Atlanta -- Injuries have taxed the Georgia Tech offensive line this season, so much that the Yellow Jackets could end up playing freshman who they'd hoped to redshirt just to have enough numbers to compete.
"It seems like it has been a numbers problem for a while," coach Paul Johnson said. "These guys have played through a lot of injuries."
When the season started, the offensive line appeared to be one of the areas of strength and depth. But Erin Joe got hurt and needed knee surgery that cost him the season, and reserve Catlin Alford quit the team during the preseason. Freddie Burden injured his knee in the spring and was ruled out for the year.
And that was before the season started.
Jay Finch, the reliable all-conference candidate at center, had off-season shoulder surgery and was slow to return. Morgan Bailey has been nicked up all season ("unlucky as all get-out," Johnson said) and has played in only three games. Three weeks ago Ray Beno hurt his foot and has missed the last three games; he was cleared to run this week but Johnson termed his immediate return "a reach."
A week ago the status of Finch and Shaq Mason wasn't known until the end of the week. That, combined with a injury to reserve Nick Brigham, meant Tech took four freshmen on the road to Virginia.
"They were all ready to go if we had to play them," Johnson said. "We were playing with six guys and if two of them went down, we'd play with our freshmen guys."
Finch and Mason were eventually cleared to play. They were able to team up with Will Jackson, the team's most-accomplished veteran, Trey Braun, Bryan Chamberlin and redshirt freshman Chase Roberts to play an effective game. Even though thin at the position, Tech wound up rushing for 394 yards for the second straight week.
But if more problems surface, Johnson won't be afraid to remove the redshirt from freshman Shamire Devine, a 6-foot-7, 355-pounder from Atlanta, to complete the season.
Johnson said Devine would probably have played this season but showed up a little overweight and suffered an injury that kept him out for a couple of weeks.
"If he'd been ready to go from the start, he would have played," Johnson said.
With the mix-and-match offensive line, Johnson has chosen to simplify the playbook. Tech ran a variation of the same five or six plays against Syracuse and last week ran only one option play in the second half. Tech has also limited the number of passes to a combined 15 over the last two weeks.
Notes: Jemea Thomas was named the ACC's Co-Defensive Back of the week. The senior had a career-high 15 tackles, 12 of them solo stops, against Virginia. It's the most tackles by a Tech player since 2009 and the most solo tackles by a Yellow Jacket since 2003. Bill Curry, the captain of the 1962 Tech team and head coach from 1980-86, will be the honorary captain on Saturday.