Miami-Georgia Tech 2016: Q&A with Yellow Jackets beat writer Ken Sugiura

Georgia Tech is trying to rebound from a loss to No. 5 Clemson last week. (Getty Images)

Georgia Tech is trying to rebound from a loss to No. 5 Clemson last week. (Getty Images)

[Why UM is wearing green jerseys at Georgia Tech]

[Hurricanes plan to redshirt six true freshmen in 2016]

[Inseparable, confident LB trio growing together]

[‘Cupcakes’ are finished | UM: road favorite | Bowl projections]

[Virtual tour of Miami’s indoor practice facility]

[Richt returning to Georgia Tech, site of past success]

[Defensive line showing signs of early impact]

If you’re looking for Georgia Tech info, look no further than Ken Sugiura of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I did just that this week. We traded email questions in advance of Saturday’s game in Atlanta (noon, ESPN2).

Follow Ken on Twitter here.

My questions are in bold.

Some were surprised at Georgia Tech’s fall from Orange Bowl champs in 2014 to 3-9 last year. Were you? 

“For sure I was surprised. I thought there was a chance the Jackets could make the playoff given that quarterback Justin Thomas was back and most of the offensive line and defense was back. In hindsight, it makes more sense – I think the loss of nearly all of the offensive skill players besides Thomas was way undervalued, particularly gjven that their replacements were guys who had little no experience, and the loss of guard Shaquille Mason (now with the Patriots) was much bigger than just about anyone realized. Add in a lot of injuries and some brutal defeats, and you get 3-9. Also, the 2014 team caught fire and made breaks and the 2015 team did the exact opposite. If you played both seasons 100 times, maybe the most frequent outcome would be that the 2014 team wins nine games and the 2015 team wins six.”

Is this team more like ’14 or ’15? 

“That is hard to answer. I’d be very surprised if this team ended up at either pole, three or 11 wins. It’s interesting – Paul Johnson said prior to the Clemson game that the offense had the potential to be as good as the 2014 version, which was one of the best in school history, before it played possibly the worst game in Johnson’s tenure. I think one of the primary attributes of the 2014 team was how senior-dominated the offense was, which is not at all the case with this year’s team. It’s more experienced than last year’s offense, but still prone to mistakes.

“Defensively, I think the group could be better than both the ’14 and ’15 defenses. They’ve defended the run pretty well and to this point are better at avoiding big plays. The ’14 defense went on an unreal takeaway streak that covered up a lot of other weaknesses, which this group has not yet shown much of a predilection for.

“To this point, I guess it’s more like an alternate-universe 2015 team that won six games.”

Clemson shut down the Yellow Jackets last week. Did Tech find any positives from that performance? 

“The defense actually wasn’t bad. The Jackets held Clemson to 26 points (two of them on a really bizarre safety), including just three after halftime. The Tigers averaged 2.2 points per possession, compared to their rate of 2.8 points per possession last season. B-back (fullback) Dedrick Mills, a true freshman, continued to gain tough yards. He has a chance to be a really good player. The punting, which has been inconsistent the past couple years, was much better for the second game in a row. Not exactly a boatload of positives.”

What is Tech better at stopping: run or pass?

“I’d say run. Thus far, Tech is giving up 3.8 yards per carry, a vast improvement on their 4.7 average last season. The Jackets have also given up just one run of more than 20 yards in 129 carries, which is way better than last year, when they gave up a 20-yard run every 26 carries.

“The big challenge for Tech will be stopping the pass. It’s not a group that can pressure the passer with four linemen with any consistency, and I think coaches are concerned, if not fearful, of Miami going max protect and letting Brad Kaaya take deep shots to Stacey Coley. Johnson called Kaaya the best deep-ball passer in the ACC.

“Numbers that should encourage Miami fans: Tech is in the bottom 20 in FBS in completion percentage and in the bottom 30 in sacks.

“All that said, Mark Walton looks like trouble. Tech’s performance against Clemson was noteworthy, but I think this will be a truth-telling game for Tech’s defense. The Hurricanes have put up a lot of points against Tech in years past.”

Any good quotes from players about Miami being overrated?

“Nothing to speak of. Tech players tend to toe the line when it comes to talking about opponents. I think internally there might be a little skepticism about Miami given the Hurricanes’ first three opponents, but I don’t think a team that just got done gaining 2.4 yards per play has a lot of room to talk big.”

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