2012 W-L: 7-7 (5-3)
Head Coach: Paul Johnson (42-26; sixth season)
Returning Starters: 16 (8 Offense, 8 Defense)
Was last season a success for Georgia Tech? That depends. The Yellow Jackets won three of their final four regular season games to qualify for the ACC title game (a contest which they barely lost) and then went and beat preseason no. 1 USC in the Sun Bowl to cap off the year. Before all that though, the Wreck were 2-4 after giving up over 40 points in three consecutive games, which is when they fired defensive coordinator Al Groh. Outside of a couple choice performances, the offense was stagnant (don’t believe the overall scoring and yardage and numbers — they’re largely inflated), has never relied so heavily on the rush and also struggled to score in the red zone (only converted on 80 percent of trips inside the 20). So… what are we going to see from them this season?
The Georgia Tech offense was far too predictable last year — especially when Tevin Washington was under center. With a terrible arm, Washington’s leadership forced the team to devolve from a rush-first attack to a rush-only one, effectively making them either take the lead early, or not at all. Last year’s team ran the ball a mind-blowing 808 times. No wide receiver caught more than 10 passes on the season, and no offensive player had more than 18 catches total. That is set to change this year, however. Or it will in theory once Vad Lee takes over as the full-time starter. While he’s certainly a bit rough around the edges still, Lee showed himself to be more adept at throwing the ball downfield and more willing to keep his options open (pass or run) than his fellow quarterback. He’ll also take snaps behind a line which returns all five starters from 2012. Lee doesn’t have to be an all-conference passer. But the threat of a throw needs to be there in order to make this offense as effective as possible. recent years have allowed it to be far too predictable. The hope (I think, anyway) is that Lee promotes a distinct change in philosophy and makes it much harder to gameplan for this Tech team — a potential nightmare scenario for opposing defenses.
Where there are no real worries, however, is the running game. On top of Lee and the experienced line, the team returns two runners (Zach Laskey, David Sims) who tallied over 600 yards last year, plus possess a boatload of talent behind them on the depth chart. Both the A-Back and B-Back positions are at least three-deep apiece, which allows for this team to run for days. It’s unlikely any one back amasses 1,000 yards in the system, but it’s easy to see how four backs getting over 600 or 700 is a much better outcome. While Laskey and Sims will take the brunt of the carries on the interior (B-Back spot), there’s also some questions around the A-Back position. Robert Godhigh excelled in 2012, though that was in a backup role. Now the featured burner on the edge, he’ll need to keep that production up with more carries. There’s also the possibility that he gets even further involved in the passing game though, after catching 15 balls for 227 yards and four scores last year too. Keep an eye out for that development from this offense as Lee gets more comfortable taking the lion’s share of the snaps.
Defensively, there’s some intriguing new folds right off the bat, as Ted Roof takes over coordinator duties and switches the team to a 4-3 (from last year’s 3-4). While the defense certainly showed some improvement over the second half of the season, the team still allowed 40 or more in two of their final six contests (both losses). With Roof’s 4-3 in place, the first place we’ll see a jump is in terms of quarterback pressure. Last year’s 28 sacks were a solid number. But by shifting former linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu up to the end spot, Tech now has the potential for a breakout pass-rush. Also benefiting from the move could be OLB Quayshawn Nealy as well. Having Attaochu in front of him lets Nealy stay at home a bit more and get further involved in defending the pass. Not having to get beat up in the trenches by larger offensive linemen should do wonders for his production and the effectiveness of the front-seven as a whole.
In the secondary, there’s little to say but “hope for the best.” Last year’s group was thoroughly out-manned, and returning three of four starters from that unit, it’ll be more of the same this fall. They did manage to force turnovers though (16 interceptions last season), which gives a glimpse at greater potential. Playing behind a more formidable pass-rush (that’s the thought anyway), they should get more opportunities to time passes and take advantage of rushed throws.
Georgia Tech looks like a similar team to last year’s, but the question still stands: were they successful or not? And adding to that: will the same players be successful this year or not? Sitting outside the ACC’s debatable top four (Florida State, Clemson, North Carolina and Miami), they could be looking at three or four losses built right into the slate, plus tough tests against BYU and Virginia Tech, too. This group has plenty of talent on the roster, but I’m not so sure the that’s enough to overcome the gap in experience between the best and worst on this roster. They’re also faced with the extra challenge of needing seven wins to get to the postseason (they play two FCS squads), which only cranks up the pressure on a not-too-easy late stretch of contests.
Prediction: (6-6) (4-4); No postseason