Big shoutout from the guys over at From The Rumble Seat for doing this with us! You can see my answers to their Q&A here !
1) Just how good has TaQuon Marshall been this year?
If you had asked me which of the four potential starting quarterbacks (Matthew Jordan, Jay Jones, Lucas Johnson, and Taquon Marshall) was most likely to win the job back in July, Marshall would have been dead last on my list by a mile. He had spent the last couple of seasons bouncing back and forth between A-Back and quarterback and surely appeared to have a low ceiling compared to Johnson or Jones plus less of a grip on the offense than Jordan, but he has proved me wrong so far. In fact, he’s given us more from the quarterback position to this point that anyone expected. His reads have been excellent for the most part and he has flashed athleticism and explosiveness that we never got the chance to see previously; even his arm has been a pleasant surprise. He’s not quite Justin Thomas, but Marshall has done the job wonderfully so far.
2) What's been the biggest difference for this team this year?
I’ll give you a couple: the third-down defense is much-improved and the rhythm of the offense is quite different today than it was a year ago. Tech’s third-down defense allowed conversions at a rate of 36% during the 2016 campaign but is currently ranked second nationally in the category, allowing opponents to convert just 22% of the time through five games. The offense, meanwhile, has seen an uptick in the slow, methodical drives that characterized Paul Johnson’s offense prior to Justin Thomas’ arrival. This is largely a result of Johnson returning to the midline and more up-the-middle plays, both because he has a larger quarterback to work with and because the strength of the offensive line is the interior. Drives are still ending with points, but they are much longer and feature fewer long plays in general.
3) With two losses like GT does, how has this season matched up with expectations from the fanbase?
If we had pulled out a win against either Miami or Tennessee, we’d be right on track. Unfortunately, losing to both with Clemson, Virginia Tech, and Georgia left on the schedule has effectively doomed Tech’s hopes of an ACC Coastal crown and made it markedly more difficult to achieve another 9 or 10-win season. Could both of those things still happen? Absolutely, but now the path to Charlotte rests on Miami and the path to 9+ wins requires a win against one of the aforementioned three teams plus a clean sweep of Wake, UVA, and Duke.
(Fun fact: Georgia Tech has trailed in a game for exactly four seconds this season and is 3-2. Hooray!)
4) Defensively, who will giver Wake the most problems?
A.J. Gray is a versatile safety with NFL aspirations who can absolutely change the course of a game. He’s great in coverage and a sure tackler, plus he is one of the most experienced players on the Tech defense. Outside of that, look for Brant Mitchell. He’s a starting linebacker for Tech who is essentially irreplaceable if he’s out, which he very well may be on Saturday. There’s just no one on the roster with enough speed or experience to do what he does for our defense and he’ll be missed sorely if he can’t be on the field for the game.
5) Will you guys beat UGA this year?
I can tell you with great certainty that Tech probably has as good a chance as anyone to beat UGA. That chance may not be all too great, but even a defense as stout as UGA’s can’t get comfortable with the idea of containing Paul Johnson’s offensive system. Their offense won’t be the best one we see this season and the fact that it’s a home game helps as well, but beating a top-5 team is always a challenge. That said, I’m still not sold on Kirby Smart as a head coach and fully expect UGA to be outed against Alabama in the SEC Championship (the latter part of which is not a particularly controversial opinion, even in Georgia).
6) Predictions from Bobby Dodd Stadium Saturday night?
An interesting fact that works against Wake in this game is that in ten years at Georgia Tech, Paul Johnson has lost exactly once to Tech’s rotating opponent from the Atlantic (versus Russell Wilson and NC State in 2010). To me, that’s a testament to how difficult it is to stop the offense when you don’t see it every year and don’t have bowl-type time to prepare for it. For that reason, plus the fact that it’s a night game (for some reason) and homecoming, I think Tech wins 35-21. (I am a big Cade Carney fan, though… for obvious reasons.)