Wednesday, August 8, 2012

season preview: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets


9/3: @ Virginia Tech (Mon.)
9/8: Presbyterian
9/15: Virginia
9/22: Miami
9/29: Middle Tennessee
10/6: @ Clemson
10/13: BYE
10/20: Boston College
10/27: Brigham Young
11/3: @ Maryland
11/10: @ North Carolina
11/17: Duke
11/24: @ Georgia

Skip: Florida State, NC State, Wake Forest

Projected starters:

QB: Tevin Washington (5Sr.)
BB: David Sims (rJr.)
AB: Orwin Smith (Sr.)
AB: Tony Zenon (rSo.)
WR: Jeremy Moore (rJr.)
WR: Jeff Greene (So.)
LT: Ray Beno (rJr.)
LG: Will Jackson (rJr.)
C: Jay Finch (rJr.)
RG: Omoregie Uzzi (5Sr.)
RT: Tyler Kidney (rJr.)

DE: Emmanuel Dieke (rJr.)
NT: T.J. Barnes (5Sr.)
DE: Izaan Cross (Sr.)
OLB: Jeremiah Attaochu (Jr.)
ILB: Daniel Drummond (rJr.)
ILB: Quayshawn Nealy (rSo.)
OLB: Brandon Watts (rJr.)
CB: Rod Sweeting (Sr.)
CB: Louis Young (Jr.)
S: Isaiah Johnson (Jr.)
S: Jemea Thomas (rJr.)

K: Justin Moore (Jr.)
P: Sean Poole (rJr.)

(Italics indicate new starter.)

Coach: Paul Johnson (5th season)

Media prediction: 2nd, Coastal Division


2011 1st team: G Omoregie Uzzi
2011 2nd teamLB Julian Burnett
2011 HM: LB Jeremiah Attaochu, CB Rod Sweeting
2012 preseason: G Omoregie Uzzi

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Two straight late-season collapses have taken some of the luster off the Paul Johnson regime at Georgia Tech, and it must also be noted that Johnson hasn't been able to reverse a trend of bowl futility, even when handed opponents ripe for the beating.  GT hasn't won a bowl game since 2004.  Despite that, the media placed plenty of faith in the Jackets this preseason, labeling them the biggest threat to VT's favoritehood in the Coastal Division.


One of the biggest factors in GT's placement in the preseason poll is the offensive line.  It's a rare year when a team gets to bring back all five starters on the offensive line, but that's where GT stands this season.  Left tackle Ray Beno seized the opportunity when Phil Smith was suspended at the start of last season and never let go of the job; Smith was relegated to platooning on the right side with Tyler Kidney, who owns the job by default now that Smith has left the team.

The interior is where it's gonna get done, though.  There's an all-important veteran center in Jay Finch, and two guards entering their third year as the starters.  Omoregie Uzzi is an all-American player on the right side and a surefire NFL draft pick, and Will Jackson on the left was a freshman all-American himself, two years ago.  Success in the triple option is all about getting that push up front; GT's offense is unstoppable and immensely frustrating to play against when they can get four yards whenever they want, and they'll see that a lot this year.

It'll be operated by another veteran in fifth-year senior Tevin Washington.  Washington's skills at running the option aren't under question, and his passing - though iffy, with a completion percentage below 50% - is actually an improvement over his predecessor, Josh Nesbitt.  Or it was, with experienced receivers.  GT is forced to completely overhaul the receiving corps this year.  Jeremy Moore and Jeff Greene both have good, prototypical size for the featured receiver position, and at least a little experience, but entirely as backups.  This is an ongoing battle that'll probably spill over into the season.

The same goes for the A-backs.  GT has two excellent backfield starters: B-back workhorse David Sims and A-back Orwin Smith are both going to be heavily counted on.  GT's running game tends to rack up gaudy numbers, and Smith is the perfect exemplar, averaging over 10 yards a carry in 2011 and running for 11 touchdowns, one of them a 95-yarder.  The other A-back position is as up for grabs as the receivers, with scatback Tony Zenon having the advantage of experience and a few big plays under his belt already.

Wide receiver blocking is an extremely important part of Paul Johnson's scheme, but the turnover on the edges isn't going to be enough to stop this well-oiled machine from cruising along.  The interior blocking is as good as any in the league, which is the most crucial piece of the whole thing.  The offense is run by a veteran who knows what he's doing and has at least two excellent backs to hand off to.  There's no reason to believe this offense won't operate at its full potential.


Al Groh is in his third season as defensive coordinator, so the ability to excuse poor performance with the square-peg-round-hole defense is just about gone.  Fortunately for the Jackets, they have personnel that fit what Groh wants to do.  You know that with Groh it starts with the linebackers, and the best is outside backer Jeremiah Attaochu, who plays exactly in the mold of Groh's pass-rushing linebackers (and quasi-defensive-ends) of yore.  Attaochu has a chance to be an all-conference performer this year after garnering an honorable mention last year.  GT will greatly miss ILB Julian Burnett, though; he had 120 tackles last year but suffered a career-ending neck injury in the Sun Bowl.  Filling those shoes won't be easy.  The primary candidate to do so will be his partner on the inside, Quayshawn Nealy; Nealy forced his way into the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman last year, and is a very versatile linebacker with good pass-coverage skills to go along with a decent nose for the ball.  Daniel Drummond is the other starter on the inside, but he'll miss the first game of the season, and had only average production last year.

Up front, Groh is still up to his old trick of employing defensive tackles as defensive ends and dump trucks as defensive tackles.  DE Izaan Cross is a force against the run, and weighs 300 pounds; the nose tackle, T.J. Barnes, is a whopping 345 and stands 6'7".  Barnes played extensively as a reserve last year and should command double teams all day long this year.

The Jackets have high hopes for their secondary.  CB Rod Sweeting did a good job of turning potential into production last year, and his counterpart Louis Young is also an excellent player.  Sweeting tied for the team lead in interceptions last year with three; starting safeties Isaiah Johnson and Jemea Thomas had three apiece as well.  Thomas is a versatile player who slid over to cornerback when Young was suspended for the Sun Bowl, and the whole unit comprises one of the better secondaries in the ACC.

Overall, this is a defense without a great deal of name recognition, or a ton of star power, especially without Burnett.  But there are a lot of productive players.  If Groh hasn't lost his touch as a DC, this defense should finally be able to match potential with production and be a linchpin of success.


Justin Moore is a steady kicker who isn't really a weapon but isn't a liability either.  Sean Poole is the same as a punter.  GT's punt return game is fairly strong but they're much less explosive on kick returns.  Tony Zenon broke off a 79-yarder last season, but take that out of the equation and Tech averaged less than 18 yards a return.


There isn't anything flashy about this team.  The defense doesn't have a boatload of recognizable names, and the triple-option doesn't allow for a lot of stars, and nothing gaudy except for running numbers, which are spread around a few different players.  Once again displaying a wealth of precision foresight, the league office has scheduled the divisional marquee matchup for September - the first week of the season.  GT has to go on the road for all its difficult games - VT, Clemson, UNC, and UGA will all be played away from Bobby Dodd Stadium.  But on the flipside, their cross-divisional draw is very friendly - no FSU or NC State.  Clemson is their cross-division rival, but they get the real dregs this year in BC and Maryland, which should help their quest for the division title.  If they can beat VT in Blacksburg on the first weekend of the season, they'll be the favorites.


I promised a recruiting board update, so here it is, even though it's probably later at night than last night when I said it was getting too late to bother.  I live to serve.

-- Re-added LB Zach Bradshaw to orange.  When we last saw Bradshaw, he was a WR who had just removed himself from the green section by committing to Penn State.  He's back, and as a linebacker.

-- Removed RB Derrick Green, RB David Williams, ATH Michael Parker, and LB Daniel Reid from red.  With space filling up, there's no longer any sense tracking these players, who are all looking elsewhere.

-- Moved WR Brian Lemelle, LB Marcel Ngachie, CB Calvin Jones, and DB Ryheem Lockley from yellow to red.  Chances are this board will essentially be retired before any of these players make their very much non-UVA decisions.  Chances are even better UVA has stopped chasing any of them, but we gotta have some excuse to have a board still.

-- Moved WR DaeSean Hamilton from green to yellow.  Hamilton is planning on using his official visits, which is probably going to squeeze him out of this class.

Two decision dates are known for players on this list: LB Oren Burks will announce on Saturday, and RB Taquan Mizzell will announce on the 21st, which is a Tuesday, two weeks from yesterday.  Tevin Montgomery has a visit to UVA scheduled later this month, after which he'll make a decision, and Wyatt Teller - who knows.  The 2013 board will probably be shut down after those four choose (that is, updates will cease, but the board will still be accessible), and we'll just treat any further developments as a surprise.  We're basically prepping for that with this update here.  No, I'm not going to start the 2014 board early, partly out of principle and partly because it's still too soon to know who the serious players are besides about five or six of them.

1 comment:

TBS said...

Another excellent season/team preview. I recall reading and being impressed with your past previews as well.

Just a few minor corrections and developments to note. Robert Godhigh is the leading candidate for the other A-back spot opposite Smith. David Scully just won the kicking job over Justin Moore. I believe they've swapped Uzzi and Jackson around (LG vs. RG). And Johnson finally caved and hired a special teams coach, after several dreadful years of STs. Hopefully that will make a positive difference.

Keep up the great work and I look forward to your season coverage!