The weather was hot on Saturday when Georgia Tech opened its home schedule. Temperatures were in the high 90s and many of the 46,599 who showed up at Bobby Dodd Stadium wearing white left before the game ended to seek shade.
Not Charlie Thomas.
The heat and humidity didn’t faze the sophomore from Thomasville.
“It wasn’t too bad,” Thomas said. “I’m from South Georgia.”
It was an honest answer, something Thomas gave when asked about moving from cornerback to linebacker. When he was first approached with the idea of moving from the secondary to linebacker, Thomas did not embrace it. He had been one of the team’s most impressive freshmen in 2018 and seemed to be wired to make plays at cornerback.
But in Tech’s new defensive scheme, defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker needed Thomas to move to inside linebacker. He encouraged Thomas, who is smaller than most inside linebackers, and prodded him to keep going. Based on a small sample size, the switch has worked out just fine and Thomas is showing he can play anywhere — including linebacker.
“At first I didn’t like it,” Thomas said. “Playing with bigger guys, I really had to use my agility to be quicker than them. Right now, I feel like I’ve gotten way better with it and I’ve got an advantage because I’m way slipperier and faster than most inside linebackers, so I feel like I can use that to my advantage.”
The results bear him out. He had six tackles in the opening game against Clemson. He was even better in the 14-10 win over South Florida. Thomas had nine tackles, two for loss, two sacks and forced a fumble, a performance that earned him ACC Linebacker of the Week honors.
Thomas, a sophomore from Thomasville, matched his career high for tackles and set a career-high for sacks. One of the sacks and the forced fumble came on a third-and-3 play near midfield stopped a drive and forced a punt.
Thomas (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) made another huge play in the fourth quarter when he wrestled down the South Florida quarterback on the goal line when it seemed that he was destined to score. Thomas used his leverage and his strength to stop Jordan McCloud short of the end zone. South Florida fumbled on its next play and never got close again.
“He tried to use a little spin move so I had to use my muscle,” Thomas said.
Thomas was one of several of the Tech defensive players who played at a higher level in the second game. Safeties Tariq Carpenter and Juanyeh Thomas (no relation to Charlie) were both outstanding. Carpenter finished with seven tackles, two for loss, and had five tackles, despite playing with a cast on his left arm.
The aggression by the defensive unit was clear throughout all positions. The Georgia Tech defense was out to make big plays and be disruptive, a philosophy that coach Geoff Collins has promoted since he took the job. The defense allowed 164 fewer yards than it did to South Florida a year ago and the 10 points given up were the fewest against an FBS opponent since a 33-7 win over North Carolina in 2017.
“I definitely love this new defense,” defensive tackle T.K. Chimedza said. “It gives everybody an opportunity to really attack and make plays.”
Tech allowed South Florida to convert only four of 15 third-down opportunities. Two of the conversions came on quarterback scrambles, when defensive breakdowns are more likely to occur.
Carpenter said, “We made a big improvement from last year on third down because we struggled. So, this year we put a lot of emphasis on that.”
Georgia Tech plays again on Saturday when it hosts The Citadel at noon.