ATLANTA – Georgia Tech hasn’t been able to catch a break on offense.
The Yellow Jackets rank last in the nation with a paltry 13.5 scoring average, and first-year coach Geoff Collins said Tuesday that leading receiver Jalen Camp and center Kenny Cooper will miss the rest of the season with injuries.
Cooper is the second starter to go down on a line that has deployed three walk-ons in the rotation.
Switching over to a pro-style attack after 11 years of running the triple-option, the Yellow Jackets (1-3, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) have used three quarterbacks this season, but that position has been hit hard, too.
Lucas Johnson started Georgia Tech’s home win over South Florida and the home loss to The Citadel, but couldn’t play in last week’s 24-2 loss at Temple because of an apparent shoulder injury. Tobias Oliver, who started the season-opening blowout at Clemson, was back under center but lost one fumble at the Temple 1-yard line and another that resulted in a 74-yard touchdown return.
James Graham, who missed The Citadel game with a foot injury, completed 10 of 24 passes for 100 yards and an interception. Oliver was the team’s leading rusher, gaining 68 yards on 11 carries.
Heading into Saturday’s game against North Carolina (2-3, 1-1), it’s unclear who will start at quarterback, but perhaps it doesn’t matter. Collins has used all three in the same game three times and is more adamant about discussing the program’s culture rather than dwell on who’s first to man a position.
“We’re playing on average 27 to 30 players on each side of the ball, which is a lot,” Collins said. “There’s probably 11 to 12 DBs that play every single game.”
Graham, a redshirt freshman, has shown the ability and eagerness to throw deep and might be called on to do so again if the Jackets fall behind early against North Carolina, which is coming off a near-upset of then-No. 1 Clemson.
“There’s going to have to be a lot of patience with a young guy like that who has a really good understanding of who he is athletically, but sometimes he’s like a wild stallion,” offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude said. “He’s all hyped up. You can’t play quarterback like that. It’s got to be one play, go to the next play, go to the next play.
“Once he settles down and is really more comfortable in what we’re doing, I think he’ll be dynamic.”
Oliver has been pressed into duties as a return specialist, but Patenaude expects him to contribute plenty at QB against the Tar Heels. He leads the Jackets with 264 yards rushing and 441 yards of total offense.
“Tobias is an elite level guy, and you can see when he gets out of the pocket, he’s dangerous,” Patenaude said. “He threw the ball well moving out of the pocket. He runs the ball tremendous, but he had a little hot feet and he was a little antsy in there throwing the ball in the pocket.
“James will stand and deliver. He wants to throw the ball. Sometimes he wants to throw the ball deep every time. We have to get that straightened out a little bit.”
William Lay, who took over at center when Cooper was injured at Temple, is likely the first man up even though he’s yet to earn a scholarship.
Ball security was stressed hard in practice Sunday. The Jackets used a drill in which ball carriers had to hold on tightly.
“Guys were stripping at it,” Patenaude said. “We’re whacking at them with bags. Coaches are screaming at them to put them in a chaos type of deal.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.