Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET
TV / Radio: ESPN / 93.9 The Ville (FM)
Spread: Louisville -7, O/U 48 (Bovada)
Both Louisville and Georgia Tech were led by their backfields in their last encounter. Louisville’s Malik Cunningham scored four total touchdowns (two passing and rushing apiece) with 279 total yards (229 passing, 50 rushing), while Javian Hawkins added 155 rushing yards on the ground. Georgia Tech was powered by their dynamic duo of Jeff Sims and Jahmyr Gibbs, with Sims getting over 300 total yards and three touchdowns, and Gibbs having 121 all-purpose yards and two total touchdowns.
Louisville held a 27-26 lead entering the fourth quarter, but Georgia Tech scored 20 unanswered points in the final quarter to pull out a 46-27 win over the Cardinals. Louisville and Georgia Tech were almost even in total yards (U of L’s 471 to GT’s 450), but the Cardinals had three turnovers (all lost fumbles) to the Yellow Jackets’ zero, including two lost fumbles in the second half that set up Georgia Tech touchdown drives.
Georgia Tech leads the all-time series 2-0. All three games in the Georgia Tech / Louisville series have taken place on a Friday night. Georgia Tech has won the previous two meetings against Louisville by 19 or more points.
Heading In: Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech enters 2023 with their third coach in five years, now led by Brent Key. Key took over as the interim coach after Geoff Collins, along with athletic director Todd Stansbury, were fired after a 1-3 start in 2022. Under Key, the Yellow Jackets managed to finish the remainder of the season 4-4, including upset wins over Pittsburgh and North Carolina, plus another win over an eventual 9-4 Duke squad.
That would be enough for new athletic director J Batt to promote Key as a full-time head coach in 2023, so both Louisville and Georgia Tech will officially begin new eras on Friday. Like Brohm at Louisville, Key is an alumni of Georgia Tech, having played for the Yellow Jackets from 1997-2000.
Georgia Tech is coming off a 5-7 season in 2022, looking to make a bowl game for the first time since 2018.
Georgia Tech Offensive Outlook
Despite the .500 finish to the regular season, and Key proving himself to be a solid leader in his “interim” phase as head coach, this is still a rebuilding job for the Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech finished 2022 ranked 113th in FBS in total offense (325.2 YPG) and 125th in scoring offense (17.2 PPG). They also lost starting quarterback Jeff Sims in the portal to Nebraska, and Key brought in Buster Faulkner from rival Georgia as his offensive coordinator (with former Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke returning as quarterback coach and co-offensive coordinator).
Fortunately, Georgia Tech does have experience to lean on at quarterback. Zach Pyron and Zach Gibson split the starting job after Sims saw his season end with an injury, but Haynes King was announced as the starter for week one against Louisville. King arrived from the transfer portal after spending three seasons at Texas A&M, where he started the season opener for the Aggies in the last two seasons. He was a highly-touted quarterback coming out of high school, ranked as a top-150 recruit and the fifth-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the 2020 class.
However, he has had some struggles; King completed 56.6% of his passes at A&M for ten touchdowns and interceptions apiece, and this led to him being benched midway through last season for LSU transfer Max Johnson. He is, however, still a solid playmaker with his feet and has the ability to make throws deep if given time.
Georgia Tech also had to replace their top three receivers from last season, including Nate McCollum who transferred to North Carolina in the offseason. Malik Rutherford does return though, and he had a solid freshman season with 23 receptions for 225 yards in 2022. He had a strong spring game performance (seven rec., 154 yards) and has looked every bit like a WR1 for the Yellow Jackets this season. D.J. Moore looked impressive as a playmaker in the spring and should be another breakout candidate. Alabama transfer Christian Leary has big play potential and should be able to complement King’s propensity for deep passes. They also added another SEC transfer in Dominik Blaylock from Georgia (15 rec., 227 yards, TD in 2022) and Abdul Janneh from Duquesne (43 rec., 579 yards, nine TDs in 2022), so the cupboard has been restocked for GT at wide receiver.
At running back, I’d guess that this will be a committee effort that should be more productive. Dontae Smith returns as the likely starter, but Georgia Tech got another Louisville transfer in Trey Cooley to bolster their depth. Cooley should be able to contribute for them as he did at Louisville, a solid balanced back that should be able to get chunk yardage and be a reliable receiver out of the backfield.
Where Georgia Tech will need to improve the most, though, is on the offensive line. GT ranked 117th last year in sacks allowed per game (3.25) and 127th in tackles for loss allowed per game (8.25). Haynes King does have the benefit of being a solid playmaker with his feet, but he’ll still need a clean pocket to be able to deliver.
Players to Watch: QB Haynes King (56.6% completion, 10 TDs, 10 INTs in three years at Texas A&M); WR Malik Rutherford (seven rec., 154 yards in spring game); RB Dontae Smith (87 rec., 420 yards, five TDs in 2022)
Georgia Tech Defensive Outlook
Georgia Tech retained defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker from the previous staff and also brought on Kevin Sherrer to serve as co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach.
This is also a unit that faces a rebuild, especially when it comes to stopping the run. Georgia Tech gave up 189.6 rushing yards per game (109th in FBS), and was a unit that finished 85th in total defense last season (401.6 yards per game). Despite their yardage totals, this defense was very solid at making plays; they forced 24 turnovers last season (third in ACC) and in their five wins, they were +10 in the margin. They also had four kicks / punts blocked, which ranked second in the conference.
In the front seven, GT does have to replace their big three from last season in defensive end Keion White (team high 7.5 sacks and 14 TFLs in 2022), and linebackers Charlie Thomas (112 tackles, 10.5 TFLs, two INTs, two FFs) and Ace Eley (118 tackles, 9.5 TFLs, four FFs). That is a lot of production to replace in one offseason, but they are hoping for guys like D’Quan Douse and Sylvain Yondjouen to step up in 2023.
Douse started all 12 games at defensive tackle for the Yellow Jackets last season and had some very strong outings towards the end of 2022. He had a 2.5 sack performance from inside in GT’s win over Virginia Tech last year, and all of his sacks, TFLs, and forced fumbles came in the second half of the season. He is an easy candidate for breakout player on this roster. Yondjouen had 23 tackles, five TFLs and 2.5 sacks as a reserve last season. He’s an athletic, long defensive end that can be disruptive with blocking passes and getting outside. They also added Clemson transfer Etinosa Reuben to bolster their depth on the line.
The linebacker group, as expected, saw the most additions in the portal. Georgia Tech added Braelen Oliver and Andre White from Minnesota and Texas A&M, respectively, to compete for starting jobs. Oliver had 17 career starts in a five-year stint with Minnesota (2018-22), coming up with 33 tackles and 1.5 TFLs last season. White had 13 career starts at Texas A&M with 35 tackles, four TFLs, three PBUs, and a forced fumble in 2022. They’ll likely start along with the returning Trenilyas Tatum (31 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, FF) to form the rest of the starting linebacker group.
Georgia Tech does have a veteran secondary returning for 2023, including All-ACC Third-Team safety Lamiles Brooks. Brooks is an excellent pass coverage safety that can make plays on the ball, he’ll especially have an important role in the first game against a more aggressive Louisville offense from previous years. Georgia Tech also has Myles Sims (43 tackles, three PBUs, INT), Jaylon King, and K.J. Wallace all returning to give them one of the most experienced units in the conference. Sims made all 12 starts last year at cornerback, with Wallace having nine starts at nickel and proving to be a solid option there. King and Wallace’s combined playmaking ability at safety gives Georgia Tech one of the better tandems in the conference.
Players to Watch: DL D’Quan Douse (5.5 TFLs, 3.5 sacks in 2022); S Lamiles Brooks (52 tackles, seven PBUs, three INTs)
Things to Watch For
- Louisville’s wide receivers v. Georgia Tech’s secondary
This is the most fascinating matchup in my opinion on Friday night. Georgia Tech’s experience and chemistry in their secondary should be a solid opening matchup for Louisville’s new batch of receivers, especially now that the Cardinals will be using a more pass-heavy system.
One matchup I think will be important is how Jamari Thrash fares in intermediate & deep coverage. If Plummer and Thrash are able to connect throughout the game, that should be able to create scoring opportunities for Louisville. Georgia Tech will need to be able to create turnovers also to mitigate Louisville’s explosive plays.
- Louisville’s DL v. Georgia Tech’s OL
Georgia Tech’s offensive line issues were well documented last year, and going against a Louisville defense that was among the very best in sacks and creative negative plays in 2022, this seems like an advantage the Cardinals have on paper.
But this unit has played a lot together, and under their new offensive coordinator, GT could try to utilize the run game more against Louisville’s new 4-2-5 defense. Smith is a solid power back that should be able to thrive in red zone and short yardage opportunities, and many Louisville fans should already know what to expect from Cooley. A lot of GT’s wins last season also came off the back of solid rushing performances. In wins, GT averaged five yards per carry and 210 rushing yards per game, but they had 2.5 yards per carry and 77.9 rushing yards per game in losses.
It will also be important in the passing game, with a new quarterback that is looking to extend plays and push the ball downfield. If Haynes King can get time and step into throws, GT has receivers that can make plays deep.
- Will Georgia Tech be able to play up to the competition again?
One thing that I will say about Georgia Tech: I do not expect this to be a ‘gimme’ for Louisville. Key always has his guys ready to go, and even with their upset wins last year, one of their most impressive games was a better-than-expected loss against eventual national champion Georgia.
Louisville has all the talent and potential for a really good season, especially without Clemson and Florida State on their regular season schedule. But it all starts with game one, and though I expect Brohm and company to be ready themselves, I also expect Key and his company to be ready.
In other words, let’s play football.