Jordan Mason is ensconced at running back. He ran for 99 yards against South Florida last week and was cited by the staff for his toughness as a runner and a blocker. Twice he picked up blitzes to help avoid an offensive problem and he threw a key block on a touchdown run.
“Not just because he was almost a 100-yard rusher, what he did on protection, what he did on the touchdown run by Tobias (Oliver) getting the key block, those kinds of things matter, too, other than him just being a great running back,” head coach Geoff Collins said.
But after two games there’s still no decisive winner in the quarterback battle at Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets have used three players in each of the first two games and will follow the same formula this week on Saturday when they host The Citadel.
“It’s not textbook,” offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude said. “I’m comfortable with how guys are playing. All three of the guys graded at least 40 percent better (against South Florida) than they did at Clemson and they all played at winning number. If we get that kind of production from three guys collectively, that’s a pretty good day.”
Lucas Johnson got the start against South Florida – the first of his career – and had good moments and bad moments. He completed 11 of 17 passes, but for only 45 yards; his longest pass was for 11 yards. Johnson ran nine times for 36 yards.
Patenaude said, “His command was pretty good. He handled the game well. He is deceptively athletic. He doesn’t have the quickness that Tobias (Oliver) or James (Graham) has, but when he gets rolling, he can really run.”
Johnson was handicapped early when starting offensive linemen Mikey Minihan and Kenny Cooper were injured and did not return. That required more rotation at the guard spot and forced walkon center William Lay III to play about 90 percent of the snaps at center. Lay, a sophomore from Hart County, acquitted himself well.
Johnson could get the start again this week, but Oliver and Graham are both expected to play. Oliver has been more efficient when running the ball and Graham, perhaps the most athletic of the three, has been the centerpiece of some special packages.
“We’re trying to define roles for everybody,” Patenaude said. “Find the thing we can hang our hat on. It goes from game to game. We were going to be more aggressive throwing the ball (against South Florida), but we lost a couple of linemen, and went back to running the ball. … We’ll really go series-to-series and see how the best way is to move the ball.”
Patenaude said the offense is looking for ways to throw the ball deeper down the field and create more explosive plays.
The Citadel (0-2) is coming off a pair of one-touchdown losses and dropped a 35-28 decision to Elon last week. The Bulldogs, an FCS team that plays in the Southern Conference, last played Georgia Tech in 2001. Georgia Tech leads the series 10-1-3.
The Bulldogs bring something different to the table. They run the triple option, one of the few teams in the country that cling to that approach. While that can cause problems for many teams in terms of preparation, Georgia Tech may be an exception since the Yellow Jackets ran the triple option for 11 seasons under coach Paul Johnson.
“The nice thing is, for 11 years we’ve run the triple here, so a lot of the developmental guys have been in the system, so there’s some carry over from that,” head coach Geoff Collins said. “It’s the familiarity that makes it a little easier so we can still practice really, really fast. … There was that familiarity and they kind of understand the motions and you don’t have to spend a lot of time with those little intricacies because they are well-versed from running it so well for such a long time.”
Gwinnett Connection at The Citadel: There are 28 Georgians on the roster for The Citadel and six of those come from Gwinnett County: running back Clay Harris from Norcross, defensive linemen Nick Grier from South Gwinnett and Aaron Brawley from Grayson, offensive linemen Denzel Wright from Grayson and Tyrell Earl from Central Gwinnett, and punter Matt Campbell from Mill Creek.
Harris is the starting B-back. He has 25 carries for 87 yards, the most by anyone other than quarterback Brandon Rainey. Wright starts at right tackle and has helped the offense average 244 yards rushing. Brawley starts at defensive end and has tallied six tackles, two for loss, and forced a fumble. Campbell, a preseason first-team All-Southern Conference choice, averages 48 yards per kick, with two kicks 50 yards, including a long one of 67 yards.