We're very fortunate to have the SB Nation network of team-specific sites to work with during game weeks. This week's edition of the opponent Q&A features Tyler Duke of From The Rumble Seat, SBN's Ramblin' Wreck blog. We discuss Georgia Tech's season of unfortunate events, as well as how the Jackets can turn it around agains the Seminoles on Saturday evening.
TN: The 2015 Yellow Jackets have faced injury luck bordering on that of Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God of years past. Which units have been most impacted by injuries, and will GT get anyone back for the game against the ‘Noles on Saturday?
FTRS: The unit that's been hurt the most is absolutely the running back unit - and more specifically - the A-Backs. Starting B-Back C.J. Leggett was lost before the season to injury. Starting A-Back Dennis Andrews was dismissed before the season began, and then the injuries piled on. A-Backs Broderick Snoddy, Que Searcy, Nate Cottrell, and KirVonte Benson have all been out for a significant amount of time at the position. At one point a few weeks back, Paul Johnson noted the team was down to its 6th and 7th A-Backs. That's never good. As far as players returning, I'd imagine the only guy that has a shot is Broderick Snoddy, but there hasn't been much released about it at this point. We should know more tomorrow.
TN: After a high-flying start with two blowout wins, things have gone south quickly for the Jackets. Aside from injuries, what have been the major culprits in the team's struggles?
FTRS: Blocking, blocking, blocking. This extends out from a very experienced offensive line with four returning starters to inexperienced running backs and wide receivers. The offensive line has been inexplicably bad after they were mauling almost everyone at the end of last season and only lost Shaq Mason to the NFL. His loss shouldn't single-handedly cause an offensive line to go from unstoppable to terrible, yet the line can't block a soul. The inexperienced A-Backs have been unable to seal the perimeter, and the wide receivers aren't dangerous enough to poise a threat deep, and they aren't able to hold a block downfield. For TL;DR, the blocking is very bad.
TN: Justin Thomas faced lofty expectations entering this season. Do you think his struggles have been due to a regression in his level of play, the level of play of those around him, or relative to unrealistic expectations?
FTRS: I'd say it's mostly the level of play around him causing him to try to do too much. When the blocking is there and the team starts rolling, Thomas has been producing as expected. When the blocking gets bad and the players around him aren't performing, he's started to try to do too much and has made way too many mistakes. His passing has also been shaky at times compared to last year, but the drop off from two receivers that got drafted to the NFL to the guys on the field this year has obviously hurt Thomas.
TN: How much success do you expect the Jackets to have on offense against the FSU defense? Which match-ups do you like, and which worry you?
FTRS: It's hard to say honestly because the offense is so confusing in general. I keep thinking the offensive line will remember they're supposed to be good at some point and start blocking, but it hasn't happened much. The running game finally started rolling against Pitt last week, so there's at least some room for a little optimism. I'd say they have a few good drives, but it won't be anything like the offense the Seminoles saw last December in Charlotte. In terms of match-ups I like, there are none. There isn't anything you can point at and think the Jackets will have a favorable edge against this FSU defense. The only player I look at as an X-Factor at this point is true freshman B-Back Marcus Marshall. In my opinion, he's the most talented and explosive B-Back in Atlanta since Jon Dwyer, and when he gets some blocking, he can break a big one at any time.
TN: How will Ted Roof's defense try to contain Dalvin Cook and the Seminole offense, and how successful do you think they'll be?
FTRS: Ted Roof hasn't had too good of a year this year. Running backs have been dominating the Tech defense, and it seems that Roof has been reluctant to do much other than blitz linebacker P.J. Davis every play. The creativity just hasn't been there, which makes me think Roof doesn't trust his defense. I don't think the defense will have much success at all in stopping Cook. The only strong point of the defense is the secondary, and that's not going to do much against the run. I'd bank in Cook for at least 150 yards rushing and a couple of touchdowns on Saturday.
TN: Are you optimistic that Tech will improve during the back half of the season? Looking ahead, who will return to the Jackets in 2016?
FTRS: I think the team will improve a bit in the back half as some of the young guys who have been forced to play will start to get comfortable and more experienced on the field. At this point, a bowl game is extremely unlikely, but a win against your Seminoles or Georgia would at least leave some bit of positivity on the season. The schedule will also lighten up after FSU with games against Virginia and Virginia Tech coming up. The team will lose the majority of its starting defense in 2016, which may be a good thing due to bad performances and some promising young talent on defense. On offense, a few offensive linemen will graduate, but most of the skill players like Justin Thomas, Marcus Marshall, Que Searcy, and Ricky Jeune will be back for the team.
TN: It's homecoming and the annual White Out game at Bobby Dodd on Saturday night. The ‘Noles opened as 6.5-point favorites. How do you see this one unfolding?
FTRS: I think it's a pretty fair spread for the game. FSU hasn't been blowing people out this year as the approach seems to be a safely run offense with no mistakes and strong defense. Tech seems to show up typically at home in primetime games like this, but this is also a very different team than we've seen recently. I expect the offense to play a little better than most people think, but the defense is going to allow too many death marches - which the Tech offense is supposed to run, but hasn't - to the Seminoles' offense, and it's going to be too much to overcome. I'll have Florida State covering the spread and winning the game 34-24.