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1. So where's this thing going?
So let's summarize every piece you've probably read about Georgia Tech over the last nine months:
- They still run the option.
- The defense stunk last year (and the defensive coordinator got fired, then insulted his former boss).
- Tech is not lighting the recruiting world afire.
- The Yellow Jackets beat USC, which was pretty cool.
All of these things are true, of course. Tech will always run the option under Paul Johnson, Al Groh did fire some shots after his firing, the Yellow Jackets do rank 69th in two-year recruiting, and they did indeed beat USC because of some combination of quality defense, wind, and actually wanting to be there. But how much are these quick-hit story lines associated with the long-term?
When Paul Johnson took over for Chan Gailey in Atlanta, Tech had won seven games in five of the previous six seasons. Since a 1-10 abomination in 1994, the Ramblin' Wreck were consistently good but rarely a national threat. The end of the George O'Leary era was exciting -- Tech spent parts of four straight seasons (1998-01) ranked in the top 15, but Gailey firmly entrenched himself in Glen Mason Territory, to the point where a seven-win season for anybody should just be called a Gailey.
Johnson took over, and things got interesting. Tech won nine games in 2008, then won 11 games and the ACC in 2009. Tech's No. 13 finish that year was its highest since 1994 and third-highest since 1966, Bobby Dodd's final season. He was proving that the Flexbone could be a winning approach at the BCS level, which was fun.
But since then, Johnson has pulled some Gaileys. Tech won six games in 2010, eight in 2011, and seven in 2012. Tech has been a top-50 team the last two years, but that's actually sub-Gailey. Is the Johnson era leading to something bigger, or is the status quo a fun, mostly successful offense that can't play from behind and a sketchy defense that leads to a few deficits?
2012 Schedule & Results
|Record: 7-7 | Adj. Record: 8-6 | Final F/+ Rk: 49|
|Date||Opponent||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L|
|3-Sep||at Virginia Tech||17-20||L||26.5 - 24.2||W|
|8-Sep||Presbyterian||59-3||W||40.7 - 20.5||W|
|15-Sep||Virginia||56-20||W||61.3 - 23.9||W|
|22-Sep||Miami||36-42||L||28.3 - 34.5||L|
|29-Sep||Middle Tennessee||28-49||L||28.1 - 41.3||L|
|6-Oct||at Clemson||31-47||L||47.7 - 30.2||W|
|20-Oct||Boston College||37-17||W||32.6 - 37.5||L|
|27-Oct||BYU||17-41||L||20.8 - 31.5||L|
|3-Nov||at Maryland||33-13||W||48.2 - 30.3||W|
|10-Nov||at North Carolina||68-50||W||48.4 - 33.5||W|
|17-Nov||Duke||42-24||W||26.3 - 26.8||L|
|24-Nov||at Georgia||10-42||L||29.1 - 37.2||L|
|1-Dec||vs. Florida State||15-21||L||40.6 - 22.9||W|
|31-Dec||vs. USC||21-7||W||27.3 - 6.5||W|
|Points Per Game||33.6||34||28.3||65|
|Adj. Points Per Game||36.1||13||28.6||68|
2. Start well, finish well (and let's just ignore the in-between)
The Yellow Jackets began the season with a competitive loss at Virginia Tech and solid thrashings of two inferior opponents, Presbyterian and Virginia. And they finished with a competitive loss in the conference title game and a bowl win over the preseason No. 1 team.
Everything about that sounds pretty decent. All we have to do is forget the other nine games, in which Tech's defense fell apart and the offense couldn't pick up all of the slack.
Adj. Points Per Game (first 3 games): Georgia Tech 42.8, Opponent 22.9 (plus-19.9)
Adj. Points Per Game (next 9 games): Georgia Tech 34.4, Opponent 33.6 (plus-0.8)
Adj. Points Per Game (postseason): Georgia Tech 34.0, Opponent 14.7 (plus-19.3)
Tech unlocked odd achievements like "lose by 21 points to a Sun Belt school but still win your division" (well, they won the division because Miami was banned from the postseason) and "allow 50 points and win by more than two touchdowns," so there was certainly some fun scattered throughout the midsection of the season while the Yellow Jackets were losing six of 10.
Following three straight below-average showings to bad defensive performances against Miami, MTSU, and Clemson, defensive coordinator Al Groh was let go, and the defense didn't improve much in his absence, at least until the postseason, in which Tech hung tight with Florida State before knocking off a flustered USC.
|Q1 Rk||20||1st Down Rk||13|
|Q2 Rk||8||2nd Down Rk||13|
|Q3 Rk||24||3rd Down Rk||18|
3. The offense still works
For all the talk about poor recruiting, and for all the talk about consistently below-par defenses, let's not forget one simple thing: the offense works.
Tech's offense briefly tumbled in 2010 following the loss of stars like Jonathan Dwyer and Demaryius Thomas from the 2009 conference title team. But the Yellow Jackets' No. 49 ranking in Off. F/+ that season was the exception to the rule; Tech has ranked between sixth and 29th in the category in Paul Johnson's other four seasons. His stuff works, and it's fun to have it around at the BCS level.
The Flexbone requires a load of running backs, at least two quarterbacks, at least one play-action weapon lined up wide, and a potentially smaller, more agile line adept at cut blocking and taking advantage of bigger opponents' leverage up front. Without rockstar recruiting rankings, Johnson has been able to consistently put that together.
And nothing should change in 2013. There are some question marks at receiver, simply because of inexperience, but I don't see why Tech would rank any lower than about 25th in Off. F/+ this fall.
Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Vad Lee||6'1, 215||So.||*** (5.6)||27||56||596||48.2%||4||3||5||8.2%||9.3|
|Tim Byerly||6'0, 212||So.||** (5.4)|
|Justin Thomas||5'11, 179||RSFr.||**** (5.8)|
|David Sims||BB||6'0, 225||Sr.||*** (5.7)||135||612||4.5||2.0||4||+0.9|
|Zach Laskey||BB||6'1, 214||Jr.||** (5.4)||133||697||5.2||3.4||1||+4.2|
|Vad Lee||QB||6'1, 215||So.||*** (5.6)||91||574||6.3||8.0||9||+14.5|
|Robert Godhigh||AB||5'7, 190||Sr.||NR||54||429||7.9||5.5||4||+16.1|
|B.J. Bostic||AB||5'11, 173||Jr.||**** (5.8)||34||212||6.2||3.3||0||+3.9|
|Tony Zenon||AB||5'8, 175||Jr.||** (5.4)||31||193||6.2||6.6||1||+2.6|
|Synjyn Days||AB||6'2, 221||Jr.||*** (5.7)||23||142||6.2||5.5||1||+3.6|
|Broderick Snoddy||BB||5'9, 190||So.||*** (5.6)||13||50||3.8||4.4||0||-2.1|
|Matt Connors||BB||6'0, 200||Jr.||NR||7||51||7.3||12.8||2||+1.9|
|Deon Hill||AB||6'0, 202||Jr.||*** (5.6)||6||40||6.7||3.6||0||+1.1|
|Dennis Andrews||AB||6'0, 190||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Travis Custis||RB||6'0, 215||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
|Donovan Wilson||AB||6'0, 215||Fr.||*** (5.6)|
4. As good a backfield as ever
"A load of running backs": check. Johnson likes having a couple of big B-backs pounding away between the tackles, and while David Sims and Zach Laskey are completely lacking in explosiveness, they perform their roles perfectly. Tech will continue to soften you up with these two until you take your eyes off of the corner. And when you do, the Yellow Jacets will run the option wide with quarterback Vad Lee and A-backs Robert Godhigh, B.J. Bostic, and Tony Zenon. Orwin Smith, the perfect A-back is gone, which hurts; but Godhigh is super-agile, Bostic is a former star recruit, Zenon has made the most of his opportunities, and redshirt freshman Dennis Andrews has evidently been turning heads behind the scenes.
"At least two quarterbacks": check. Last year, Tevin Washington was the starter for most of the year, but Vad Lee outperformed him on a per-pass and per-carry basis. Washington had a higher floor than Lee, completing a few more passes, taking fewer sacks, and better avoiding turnovers. But Lee's 22.1 yards per completion were useful, to put it lightly, and he was a redshirt freshman. His decision-making should improve to at least Washingtonian levels in the next year or two. He seems to have a nice toolbox for this offense, and if he doesn't, or if he gets hurt, then Middle Tennessee transfer Tim Byerly or four-star redshirt freshman Justin Thomas could take over with reasonable success.
"At least one play-action weapon lined up wide": Not sure. We'll get to that below.
"A potentially smaller, more agile line adept at cut blocking, etc.": check. Tech had sack issues in 2012, but that's going to happen in an offense not built to pass the ball much. Six players with starting experience return (104 career starts), including three two-year starters. This is one of the country's more experienced offensive lines, one that ranked in the top 25 in Adj. Line Yards, opportunity rate (getting runners to the second level of the defense), power success rate (power success rate), and stuff rate (avoiding negative plays on the ground). All-conference guard Omoregie Uzzi was good, but his is the only major absence. This is going to be a stellar line.
|Robert Godhigh||AB||5'7, 190||Sr.||NR||21||15||227||71.4%||10.8||12.4%||42.9%||11.7||30.3|
|Darren Waller||WR||6'5, 225||So.||*** (5.5)||16||8||162||50.0%||10.1||9.5%||50.0%||11.0||21.6|
|B.J. Bostic||AB||5'11, 173||Jr.||**** (5.8)||14||7||139||50.0%||9.9||8.3%||28.6%||6.4||18.5|
|Zach Laskey||BB||6'1, 214||Jr.||** (5.4)||10||6||122||60.0%||12.2||5.9%||50.0%||13.1||16.3|
|Tony Zenon||AB||5'8, 175||Jr.||** (5.4)||8||7||195||87.5%||24.4||4.7%||62.5%||23.9||26.0|
|Anthony Autry||WR||6'2, 175||So.||*** (5.5)||8||3||117||37.5%||14.6||4.7%||75.0%||13.6||15.6|
|Deon Hill||AB||6'0, 202||Jr.||*** (5.5)||5||4||20||80.0%||4.0||3.0%||40.0%||3.0||2.7|
|Broderick Snoddy||BB||5'9, 190||So.||*** (5.6)||2||1||11||50.0%||5.5||1.2%||100.0%||3.3||1.5|
|Corey Dennis||WR||6'2, 201||Jr.||*** (5.5)|
|Travin Henry||WR||6'3, 210||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Micheal Summers||WR||6'1, 190||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Ricky Jeune||WR||6'3, 205||Fr.||*** (5.6)|
5. Small sample sizes
In 2012, Tech had to replace Stephen Hill and Tyler Melton and didn't have just a ton of returning experience at receiver. But wideouts Jeff Greene, Jeremy Moore, and Darren Waller (who had combined for zero catches the year before) did their jobs, catching 55 percent of their passes at 18 yards per catch. And A-backs Smith and Godhigh contributed nicely to the passing games as well.
Greene and Moore are gone, leaving another relative experience void. Only Waller and Anthony Autry caught passes from the wideout position last year, but these two averaged 11.6 yards per target, and there are other options -- converted DB Corey Dennis and a load of freshmen. The 2010 season proved that Tech isn't guaranteed to have a good play-action game, and Lee did complete under 50 percent of his passes last year, but I can't make myself worry about this unit.
|Omoregie Uzzi||RG||38 career starts; 2012 1st All-ACC|
|Will Jackson||LG||6'3, 295||Sr.||*** (5.7)||29 career starts|
|Jay Finch||C||6'3, 285||Sr.||*** (5.5)||28 career starts|
|Ray Beno||LT||6'2, 295||Sr.||*** (5.6)||26 career starts|
|Shaquille Mason||RG||6'1, 305||Jr.||*** (5.6)||13 career starts|
|Morgan Bailey||RT||6'4, 297||Jr.||*** (5.6)||7 career starts|
|Tyler Kidney||RT||7 career starts|
|Nick McRae||C||2 career starts|
|Bryan Chamberlain||RT||6'4, 290||So.||*** (5.6)||1 career start|
|Trey Braun||LG||6'5, 292||So.||*** (5.6)|
|Errin Joe||RG||6'3, 307||So.||*** (5.7)|
|Thomas O'Reilly||RG||6'3, 308||So.||*** (5.6)|
|Chase Roberts||LT||6'3, 280||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Freddie Burden||OL||6'3, 290||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Shamire DeVine||OL||6'7, 355||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
|Q1 Rk||49||1st Down Rk||57|
|Q2 Rk||50||2nd Down Rk||65|
|Q3 Rk||66||3rd Down Rk||58|
6. 4-3 compatibility grade: B
Because of the start and finish, Georgia Tech's defense actually graded out alright in 2012. "Alright," as in "almost perfectly mediocre, but not terrible." The Yellow Jackets were quite solid against the pass (even when not facing USC's backup quarterback in swirling wind) but got consistently gashed by the run and folded in the red zone. A quality passing downs offense only matters if you can force passing downs, and Tech just wasn't consistent enough with that.
After riding Charles Kelly as a mid-season replacement for Groh, Johnson opted to bring in Ted Roof in the offseason. Roof's Penn State defense in 2012 had the opposite problem as Tech: outstanding on standard downs, unable to get off the field on passing downs.
The Roof defense typically lines up in 4-3, and it appears the personnel on hand might be able to adjust relatively quickly. Tech wasn't loaded with nose tackle-sized nose tackles in the 3-4, and having a pair of 270- to 280-pound tackles lining up between ends like Jeremiah Attaochu and Emmanuel Dieke makes a lot more sense. And if a couple of redshirt freshmen -- perhaps tackles Francis Kallon and/or Patrick Gamble -- were to seize a spot in the rotation, a weakness from last year could become something approaching a strength.
Attaochu is easily the most accomplished member of the defense, having racked up 27.5 tackles for loss and 19.0 sacks in his career. At 6'3, 242, he isn't exactly enormous for his new position (he was an OLB in the 3-4), but his role will basically be the same: get after the passer.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Jeremiah Attaochu||DE||6'3, 242||Sr.||*** (5.5)||13||56.5||7.6%||12||10||0||1||1||1|
|Emmanuel Dieke||DE||6'6, 270||Sr.||*** (5.7)||14||19.5||2.6%||2.5||2||0||3||1||1|
|Euclid Cummings||DT||6'4, 275||Sr.||*** (5.5)||14||19.0||2.6%||4||3||0||1||0||0|
|Shawn Green||NT||6'0, 280||Jr.||*** (5.7)||14||17.5||2.4%||3||0||1||0||1||0|
|Anthony Williams||DE||6'4, 237||Jr.||**** (5.8)||14||6.0||0.8%||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Nick Menocal||DE||6'3, 248||Jr.||*** (5.6)||14||4.5||0.6%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Christopher Crenshaw||DE||6'3, 258||Sr.||*** (5.6)||13||4.5||0.6%||1||1||0||1||0||0|
|Adam Gotsis||NT||6'5, 277||So.||** (5.4)||12||4.0||0.5%||1.5||1||0||1||0||0|
|Jimmie Kitchen||NT||6'3, 279||So.||** (5.2)||3||2.0||0.3%||1||1||0||0||0||0|
|Francis Kallon||DT||6'5, 303||RSFr.||**** (5.8)|
|Patrick Gamble||DT||6'5, 271||RSFr.||*** (5.7)|
|Tyler Stargel||DE||6'3, 251||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Roderick Rook-Chungong||DE||6'3, 263||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Justin Akins||DE||6'4, 240||Fr.||*** (5.6)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Jabari Hunt-Days||MLB||6'3, 247||So.||**** (5.8)||14||65.5||8.8%||4.5||0||1||4||1||1|
|Quayshawn Nealy||OLB||6'1, 232||Jr.||*** (5.6)||13||63.0||8.5%||3.5||2||2||1||0||0|
|Brandon Watts||OLB||6'2, 235||Sr.||*** (5.6)||14||60.5||8.2%||8.5||2||0||1||2||0|
|Daniel Drummond||MLB||6'3, 245||Sr.||*** (5.5)||10||26.5||3.6%||0||0||1||0||0||0|
|Anthony Harrell||MLB||6'2, 230||So.||*** (5.6)||14||19.5||2.6%||2||0||0||0||1||0|
|Kyle Travis||MLB||6'3, 225||Jr.||** (5.4)||9||3.5||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Tremayne McNair||OLB||6'2, 230||Jr.||*** (5.7)|
|Marcus Allen||LB||6'2, 205||RSFr.||*** (5.7)|
|Beau Hankins||OLB||6'1, 232||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Kevin Robbins||LB||6'4, 230||Fr.||*** (5.6)|
7. Living up to your recruiting rankings
The move to a 4-3 also helps to plump up a reasonably thin linebacking corps, at least in the sense that you now only need six players to fill out a two-deep. Sophomore Jabari Hunt-Days was at least decent for a redshirt freshman, and Brandon Watts was a nice presence on the outside. If young players like Hunt-Days, Kallon, and those on the upper tier of the three-star designation (Gamble, linebacker Marcus Allen) can live up to their recruiting rankings over the next couple of years, the front seven as a whole could be both deeper and better than last year's. If.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Jemea Thomas||CB||5'10, 195||Sr.||*** (5.7)||14||73.5||9.9%||3||0||4||6||0||0|
|Isaiah Johnson||S||6'2, 210||Sr.||** (5.1)||13||70.0||9.4%||4.5||1||1||1||1||1|
|Louis Young||CB||6'1, 196||Sr.||**** (5.8)||12||26.5||3.6%||0||0||1||2||0||1|
|Jamal Golden||S||6'0, 189||Jr.||*** (5.5)||14||18.5||2.5%||0||0||3||3||1||0|
|Chris Milton||S||5'11, 185||So.||*** (5.7)||14||18.5||2.5%||0||0||0||2||1||0|
|Demond Smith||S||6'0, 185||So.||*** (5.5)||14||11.5||1.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|D.J. White||CB||5'11, 184||So.||*** (5.7)||10||5.0||0.7%||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Domonique Noble||CB||6'2, 204||So.||*** (5.7)||13||3.5||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Coray Carlson||S||6'0, 180||Jr.||NR||4||3.0||0.4%||1||1||0||0||0||0|
|Fred Holton||S||6'1, 210||Jr.||*** (5.7)|
|Lynn Griffin||S||6'0, 195||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Zach Allen||CB||5'9, 175||RSFr.||NR|
8. The secondary is the least of Tech's worries
Tech basically had a one-man pass rush last year; Attaochu alone accounted for more than one-third of the Yellow Jackets' sacks, and only one other defender had more than two sacks (Euclid Cummings). To an extent, that was alright -- Attaochu's damn good, and Tech still eked out a top-60 ranking in Adj. Sack Rate with him leading the way. Roof wasn't very successful in sack situations at Penn State last year, and I'm curious to see how much he dials up the blitzes this year. Will he elect to mostly just send Attaochu and drop linebackers into coverage?
Regardless, the simple fact that a top-60 pass rush begat a top-25 pass defense tells you good things about a secondary that returns mostly intact. Corner Rod Sweeting was strong, but he's the only departure. Seniors Jemea Thomas and Louis Young have proven capable of making plays both near and far from the line of scrimmage, safety Isaiah Johnson is decent, and a load of interesting sophomores will keep trying to chip away at the seniors' playing time.
If the front seven improves to a reasonable degree -- I'm confident it will improve, but I don't know how much -- the secondary will get the chance to prove itself one of the better units in the ACC.
|Sean Poole||6'1, 160||Sr.||33||39.7||4||1||8||27.3%|
|Ryan Rodwell||6'2, 198||So.||13||39.7||0||3||2||38.5%|
|David Scully||6'2, 205||Sr.||67||61.6||21||31.3%|
|David Scully||6'2, 205||Sr.||37-39||3-6||50.0%||1-2||50.0%|
|Jamal Golden||KR||6'0, 189||Jr.||23||28.3||2|
|Tony Zenon||KR||5'8, 175||Jr.||3||17.3||0|
|Jamal Golden||PR||6'0, 189||Jr.||17||14.6||0|
|Special Teams F/+||112|
|Field Goal Pct||103|
|Kick Returns Avg||27|
|Punt Returns Avg||17|
9. Finding legs
The return game is in good hands. Jamal Golden could play a larger role at safety this year (and he could be a quality play-maker, having defensed six passes to only 18.5 tackles last year), but he's already a star returner who scored two touchdowns and got Tech in the top-30 for both kick returns and punt returns. The problem is, he was the only good member of the special teams unit last year. David Scully was sketchy from both a place-kicking and kickoffs perspective, and punter Sean Poole was not able to produce either decent height or depth. In Golden, Tech has a star; now it needs to find some legs.
2013 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||39|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||69|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||+4 / -1.9|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||16 (8, 8)|
10. A top-30 team could go 9-3 versus this schedule
And a top-45 team could go 6-6.
It's quite obvious that defense and special teams held this team back quite a bit and distracted from the fact that the offense was just about as good as ever. If Roof can connect with this defense, and if some youngsters provide front seven depth that the Yellow Jackets just didn't have last year, then the defense could at least turn into a top-40 or 50 unit. And if they can win their first three games -- Elon, a potentially tricky trip to Duke, and a visit from North Carolina -- there could be a lot more wins for the Ramblin' Wreck this fall. But with six opponents projected between 20th and 35th, this season could turn out in any number of ways.
And yes, despite my creeping bullishness, knowing recent history, another Gailey is probably a pretty safe bet.