Monday, August 5, 2013

season preview: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets


8/31: Elon
9/7: BYE
9/14: @ Duke
9/21: North Carolina
9/26: Virginia Tech (Thu.)
10/5: @ Miami
10/12: @ Brigham Young
10/19: Syracuse
10/26: @ Virginia
11/2: Pittsburgh
11/9: BYE
11/14: @ Clemson (Thu.)
11/23: Alabama A&M
11/30: Georgia

Skip: Boston College, Florida State, Maryland, NC State, Wake Forest

2012 results:

Virginia Tech: L, 20-17
Presbyterian: W, 59-3
Virginia: W, 56-20
Miami: L, 42-36
Middle Tennessee: L, 49-28
Clemson: L, 47-31
Boston College: W, 37-17
Brigham Young: L, 47-17
Maryland: W, 33-13
North Carolina: W, 68-50
Duke: W, 42-24
Georgia: L, 42-10
Florida State: L, 21-15 (ACC championship)
USC: W, 21-7 (Sun Bowl)

Record: 7-7 (5-3); 3rd of 6, Coastal Division

Projected starters:

QB: Vad Lee (rSo.)
BB: David Sims (5Sr.)
AB: Robert Godhigh (5Sr.)
AB: B.J. Bostic (rJr.)
WR: Corey Dennis (Jr.)
WR: Darren Waller (Jr.)
LT: Ray Beno (5Sr.)
LG: Will Jackson (5Sr.)
C: Jay Finch (5Sr.)
RG: Shaquille Mason (Jr.)
RT: Morgan Bailey (rJr.)

DE: Jeremiah Attaochu (Sr.)
DT: Euclid Cummings (5Sr.)
NT: Adam Gotsis (So.)
DE: Emmanuel Dieke (5Sr.)
LB: Quayshawn Nealy (rJr.)
LB: Jabari Hunt-Days (rSo.)
LB: Brandon Watts (5Sr.)
CB: Jemea Thomas (5Sr.)
CB: Louis Young (Sr.)
S: Isaiah Johnson (Sr.)
S: Chris Milton (rSo.)

K: David Scully (5Sr.)
P: Sean Poole (5Sr.)

(Italics indicate new starter.)

Coach: Paul Johnson, 6th season

Media prediction: 4th of 7, Coastal Division


2012 1st team: G Omoregie Uzzi
2012 2nd team: none
2012 HM: DE Jeremiah Attaochu, C Jay Finch, OT Will Jackson, RB Orwin Smith
2013 preseason: DE Jeremiah Attaochu

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Georgia Tech, in 2012, was the beneficiary of serendipity when they finished third in the division - but behind the two teams on postseason bans.  It earned them a trip to the ACCCG, which they damn near won; they then received an exemption from the rule banning losing teams from bowl games (perfectly fair, IMO, since they wouldn't have gone to the CG if not for UNC and Miami's punishments, and GT didn't deserve to be punished for other teams' cheating ways) and used it to good measure, defeating a severely underachieving USC team in the Sun Bowl.  This year, they've got a new defensive coordinator after canning Al Groh midseason, complete with a return to a more traditional 4-3, but the offense is the same now-familiar Paul Johnson option craziness.

-- Offense

The story here is that the same offensive line that blocked for GT's offense last year will return in full this year, but the people they block for will be very different.  Only B-back (fullback, essentially) David Sims returns among the skill position players.  Sims is a steady bruiser but he's the hammer, not the one called upon to make big plays.  At A-back, Robert Godhigh and B.J. Bostic have the upper hand among a stable of players looking to step into Orwin Smith's large shows.  If last year's stats are any indication, Godhigh is GT's best chance for finding a big-timer; not only did he average 7.9 yards per carry, but he caught 15 passes for 227 yards, both third on the team, and led the Jackets as well with four TD catches.  Bostic may have some work to do in order to gain separation from Tony Zenon and former QB prospect Synjyn Days.

Days is in the mix at A-back because redshirt sophomore Vad Lee seized the QB job last season with some impressive performances.  In particular, Lee engineered GT's 68-point outburst in their win over UNC in what turned out to be the highest-scoring ACC game in history.  Lee's passing needs some work, but it's not bad for where he is in his development; he was, however, a more dangerous and electric runner than starter Tevin Washington.  Big things are expected of Lee this year.

The primary receiver this year looks to be 6'5" Darren Waller, who fits the Paul Johnson mold of big, tall flankers who can block and occasionally win a 50-yard jump ball against a cornerback who momentarily forgot to cover him.  GT is otherwise dangerously thin at receiver.  (Not that they need a ton of depth, but, you know.)  Waller's opposite-side starter, Corey Dennis, is a junior but in his first season on the offensive side of the ball, and the rest of the depth chart consists of redshirt freshmen.

Some injury-related shuffling in 2012 resulted in six guys on the O-line starting enough games for me to be able to label them "returning starters"; five of them actually return.  Center Jay Finch earned all-ACC honorable mention last year, and joining him in the HM category was LG Will Jackson.  Jackson technically earned the honor as a tackle, having been pressed into RT duty last year; he's versatile but a more natural guard, and returns to the inside this season.  Ray Beno is a fixture at left tackle, and Shaquille Mason is a promising talent who played left guard last season and moves to the right side this year.  Mason jumped into the rotation almost immediately as a true freshman in 2011 and started 12 games as a sophomore last year.

The Jackets' offense ought to be tough to stop this year.  You can't beat the experience on the O-line, especially in a system like this, and Vad Lee has already turned potential into production and should keep doing so this year.  Despite the array of relative inexperience at A-back, there are more than enough talented candidates to find a few playmakers, Godhigh being at the top of the list.  The only major pitfall is at receiver, which isn't a crippling problem for Paul Johnson's offense, but could take a cylinder or two offline if Waller gets hurt or doesn't live up to expectations.

-- Defense

GT's move back to the 4-3 from Al Groh's 3-4 brings with it the personnel issues you'd expect: a few too many linebackers and a few too few linemen.  Even after moving Jeremiah Attaochu to DE almost immediately after Groh's sacking, GT has two very good candidates for their middle linebacker position.  The likely starter is 2012's third-leading tackler, Jabari Hunt-Days, but despite injury troubles and only starting one game last season, fifth-year senior Daniel Drummond is a productive player when on the field, and gives GT some excellent depth at MLB.

Their best and most versatile LB, however, is outside backer Quayshawn Nealy, a player with good skills against both the run and the pass.  Nealy intercepted two passes last year and piled up 79 tackles as well.  On the other side, Brandon Watts is another highly experienced player who is very good against the run.

Up front, Emmanuel Dieke is a decent player at end but it's Attaochu who will put the fear of God into opposing quarterbacks.  He had 10 sacks last year in Groh's hand-down linebacker role and later as a more traditional defensive end.  Attaochu is on four different award watch lists and ought to be able to achieve double-digit sacks again this year.  On the interior, Euclid Cummings moves into a starter's role on the inside after being a rotational end in the 3-4 and getting three sacks; however, Adam Gotsis is the one capturing most of the attention.  Gotsis is a 21-year old Aussie who's just a sophomore eligibility-wise, and who jumped right into the rotation as a true freshman last year with only a couple years of football experience under his belt.  Tech really likes the potential he brings to the table.

There's also a lot of experience in the secondary, where three seniors are holding down starting spots.  CB Jemea Thomas picked off four passes last year and was one tackle away from being the Jackets' leading tackler; that honor went to safety Isaiah Johnson, another of GT's senior returning starters.  GT could use some more production out of CB Louis Young, and Chris Milton, as the lone new starter in the defensive backfield, brings a little uncertainty to the unit.  However, Milton jumped into the rotation as a redshirt freshman last year and has potential as well.

Overall, the defense has got to find a way to keep defensive backs from being the top two tacklers on the team.  There are seven seniors among the eleven starters, so there's no lack of experience, and those seven don't include the best linebacker, Nealy.  There's also some intriguing possibilities among the younger players, such as Hunt-Days and Gotsis.  The change to the 4-3 seemed to shock the team into performing in the later stages of the season, and that experience could be a launching board for this year.  GT needs no more debacles like giving up 49 points to MTSU.

-- Special teams

Placekicking was a sore spot for the Jackets last year, but of the three kickers who tried a field goal last year, only David Scully returns.  If Scully doesn't improve on his 4-for-8 performance, GT will open the competition right back up; Scully also missed two extra points and was 1-for-3 on FG attempts under 30 yards.  Poor.  The punting from Sean Poole is decent but not extraordinary.

-- Outlook

It's really not a stretch to think GT could make the ACC CG again; a couple of the media writers thought so as well.  They have the ability on defense to improve in that area and fix what was wrong in 2012, and the tools exist on offense to excel there as well.  There's an experienced offensive line and enough potential at the skill positions to not miss a step, or even improve over last year.  This should at least be a bowl team with a better record than in 2012, and an outside contender for the division title.

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