Sunday, August 8, 2010

season preview: Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets


9/4: South Carolina State
9/11: @ Kansas
9/18: @ North Carolina
9/25: NC State
10/2: @ Wake Forest
10/9: Virginia
10/16: Middle Tennessee
10/23: @ Clemson
10/30: BYE
11/4: @ Virginia Tech (Thu.)
11/13: Miami
11/20: Duke
11/27: @ Georgia

Skip: Boston College, Florida State, Maryland

Projected starters:

QB: Joshua Nesbitt (Sr.)
BB: Anthony Allen (5Sr.)
AB: Roddy Jones (rJr.)
AB: Embry Peeples (Jr.)
WR: Tyler Melton (Jr.)
WR: Stephen Hill (So.)
LT: Nick Claytor (rJr.)
LG: Nick McRae (rSo.)
C: Sean Bedford (5Sr.)
RG: Omoregie Uzzi (rSo.)
RT: Austin Barrick (5Sr.)

DE: Izaan Cross (So.)
NT: Ben Anderson (5Sr.)
DE: Jason Peters (rJr.)
OLB: Anthony Barnes (5Sr.)
ILB: Brad Jefferson (Sr.)
ILB: Brandon Watts (rFr.)
OLB: Anthony Egbuniwe (5Sr.)
CB: Mario Butler (Sr.)
CB: Dominique Reese (5Sr.)
S: Mario Edwards (5Sr.)
S: Jerrard Tarrant (rJr.)

K: Scott Blair (Sr.)
P: Chandler Anderson (rJr.)

(Italics indicate new starter.)

Coach: Paul Johnson (3rd season)

Media prediction: 3rd, Coastal Division


2009 1st team: QB Josh Nesbitt, RB Jonathan Dwyer, WR Demaryius Thomas, G Cord Howard, C Sean Bedford, DE Derrick Morgan
2009 2nd team: S Morgan Burnett
2009 HM: LB Brad Jefferson
2010 preseason: C Sean Bedford

(Italics indicate returning player.)

In both of his seasons as Georgia Tech's coach, Paul Johnson has been the ACC Coach of the Year. Just on principle, it's not likely the media will want to give it to him again, but if Georgia Tech repeats as Coastal champions, this might be the one year of his three that he's most deserving. GT has lost a lot of talent from last year, but since when has Johnson been the kind of coach that depends on superior talent for his success? Adding to the subplot is the switch to the 3-4 defense brought about by the hiring of Al Groh as defensive coordinator - a move that has a (rather overly bitter, I think) portion of the UVA fanbase elevating the GT game to the level of the one against the other Tech in terms of importance.


Almost half of the ACC 1st team offense in 2009 was comprised of Yellow Jackets, so dominant was the GT offense. Only Nevada outgained GT on the ground nationally, and despite (or because of) the heavily run-oriented offense, GT led the country in yards per passing attempt at 10.6 - the only offense to reach double digits. But most of that talent has moved on - except, notably, for senior quarterback Joshua Nesbitt. It'll be tough for Nesbitt to improve on last season - named the top quarterback in the ACC while leading his team to a conference championship - but improving his completion percentage of 46.3% would be a step in that direction.

The two other big yardage-gainers are going to have to be replaced, though. Anthony Allen gets a promotion to B-back to replace the graduated Jonathan Dwyer. Roddy Jones returns at A-back, and though Embry Peeples is new to the starting gig, he didn't see much of a difference in 2009 playing time between himself and the two starters there. If the offensive line is up to snuff, the running game will be its usual dominant self. Expect very little drop in production on the ground, if any.

Demaryius Thomas is going to be tougher to replace. Tall and immensely productive, as well as a tenacious blocker, Thomas dominated the GT receiving game. He averaged 25 yards a catch and was responsible for two-thirds of the passing game's output. Taking his place in the lineup is the even taller - but much lankier - Stephen Hill. There are high hopes for Hill, but neither he nor Tyler Melton is the blocker that Thomas was. Hill will step into Thomas's role as the featured deep receiver and go-to guy for end zone fade routes, but at least early on, expect the passes to be a little more evenly distributed than in the past.

The offensive line has to replace three starters, but the most important - center Sean Bedford - returns for a fifth season. Bedford has risen from walk-on defensive lineman to Outland Trophy watch-lister and is the #1 factor in GT's ability to grind you down, five yards at a time. Austin Barrick is an athletic enough tackle that Paul Johnson even briefly considered him at A-back early in his tenure. Most of the rest of the line, though, has seen relatively little game action, and this unit will need to use its fairly easy early schedule to gel and get ready for the bigger games later in the season.


Al Groh coaches this unit. There, that's out of the way. As you know, Groh is a 3-4 guy, and that's what he's brought to Georgia Tech. One of the first things that means is that two starting defensive tackles get squeezed into one slot. It's the unfortunate way things work out that DT is where most of the starting experience lies when it comes to returning players. Tech has to figure out how to get playing time for returning DT starters Ben Anderson and Logan Walls, while at the same time breaking in two new defensive ends.

All-conference end Derrick Morgan is off to the NFL, but what of the other 2009 starter at DE? In usual Al Groh fashion, Anthony Egbuniwe moves to OLB, where he'll play the pass-rushing linebacker role so familiar to UVA fans, and therefore get to keep a hand on the ground. Groh also has the heady ILB he likes in Brad Jefferson, who's entering his third season as a starter in the middle. Jefferson was the leading tackler in 2009 with 95, and Groh's system should help him easily reach triple digits.

The secondary loses all-star safety Morgan Burnett, who was Tech's all-over-the-field type in 2009. But the blow is softened by the return of CB Mario Butler and Jerrard Tarrant, each of whom picked off a pair of passes in 2009. Tarrant moves to safety this year, switching places with Dominique Reese, who started six games at safety last year. GT was one of the weaker pass defenses in the conference last year and gave up a ton of touchdowns through the air, and while there's a lot of experience here, there's a lot of room for improvement, too.


Chandler Anderson is a strong-legged punter, averaging over 42 yards, but Scott Blair's leg is neither exceptionally accurate nor exceptionally strong. His terrific performance against Clemson in the ACCCG was absolutely crucial, but he also missed some closer ones in some of Tech's closer losses. Sophomore Orwin Smith set a GT record for kick return yardage and should return in that role, as should Jerrard Tarrant for punt returns. GT had one of the conference's best punt coverage units in 2009 but clearly the worst kick coverage squad, the only conference team to allow two KR touchdowns.


Because of all the talent Tech has to replace on offense, the media figures GT will be leapfrogged this year by VT and Miami. I'm not so sure. Paul Johnson made his name by winning with less talent, and he hired the one ACC coach whose defense was best able to stop his old-school offensive system. If there's any difficulty to be overcome this year, it's probably that which results from a relatively earthshaking transition on defense. But GT's defense was nothing special in 2009, and Groh is now left free to focus entirely on what he does best. I think the defense will improve, if even only slightly, and if the offense takes any steps backwards, it won't be much. There's a strong likelihood GT will be 7-0 going into their rematch with Clemson. That's followed by a murderous November, but the easy early season means GT is likely to control their own destiny as they go. I'm not betting against them.


Anonymous said...

Well done. The only thing I would add to the defensive analysis is the return of Cooper Taylor, who sat out last year with heart problems. He was the heart and soul of the defense two years ago.

Anonymous said...

Excellent analysis. I've read many of your past articles and have been very impressed with your writing and objective rational analysis. Keep up the good work! The only comment I would make is that Dwyer left a year early instead of graduating.