Sep. 13—The Daily Journal caught up with Georgia Tech beat writer Chad Bishop of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution to see what he considers the keys to the Ole Miss-Georgia Tech matchup.
There was a lot of talk in December about who the next coach at GT was going to be, with a lot of rumors of Willie Fritz. Ultimately, Brent Key was promoted to the full-time role. What made him the right fit, and what sort of culture is he establishing?
Since I only just starting covering the team in June I can't really speak to the process of why Key was ultimately given this opportunity at the end of the 2022 season. What I can tell you is what I have come to learn since being on the beat the past three months.
On the surface, Key was the safe hire. An interim coach who is an alum who led an eight-game resurgence in which the team won four games in four tries. Key won the locker room and there was a wave of social media support, both internally and externally, for him to get the job. It can also be said that Tech has a new athletic director in J Batt and from his chair promoting Key made sense so as not to rock the boat so early in his own tenure.
But it should be noted that Key is not simply some up-and-comer. He's is a 20-year veteran who has learned directly under George O'Leary and Nick Saban. He was virtually a coach-in-waiting toward the end of O'Leary's Central Florida tenure and likely would have become a head coach somewhere had he not been given the Tech position.
Culturally, Key wants to create a program that is synonymous with toughness, hard work and discipline. He believes those principles were the foundation of some of Tech's better eras of football.
What has Haynes King brought to the QB position that it didn't have previously?
Again, since I have only been on the beat a couple months, I can't really speak to what Tech had previously compared to now. But I do know King won the starting QB job in the fall after an arduous competition over two returner players with experience at Tech.
Zach Pyron and Zach Gibson both played for the Yellow Jackets in 2022 so conventional wisdom was each may have a leg up in winning the job ahead of spring ball. But King meticulously and methodically fought his way up the depth chart through the spring, summer and until the end of August to win the job.
King's experience as a starter in the SEC, even with varying results, and age probably gave him a slight edge in the end. He also was a star QB in the uber-competitive state of Texas which has to count for something. His knowledge of the game coupled with his toughness makes him the perfect for Tech's offense.
Georgia Tech is running the ball really well thus far. What is the key to their running game?
It is certainly not a standard rushing attack out of the I-formation with a massive offensive line. Tech has found its footing thanks, in part, to its passing game.
With King off to such a good start in the aerial attack, defenses have softened and that has allowed Tech's veteran offensive line to have some success creating holes with zone-read and misdirection runs. The Yellow Jackets also have three capable running backs highlighted, somewhat surprisingly, by Jamal Haynes.
Haynes was a wide receiver up until August when he switched to running back. His has been a bit of a utility weapon in his ability to run between the tackles and around the edge as well as catch passes out of the backfield. He has moved atop the depth chart ahead of Louisville transfer Trey Cooley and veteran Dontae Smith. All three of those guys are capable of having a solid day at the office.
Who are the key players to watch on defense? And what has worked thus far for the Yellow Jackets? What hasn't? (I think I saw they don't have a sack yet)
Tech's secondary was believed to be a strength coming into 2023 and so far that has come to fruition. Even in the opener against Louisville, despite giving up three passing touchdowns, the Jackets held the Cardinals to a 58.1 completion percentage and picked off a pass.
Jaylon King, Clayton Powell-Lee, K.J. Wallace and LaMiles Brooks are a few of the names to watch back there.
Where Tech has struggled has been up front, but some of that is a bit misleading. It doesn't have a sack, which is troublesome, but Louisville's quick-fire passing game didn't allow for much time to create a pass rush. South Carolina State used a lot of option packages and quick throws to neutralize Tech's pass rush.
All that to say, having zero sacks and just four tackles for loss through two games is not a good omen for the remainder of Tech's season.
What's the biggest difference between this tear's team and the one that lost 42-0 to Ole Miss in Atlanta?
Having not seen that matchup in person I can only relay what I have heard through those around the program compared to the team I cover now. The 2022 team was at the end of the line of the Geoff Collins era and there seemed to be some writing on the wall that a change in leadership was forthcoming.
The Jackets had gone 10-26 ahead of that game and some would tell you the locker room had been lost.
This year's team is a completely different roster with a completely different mindset. There is a new energy and a new belief, much like there is for any program with a new head coach.
Key used the transfer portal cautiously and smartly to upgrade his roster. There appears to be solid depth at multiple positions.
Tech also has a couple sharp offensive coaches in Buster Faulker at coordinator and Chris Weinke directing the quarterbacks.
If Georgia Tech is going to pull this off, ___ has to happen.
Look, I won't pretend to think Ole Miss is a national title contender and that Tech has to play flawless ball to pull off an upset of upsets. But the Rebels are in a far superior place as a program than Tech as we write this. Thus, the Jackets can't afford to play sloppy and silly against such a team.
Tech can't have turnover or false starts on first down. It can't have blown coverages. It can't drop passes or miss field goals. It has to go into Oxford and play about as clean of a game of football as it possibly can.