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Jackets see ground game improvement

If there was one positive takeaway from Saturday’s loss to Miami, it was Georgia Tech’s improvement when it comes to running the option.

But those self-inflicted wounds have killed the Yellow Jackets over the last two weeks, a trend they hope will change this week against BYU.

For most of the first half against Miami, the Yellow Jackets looked like past Paul Johnson teams that were content to take the ball, keep the ball, eat the clock and score.

And while it didn’t turn out to be a complete success, the running game certainly looked better than it had the previous week.

“At times we played better than the week before (against Virginia Tech),” Johnson said. “We can still do a better job blocking the perimeter, sealing the linebackers. Sometimes we’d get 20 yards on plays that could be 60 yards.”

Tech rushed for 354 yards, nearly three times as many as it did against Virginia Tech. The Jackets had only 15 yards in penalties, down from 66 the previous week. But those two fumbles (one of them lost) and two interceptions left the offense stuck in the mud.

“We’ve got to make sure we do the little things better,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to make sure we don’t beat ourselves with turnovers and penalties. We can play better and we can coach better.”

Quarterback Vad Lee’s untimely fumble was the play that killed a potential scoring drive that could have put Tech ahead 17-7. Instead, Miami seized the momentum, converted the turnover into a touchdown and tied the score at the half.

“I have got to hold onto the ball,” Lee said.

It does look like he’s held onto his starting job. Johnson reiterated that Lee remains the team’s starting quarterback, but he will likely play Justin Thomas some today against BYU. “It depends on how they practice,” Johnson said.

Lee threw for 163 yards with one interception and ran for 26. Thomas ran for eight yards and was 0 of 3 through the air with an interception that was returned for a touchdown.

But it would not be fair to blame the team’s troubles on Lee. There’s plenty of blame to be passed around, especially in the two back-to-back losses.

“It’s been a myriad of things,” Johnson said. “You know, we’ve been blitzed some, we had the protection called when we had the maximum protection against the blitz when we hit it right, which we have several times. We haven’t blocked right or we haven’t thrown hot when we should’ve thrown hot, we haven’t run very good routes, or the protection. It’s everything; it’s not just one guy.

“It’d be easy to fix if you could say the quarterback couldn’t throw it in a barrel, so he can’t throw. That’s not the case. Or this guy can’t pass block so you know you’ve got him out, that’s not the case, it’s a different guy. We just need to be more consistent and coach it better, work at it, and we’ve got to pay attention to detail. We can’t just go out there and wing it and do what we want to do.”

SERIES HISTORY

BYU leads the series 2-1. BYU beat Georgia Tech 41-17 in 2012. BYU has won the last two meetings.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

—QB Vad Lee is under increasing pressure due to mistakes. Lee had a costly fumble to end a potential scoring drive and change the momentum of the game. He also threw an interception on a fourth down in the fourth quarter when he chose to found a covered receiver rather the open man on the other side of the field.

—RB David Sims rushed for 77 yards last week and moved up to 20th on the school’s all-time rushing list. Sims has 1,693 career yards, 66 yards away from 18th place, where he would displace Tech great Joe Hamilton.

—LB Jabari Hunt-Days had six solo tackles against Miami. He ranks third on the club with 24 total tackles. Hunt-Days also has 1.5 tackles for loss and an interception.

—RB Deon Hill returned to the lineup after missing three games because of Crohn’s Disease. Hill had three carries for 47 yards, including a 24 yarder.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “Nobody likes to lose and you want to try to get that out of your system as fast as you can, so it’s a chance to go play another game. And we can play better, we need to play better. We did some things well at Miami, some things not so well. We have to keep getting better. It’s like I told our football team, we still have more than half the season to go.” — Tech coach Paul Johnson

GAME BREAKDOWN

Scouting the running game: Georgia Tech ran the option much better in its loss to Miami, particularly in the first two quarters. David Sims leads the team with 325 yards and six TDs and has yet to have a carry for negative yards. Robert Godigh has 217 yards and averages 8.7 yards per carry. Tech averages 300 yards rushing per game.

Scouting the passing game: Tech’s passing game has been OK, averaging 125.6 yards per game. QB Vad Lee has thrown for 625 yards, but is hitting on only 44.7 percent of his throws and has been picked off four times. Expect to see more of backup Justin Thomas this week, depending on how practice goes.

Scouting the run defense: The Yellow Jackets had done a fairly good job on the run until Miami’s Duke Johnson shredded them for 184 yards a week ago. Paul Davis (three tackles for loss) has been a nice find at linebacker. The opposition is averaging 120.8 yards against the Jackets on the ground.

Scouting the pass defense: The loss of two starting safeties hasn’t helped. The inexperience is particularly evident on third down. Tech allows 209.8 yards through the air on average and needs to get more pressure on the quarterback to assist its outmanned secondary.

Scouting the special teams: Tech missed its first extra point of the season against Miami. A new long snapper misfired on getting the ball to the holder, which resulted in a shank. The season-ending injury to Jamal Golden has forced Tech to search for a new returner. DeAndre Smelter had a 20-yard punt return, but he wasn’t as effective on kickoff returns.

ROSTER:

—OL Sean Tobin, the team’s long snapper, missed last week’s game with an injury.

—RB Broderick Snoddy missed last week’s game with an injury.

—S Jamal Golden (shoulder) is out for the season.

—S Isaiah Johnson (knee) will be redshirted. The senior has been slow returning from offseason surgery and never felt comfortable enough to play. He has 211 career tackles.

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