Kickoff: 7:00 p.m. Friday, ESPN
Spread: Louisville -4.5, O/U 64 (Bovada)
Georgia Tech and Louisville’s only head-to-head matchup came 735 days ago, on Friday night at Cardinal Stadium in 2018.
What transpired on that Friday in October would be a horror show for Louisville. Georgia Tech ran for 542 yards on 8.3 yards per attempt, the most allowed by any Louisville defense since 1932. The Yellow Jackets never punted the ball during the game and eight of their ten drives went for touchdowns, as GT pummeled Louisville in a 66-31 win. The 66 points is the second-most allowed by Louisville in Cardinal Stadium’s 22-year history.
Georgia Tech leads the all-time series 1-0. This will be Louisville’s first ever trip to Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Meet the 2020 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Since their meeting two years ago, both Georgia Tech and Louisville have changed head coaches. While Louisville fired Bobby Petrino in the midst of a 2-10 season, Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson retired after 11 seasons with the team.
Once Johnson departed, Georgia Tech hired Geoff Collins from Temple to take over the program. Collins had previous history with the program as a former graduate assistant and recruiting coordinator, penning the highest-rated class in program history in 2007. In his prior stop at Temple, Collins took the Owls to back-to-back bowl games.
Despite a 3-9 campaign last season, Collins is aiming to turn it around for GT. He recently put together a 2020 class that was 27th overall (fifth in the ACC), per 247. Georgia Tech enters Friday’s game with a 1-2 record, winning their season opener at Florida State.
Offensive Players to Know: QB Jeff Sims, RB Jahmyr Gibbs, WR Malachi Carter
The top two recruits in Georgia Tech’s 2020 class lead the offense, with quarterback Jeff Sims and running back Jahmyr Gibbs starting together in the backfield. Sims was the #10 dual threat quarterback on 247’s board last year, flipped from Florida State once Willie Taggart was let go. He’s a solid runner with vision and acceleration in the open field, and also doesn’t shy away from contact. Georgia Tech has shown that they will use him on designed runs, which could pose a problem for Louisville if those end up bouncing outside.
Sims has shown flashes of potential in his passing game. His throws usually have some zip behind it, and he has a good understanding of when to put some velocity or touch on his throws. However, as is the case with most true freshmen quarterbacks, there have been a lot of growing pains in his first three starts. He’s struggled with accuracy (55.1%) and turnovers (eight interceptions through three games), mostly due to bad reads and ball security. A lot of those mistakes should be shored up as he gets experience.
Georgia Tech is also turning towards younger talent at running back, with another true freshman leading the corps in carries. Jahmyr Gibbs has the potential to be a three down back for the Jackets, showing big play ability as a runner and receiver. He has good speed when he gets to the second level and the strength to get it done between the tackles. Gibbs’s versatility will greatly benefit Sims as both progress; it gives Sims a checkdown option if plays aren’t there vertically. Given that Sims is also a dual threat, it also creates a tough matchup for front sevens when they call read options.
Adding Jamious Griffin and Dontae Smith to their rotation gives GT a deep backfield. They tend to split carries between Sims, Gibbs, and Griffin evenly, and all three are capable of busting out big runs. Smith is a tough runner also, able to get 4-5 yards at a time.
GT’s running backs also play a huge factor in their passing game. 25% of their completed passes have gone to running backs, and that’s with them rotating Gibbs, Jamious Griffin, and Dontae Smith primarily in a three-man rotation. They will occasionally run wheel concepts for their backs, which is a huge reason why all four of GT’s running backs average over ten yards per catch. Louisville did allow a deep touchdown on a similar concept outside against Miami, so it will be interesting to see if Georgia Tech tries to attack Louisville deep with the wheel route.
Louisville has had problems with deep passes, so I’d expect Malachi Carter to be utilized to test the Cardinals secondary. Carter is their leading receiver (11 rec., 124 yards, TD) and can make a lot of tough catches downfield. I really like his catch radius and ability to adjust on the fly, especially when Sims has to scramble out of the pocket.
Defensive Players to Know: DB Charlie Thomas, LB David Curry, DB Juanyeh Thomas
Louisville is allowing just over ten TFL per game, which doesn’t bode well for a Georgia Tech defense that has been averaging 6.3 per game themselves. I’d expect them to throw a lot of guys at Louisville to try and contain the running game with a lot of different looks. Georgia Tech doesn’t have a rigid defensive scheme, either; they can run three and four down linemen with multiple packages, so they’re flexible to gameplan against a lot of different teams.
Charlie Thomas usually plays in the secondary but leads the team in tackles for loss (three) and tied for the lead in sacks (two). All of that is from the UCF game, where he just knifed through UCF’s offensive line repeatedly to keep GT in the mix for three quarters.
David Curry is the most talented player on Georgia Tech’s defense, having made All-ACC Honorable Mention last year with 97 combined tackles (6.5 for loss), two sacks, three PBUs and an interception. He can roam around and make plays happen anywhere in the field, so Louisville will have to keep tabs on him in pre-snap reads. Louisville’s offensive line will also have to do its part to keep blitzes contained and prevent extra rushers like Thomas and Curry from wreaking havoc like Pitt was able to.
Juanyeh Thomas had a 95-yard pick six against Louisville in 2018, and he returns as a starter on Georgia Tech’s secondary. Thomas made 11 starts last year at safety and can be disruptive in the passing game, having an interception in each of his three seasons with GT (also has four PBUs and two forced fumbles in his career).
Points of Interest:
- Can Louisville win the turnover battle?
Ball security has plagued Georgia Tech’s offense all year. The Yellow Jackets are minus-six in turnover margin, currently the worst in FBS. Jeff Sims also has a 3:8 TD-INT ratio, has lost multiple fumbles throughout the season, and taken some big hits early in the year.
Louisville should benefit from having played its first two games against mobile quarterbacks. They can use similar elements from gameplans against WKU and Miami (ex: QB contains, handling the edge, etc.) to keep Sims from breaking off big runs. They can also use different blitzes to keep Sims from getting comfortable in the pocket; that could force Sims into scrambling and opening himself up for a big hit and subsequent turnover.
Louisville is also among the worst in the country in turnovers, holding a minus-five margin through three games. Malik Cunningham has been forcing some throws into really tight windows, which more often than not has led to interceptions. I think this is a game where he could thrive due to Georgia Tech’s pass coverage, but he will need to have a clean game for Louisville’s offense to get back on track. Winning the turnover battle will be crucial to Louisville’s success.
- Louisville’s linebackers will ultimately decide the outcome
Louisville’s linebacker group has been really good through the first three games of the year. Dorian Etheridge is currently leading the nation in tackles for loss (8.5), and C.J. Avery and Yasir Abdullah created huge turnovers that kept the game close against Pitt. While they have been prone to big plays occasionally, they’ve shown some improvement in general with stopping the run.
Georgia Tech runs the ball 57% of the time, and I’d expect that to hold true against Louisville on Friday. Louisville’s linebacker group will have to get into the backfield and force the Jackets into third-and-long situations, which could allow Bryan Brown to call in pressure with that unit coming in and create turnovers. Creating third-and-long situations worked for Louisville in their game against WKU with a similar QB, as it forced Pigrome to make a play through the air (which, ultimately, Louisville made themselves with PBUs and forcing Pigrome to make tough throws).
- Will Louisville be able to thrive in passing situations?
Georgia Tech was pretty stout in pass defense last year, but that hasn’t been the case this year. UCF and Syracuse burned the Jackets deep on multiple occasions in their games against them, with UCF’s Dillon Gabriel averaging over ten yards per attempt and throwing for over 400 yards.
If Malik Cunningham can avoid forcing throws and giving an interception, Louisville’s receivers — particularly the dynamic duo of Tutu Atwell and Dez Fitzpatrick — could get big plays downfield. They’ve got the speed to be able to beat Georgia Tech’s secondary deep, and Louisville is a team that loves to take chances in deep passing, especially in play action.
Louisville’s offensive line will also be looking to protect Cunningham better, after allowing seven sacks against Pitt. Georgia Tech hasn’t proven to be a solid team in terms of pass rush, but they can disrupt and make plays in the backfield (especially evident when Louisville is currently among the worst in both sacks and TFLs allowed). Keeping Cunningham from taking too much damage will also help Louisville’s passing game exploit a Georgia Tech defense that has proven vulnerable to the passing game.
Bold prediction: Louisville will block a field goal
I’m framing this different from my usual points of interest because this is a very odd quirk that I found when examining Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets have had five kicks blocked this year, including three in their win against Florida State. Seeing one or two happen is typical, but five is a huge anomaly through the first quarter(ish) of the season.
Any big play from your special teams unit can really make a difference, especially when you’re trying to rebound from a losing streak. That was evident for Louisville last week, when a fake punt led to points in the second half. I’d expect that big play to be a blocked kick that not only keeps Georgia Tech from scoring, but could make things interesting for bettors on this game.