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Georgia Tech’s Options at QB

By Dave Holcomb
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Geoff Collins, like any coach, might be enticed to start the signal caller who gives him any chance of winning.

Freshman quarterback James Graham became the first Georgia Tech signal caller in 17 years to throw more than 190 passes in a season last year. That’s an incredible stat considering that high-water mark for a Yellow Jackets quarterback was still well below average. The leading passer for each ACC program last year averaged 308 attempts, and four quarterbacks had more than twice as many passes (380) as Graham.

But for 11 years under Paul Johnson and then before that with Chan Gailey as head coach, Georgia Tech featured a heavy dose of running. In Johnson’s triple-option, there were seasons where Yellow Jackets quarterbacks didn’t reach 150 passing attempts.

The previous lack of a modern-day passing offense is making the transition under new head coach Geoff Collins all that more difficult. Georgia Tech lost in blowout fashion in multiple conference games and even dropped a contest against The Citadel last year. The Yellow Jackets won just two ACC games, posting their worst conference record since 2015.

It doesn’t look like things will be much better for Georgia Tech this fall, as Collins faces a multi-year rebuild in order to reshape the roster away from the triple-option. Surely one thing would help Collins’ cause, though, and that’s a competent quarterback.

Graham may still be the answer behind center, but he will have plenty of competition for the role this fall. While the rising sophomore really struggled with his accuracy, Graham was among the ACC leaders with 13.3 yards per completion. In the ACC, only Trevor Lawrence and Sam Howell edged Graham in that category.

When Georgia Tech struck for a passing play in 2019, it was almost always down the field. However, the days of chewing up a ton of yards with the triple-option are done. Like every modern offense, the Yellow Jackets need their signal caller hitting on short and intermediate passing routes to move the chains, especially on third downs. By far, that’s Graham’s biggest weakness.

Of the 10 qualifying ACC quarterbacks, he finished last with a 45.1 completion percentage, and none of the other nine were below 58.5 percent. To say Graham struggled with accuracy is a gigantic understatement. Because of more incompletions than completions, he finished third in yards per completion yet ninth in yards per attempt in the ACC.

In his final game of the season against rival Georgia, Graham went 5-for-20 with 40 yards. The Bulldogs possessed one of the best defenses in the country last fall, but Georgia Tech’s inability to find Graham easier pass completions was inexcusable. He also posted a completion percentage below 45.0 percent against Pitt and Temple.

Graham should hold an edge over the other Georgia Tech signal callers because of the unusual offseason, but he performed poorly enough last year to leave the door open to fellow sophomore Jordan Yates. Graham wasn’t a huge runner, but through practice film, Yates appears to be much more of a traditional pocket passer. That might be a welcome change for Georgia Tech and could help the offense complete more short-to-intermediate passes.

Yates has very little experience, though, having attempted only 12 passes in a regular game. In that small sample, he wasn’t terribly accurate either, completing only four of those attempts.

The wild card in Georgia Tech’s quarterback competition is freshman Jeff Sims. 247Sports rated Sims a 4-star prospect and the No. 10 dual-threat quarterback in the 2020 class.

Dual-threat signal callers are nothing new for the Yellow Jackets. In order for Sims to win the starting role or earn any playing time at all this season, he’s likely going to need to prove he can throw. Collins isn’t trying to win this year but rather lay a foundation for the program’s future. Again, that’s transitioning away from the triple-option and a quarterback who primarily runs.

Then again, Collins, like any coach, might be enticed to start the signal caller who gives him any chance of winning. Still, in all likelihood, that’s going to be the quarterback who proves to be the most accurate with his arm.