Wednesday, August 12, 2009
season preview: Georgia Tech
So this makes two days in a row with non-UVA content. Actually, technically it's one day with no content at all and then one day bookended by season preview. Sorry about that, but you see it was trivia night at O'Brien's last night, and I dominate at trivia. I would bet most good college football bloggers would be formidable bar trivia opponents.
Anyway, I do have a couple things for you. Last week I promised you a second Q&A session as hosted by another blogger - this one is at The ACC & SEC Blog, and rather more extensive as well than last week's. As with before, think of this as some sneak peeks into my head while you wait ever so patiently for the UVA blog to actually season preview UVA. In this we touch on many of the standard topics: who's going to step up at various important offensive positions, how's Al Groh's seat these days, and sundry other items.
The second item is this: Sometimes I find out about Things On The Web because they link to me and then people click the link. Such is the case here. I don't know how long this site has been around, but whether it's two years or two months or it just showed up this morning (it didn't) I am thoroughly shamed for not having found it earlier. It is frapping fantastic, and it is called hoosfootball.com. You want media guides? They got 'em. You want the stats and the history? There they are. Picayune details about all the uniforms we've worn since 1990? Check. Pictures? For the love of all that is good, holy, and beautiful, there are pictures, pictures, pictures in sweet, full-color glory. Sometime this month I plan on refreshing the links on the side of the page - there are new blogs, blogs that have gone out of business, what have you. This will obviously be on the list, quite possibly eight different times.
OK, done gushing, and I've got a change of pants all lined up, so sit back and read up on Georgia Tech. You'll want to know all about them.
9/5: Jacksonville State
9/10: Clemson (Thu.)
9/17: @ Miami (Thu.)
9/26: North Carolina
10/3: @ Mississippi State
10/10: @ Florida State
10/17: Virginia Tech
10/24: @ Virginia
10/31: @ Vanderbilt
11/7: Wake Forest
11/14: @ Duke
Skip: Maryland, NC State, Boston College
QB: Josh Nesbitt (Jr.)
BB: Jonathan Dwyer (Jr.)
AB: Roddy Jones (rSo.)
AB: Anthony Allen (rJr.)
WR: Demaryius Thomas (rJr.)
WR: Tyler Melton (So.)
LT: Nick Claytor (rSo.)
LG: Joseph Gilbert (rSo.)
C: Dan Voss (5Sr.)
RG: Cord Howard (5Sr.)
RT: Austin Barrick (rJr.)
DE: Derrick Morgan (Jr.)
DT: Jason Peters (rSo.)
DT: Ben Anderson (rJr.)
DE: Robert Hall (rJr.)
ILB: Brad Jefferson (Jr.)
OLB: Sedric Griffin (Sr.)
R: Cooper Taylor (So.)
CB: Mario Butler (Jr.)
CB: Rashaad Reid (So.)
S: Morgan Burnett (Jr.)
S: Dominique Reese (rJr.)
K: Scott Blair (Jr.)
P: Scott Blair (Jr.)
(Italics indicate new starter.)
Coach: Paul Johnson (2nd season)
2008 1st team: RB Jonathan Dwyer, OT Andrew Gardner, DE Michael Johnson, DT Vance Walker
2008 2nd team: OG Cord Howard, DT Darryl Richard, S Morgan Burnett
2008 HM: DE Derrick Morgan
2009 preseason: RB Jonathan Dwyer, WR Demaryius Thomas, S Morgan Burnett
Media prediction: 2nd, Coastal Division
Georgia Tech had about forty zillion questions coming out of the 2007 offseason, but they all boiled down to the same thing: Is this shizwack offense really a good idea? The answer was a resounding hell yes, and the reward was a win for the Jackets over hated rival Georgia in Athens and a bowl game in their own backyard. This year, the novelty is off and ACC defensive coordinators have all the tapes.
Plenty of talent here, and if the ACC isn’t going to be caught off-guard by Paul Johnson’s offense, it’s offset by the return of most key players, who now have a year’s experience in the system. That’s especially important at quarterback, because this may be the one offense in the league where quarterback comfort and experience in the system is more important than any other. And GT’s got a good one in Josh Nesbitt. He’s a big guy at 220 pounds and he knows what he’s doing. But the real story is at B-back (despite the labels A and B used for the backs in this offense, B-back is actually the feature back) and at wide receiver. Jonathan Dwyer will carry the ball more times than he can stand, and it’s not too nutty to think a 1,500 yard season is in the works. Seven yards per carry and 200 carries in 2008 is astounding, and it’s why he’s the favorite for ACC POY, especially if he’s able to at the same time increase his receiving presence. When you have Demaryius Thomas, though, it’s hard to imagine throwing anywhere else. Thomas has 1,000 yard potential on any other team, and people wondered if he’d appreciate playing in an offense that throws the ball once every other ice age or so. Thomas took to it like Charlie Weis to the donut buffet** and ended up with a very respectable 627 receiving yards. Even more importantly, his blocking is absolutely essential to the success of this offense and he does it very well. Standing 6’3” is great for catching footballs and even better for ensuring the 5’10” cornerback goes nowhere near the ballcarrier.
We also shouldn’t forget Roddy Jones. The A-back is sort of a combination fullback/tight end/slot receiver/tailback and Jones is very good at it. By design, Tech has extraordinary depth at this position – Lucas Cox and Anthony Allen are going to be dangerous – but Jones is the trickiest of all. His eight point five yards per carry last season made life that much more miserable for defensive coordinators trying to figure out where to focus their efforts.
Rounding it off, there’s plenty of experience at O-line. The best, and sometimes only, way to stop this offense is to blow it up at the line, but guard Cord Howard was second-team all-conference last year, and most of these guys have starting experience either thanks to injury or because it was their job to begin with. Add all this up and it’s my opinion Georgia Tech has the scariest offense in the league this year.
Every single one of Tech’s defensive linemen last year received all-conference votes, but only one returns. That in a nutshell is Tech’s biggest issue going into 2009. Derrick Morgan is going to draw double-teams all day until his new linemates prove they can make their own plays. This is a lot like our own linebacker situation: Tech’s linemen were so good last year that their backups rarely got in the game. Their “season highlights” in their official roster profiles have lines like “made a tackle for no gain against Boston College.” Yippee. Georgia Tech runs a 4-2-5 defense most of the time, so these guys really will have to step up to the plate if they don’t want teams to stuff the ball down their throat 40 times a game.
In that respect they’ll have help from the linebackers, both of whom were regulars on the field last year. The quasi-nickel look all the time means the linebackers are a little freer to help in run support, and Sedric Griffin was fourth on the team in tackles and added eight TFL last season. Brad Jefferson was hurt quite a bit last season, but enters this year healthy.
The secondary is the undisputed strength of the defense. S Morgan Burnett is another of the “big four” defensive players in the ACC, and the defense will get a big boost with him shouting orders. Burnett picked off seven passes last year, and fellow safety Dominique Reese added three more, as did cornerback Rashaad Reid. And then there’s Cooper Taylor. Taylor plays the position that turns a standard 4-3 into a 4-2-5: GT calls it the “wolf”, the standard word is “rover”, it’s basically a linebacker/safety hybrid, and from that position Taylor stopped 69 ballcarriers last season, second only to Burnett. The sum and gist here is that Tech will be miserable to try and pass the ball against, especially if the defensive line gets heat on the quarterback.
This is a little bit of a trouble spot. Scott Blair handles both the kicking and the punting, and neither especially well. Punting average last year was below 39 yards. Placekicking was uglier – Blair missed two extra points and was 0-for-6 from 40 yards or beyond. It’s a real handicap if your scoring from outside the 23-yard line is big play or bust.
I voted Georgia Tech for ACC champs in Gobbler Country’s poll. Unless I’m absolutely blown away by the talent when I embark on the season previews for UNC or VT, I’m sticking with it. GT looks scary on offense. Really scary. Even scarier for 2010 when you realize how few of these players are seniors. The only sticking point is that they play all the good teams and none of the sucky teams in the cross-divisional games. They got a really awful draw in that department. But if they’re the best team in the ACC like I think they are, it shouldn’t matter. Paul Johnson’s offense was crazy fun to watch when he was coaching Navy, and now that he’s got BCS talent in charge of it, it’ll be even more fun, except on October 24. Even if the defensive line is merely mediocre, the Yellow Jackets should represent the ACC in the Orange Bowl. If they’re actually good? Look out.
**Normally I like to keep my jokes ACC-centric, but Ralph Friedgen is no longer a valid target for fat jokes. On the plus side, Maryland fans will no longer brag about whose coach can eat whose, which was always sort of an inexplicable thing to boast about.