The big 2014 Georgia Tech football preview: Higher upside, lower downside

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

After winning 20 games in his first two seasons, Paul Johnson has settled into the seven-win groove Chan Gailey patented at Georgia Tech. But with less experience and more upside, the Jackets appear more likely to win either five or nine games in 2014.

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1. It still works

About six and a half years ago, Georgia Tech set about on an experiment. Under Chan Gailey, the Ramblin' Wreck had hit a pretty clear ceiling. They went either 7-5 or 7-6 five times in six seasons (despite game-breaking talent like Calvin Johnson), and the one time they did better than that (9-5 in 2006), they missed out on a golden opportunity to win the ACC by falling to Wake Forest, 9-6, in perhaps the least watchable conference title game in the history of conference title games.

Gailey was dumped after the 2007 season, and Tech decided to throw itself a curveball, hiring Navy coach and flexbone guru Paul Johnson. This was a golden opportunity to find out if the option offense could work in today's major college football landscape, and the early impressions were more than positive. Tech improved to 9-4 in 2008, then won 11 games and an ACC title in 2009. (Yes, this was the version of the ACC existed before Clemson and Florida State both got their respective acts together, but it still counts.) The offense was a revelation, and the defense was good enough.

Four years later, however, Tech has settled back in. The Yellow Jackets have won, yes, seven games per year since the 2009 title.

Johnson's offense still works. I say it every year. The flexbone is not the best offense for drawing five-star talent every year, and it certainly isn't great on third-and-8. At the same time, Johnson and Georgia Tech aren't going to draw much five-star talent anyway (if that was the goal, Johnson wouldn't have gotten the job), and almost no offense is particularly strong on third-and-8. When operated efficiently, the offense is the least of Johnson's problems. Even with shaky operation at times in 2013, the Jackets still finished 31st in Off. F/+. You're not going to win a national title with the flexbone option, but you can certainly win.

2. The defense is (technically) getting better

At this point, two things are indeed Johnson's problems. First of all, the defense is still a work in progress. Ted Roof installed a 4-3 defense last fall, and the Yellow Jackets improved from 58th in Def. F/+ to ... 57th. They've ranked between 53rd and 70th each of the last five seasons. And now a line that improved by quite a bit in 2013 must replace six of its top seven tacklers.

The second problem is some combination of a problem in need of fixing and luck in need of a turnaround. Almost every year, Georgia Tech finished two to three games above .500 in games decided by more than one possession (exceptions: 6-2 in 2009, only 4-3 in 2010). They thump you more than you thump them.

But the closer games have escaped the Jackets. In one-possession games, Tech went 10-3 in 2008-09, then 5-6 in 2010-11, then 1-6 in 2012-13. The offense closes drives as well as anybody, but a sudden lack of big plays has forced the Jackets to remain methodical, and the defense still hasn't been able to pick up the slack. Tech has been a bounce or two away from nine or 10 wins each of the last two years but hasn't gotten them. And it is certainly opening up the offense to questions about predictability, adjustments, etc.

Under Johnson, Tech has finished in the top 50 of the F/+ rankings all but one year and, thanks in part to some drastic special teams improvement, returned to the top 40 after a three-year absence last fall. Is that good enough? How many more seven-win Gailey specials does Johnson get before the seat underneath him starts to get warm? And what happens if a young, volatile team takes a hefty step backwards while teasing a big upside in 2014?

2013 Schedule & Results

Record: 7-6 | Adj. Record: 9-4 | Final F/+ Rk: 34
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L 5-gm Adj. Avg.
31-Aug Elon N/A 70-0 W 41.6 - 23.5 W
14-Sep at Duke 41 38-14 W 37.7 - 15.9 W
21-Sep North Carolina 38 28-20 W 30.5 - 28.4 W
26-Sep Virginia Tech 27 10-17 L 26.4 - 29.8 L
5-Oct at Miami 36 30-45 L 25.0 - 51.5 L 2.4
12-Oct at BYU 30 20-38 L 36.9 - 36.4 W -1.1
19-Oct Syracuse 75 56-0 W 48.6 - 18.9 W 0.5
26-Oct at Virginia 79 35-25 W 45.0 - 34.8 W 2.1
2-Nov Pittsburgh 54 21-10 W 33.8 - 17.8 W 5.9
14-Nov at Clemson 16 31-55 L 35.8 - 39.2 L 10.6
23-Nov Alabama A&M N/A 66-7 W 41.2 - 21.2 W 14.5
30-Nov Georgia 22 34-41 L 37.8 - 26.2 W 10.9
30-Dec vs. Ole Miss 28 17-25 L 24.4 - 29.1 L 7.9
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk Spec. Tms. Rk
F/+ +8.3% 31 +1.5% 57 +2.2% 22
Points Per Game 35.1 26 22.8 29
Adj. Points Per Game 35.7 18 28.7 74

3. A midseason blip

One more successful drive against Virginia Tech, and Georgia Tech might have won its second straight division title.

At the start and end of the season, the Yellow Jacket defense was something more than mediocre.

  • Adj. Points Per Game (first 3 games): Georgia Tech 36.6, Opponent 22.6 (plus-14.0)
  • Adj. Points Per Game (next 5 games): Georgia Tech 36.4, Opponent 34.3 (plus-2.1)
  • Adj. Points Per Game (next 4 games): Georgia Tech 37.2, Opponent 26.1 (plus-11.1)

The Jackets allowed 17.0 points per game and 5.0 yards per play to Duke (season average: 5.9) and North Carolina (5.9) and, aside from a sketchy first quarter against UNC, played standard, efficient, death-by-a-thousand-cuts offense. They started 2-0 in conference play and handily beat what ended up being the division champions (Duke) on the road. But as the calendar approached October, and a second starting safety got hurt -- Jamal Golden was lost for the season with a shoulder injury, with Isaiah Johnson missing the entire season -- the defense suffered a glitch just long enough to cost them a spot in the title game. They allowed 5.3 yards per play to Virginia Tech (season average: 5.0), then got destroyed by flaky Miami and BYU offenses. In those two games, they allowed 83 points and 984 yards (8.1 per play), and that was that. Tech was 3-3, 2-2 in conference, and an understandable loss at Clemson in November knocked them out of the division race.

The offense had its ups and downs but was mostly steady. The defense wasn't quite good enough for quite long enough.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.10 84 IsoPPP+ 95.7 87
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 46.0% 31 Succ. Rt. + 118.5 11
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 29.8 64 Def. FP+ 97.4 84
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.9 15 Redzone S&P+ 125.4 7
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 21.8 ACTUAL 24 +2.2
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 44 22 11 35
RUSHING 6 10 7 4
PASSING 120 48 85 118
Standard Downs 24 13 69
Passing Downs 29 17 91
Q1 Rk 15 1st Down Rk 25
Q2 Rk 20 2nd Down Rk 9
Q3 Rk 39 3rd Down Rk 10
Q4 Rk 7

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Vad Lee 82 180 1561 11 10 45.6% 10 5.3% 7.9
Justin Thomas 5'11, 185 So. 4 stars (5.8) 9 17 131 1 2 52.9% 2 10.5% 4.7
Tim Byerly 6'0, 215 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 1 4 3 0 0 25.0% 1 20.0% -0.6
Matthew Jordan 6'2, 204 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)

4. Triple option really wasn't Vad Lee's thing

Following Tech's bowl loss to Ole Miss, starting quarterback Vad Lee announced he was transferring, saying "the triple option was never really my thing." Leaving aside the the obvious questions about why he ended up on Paul Johnson's roster to begin with -- I actually laughed out loud when I read this from Connor Tapp: "A reasonable gut reaction to Lee's statement might lead you to question his decision-making, but let's keep in mind that college is a time for experimentation." -- it looked pretty bad. Tech has been struggling to generate momentum, Paul Johnson is complaining about Tech's disadvantages in recruiting, seven wins is becoming the norm, and you lose your starting quarterback because he doesn't like your offense.

The thing is, Lee might not have been wrong. The offense was perfectly efficient and as effective as ever in the red zone, but with Lee running the show behind what seemed like a fine line, the big plays dried up. Lee himself averaged only 3.3 yards per carry (backups Justin Thomas and Tim Byerly averaged 8.4) while completing just 46 percent of his passes. After ranking 43rd in Passing Success Rate+ in 2012 (with Tevin Washington taking most of the snaps), Tech fell to 85th in 2013.

Some of the struggle may indeed have been because of the line; Tech's Stuff Rate (negative run plays) went up, which could be attributed to runners, blockers, or both. Plus, while the Jackets don't pass a lot, they did still have to replace three of 2012's top four targets. Jeff Greene caught 60 percent of his targets as No. 1 target in 2012, and DeAndre Smelter caught only 49 percent in 2013. Regardless, Lee's production was probably replaceable.

Unless Byerly can catch him (and there's at least a small chance this happens), Thomas is the most likely starter in 2014. The former four-star athlete, a 100-meter track champion in Alabama, has the running part down, but his early passing audition left something to be desired. He's not a very big specimen, but his potential as a play-maker is off the charts. If efficiency doesn't suffer too much, Tech's explosiveness will probably improve. But that's quite an important "if."

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
Opp.
Rate
Vad Lee QB 172 572 8 3.3 3.5 32.6%
David Sims BB 161 884 11 5.5 3.7 42.9%
Zach Laskey BB 6'1, 217 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 84 481 7 5.7 3.6 50.0%
Robert Godhigh AB 79 744 7 9.4 10.2 55.7%
Justin Thomas QB 5'11, 185 So. 4 stars (5.8) 31 276 2 8.9 13.4 38.7%
Synjyn Days AB 6'2, 232 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 28 98 4 3.5 2.4 32.1%
Broderick Snoddy AB 5'9, 190 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 24 150 0 6.3 4.1 58.3%
Tim Byerly QB 6'0, 215 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 17 125 2 7.4 4.2 64.7%
B.J. Bostic AB 5'11, 172 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 16 86 0 5.4 2.9 56.3%
Matt Connors BB 6'0, 205 Sr. NR 16 102 2 6.4 10.3 31.3%
Tony Zenon AB 5'8, 174 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 14 35 0 2.5 2.5 35.7%
Charles Perkins AB 6'0, 216 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 13 114 2 8.8 9.0 46.2%
Deon Hill AB 6'0, 194 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 13 119 0 9.2 7.0 61.5%
Dennis Andrews AB 6'0, 182 So. 3 stars (5.6) 12 146 0 12.2 11.4 66.7%
Donovan Wilson BB 6'0, 213 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)





Christopher Leggett RB 5'10, 210 Fr. 3 stars (5.7)





Myles Autry RB 5'11, 170 Fr. 3 stars (5.6)





5. Give it to the A-Back

Okay, that's a misleading title for this section. The Tech triple option is going to do what the Tech triple option does. In 2012, with mostly Washington running the option, quarterbacks accounted for 33 percent of Tech's carries, B-backs (fullbacks) accounted for 37 percent, and A-backs (slotbacks) accounted for about 29 percent.

In 2013, with Lee taking most of the snaps, it was quarterbacks 32 percent, B-backs 38 percent, A-backs 29 percent. Calling for that ratio to change is probably a waste of time, and justifiably so: the slotbacks have success on the edges of the defense because the quarterbacks and fullbacks are pounding away at the middle. Give it to the slotbacks too much, and you might throw off the effectiveness of the option as a whole.

But damn, it's got to be tempting. Even without leading A-back Robert Godhigh, the Jackets return some exciting options. Broderick Snoddy and B.J. Bostic are particularly efficient, while the trio of Charles Perkins, Deon Hill and Dennis Andrews, knocked pretty far down the depth chart in 2013, combined to average 10.0 yards per carry in about three carries per game. Godhigh was a masterful A-back, averaging 9.4 yards per carry and 11.2 yards per target as the No. 2 receiver. But the stable of race-you-to-the-corner speedsters is still quite impressive.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
DeAndre Smelter WR 6'3, 225 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 43 21 345 48.8% 24.2% 38.1% 8.0 50 7.5 53.4
Robert Godhigh RB 42 23 471 54.8% 23.6% 50.0% 11.2 168 11.2 72.9
Darren Waller WR 6'5, 232 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 34 17 367 50.0% 19.1% 48.4% 10.8 131 9.8 56.8
Micheal Summers WR 6'1, 190 So. 3 stars (5.6) 21 10 211 47.6% 11.8% 47.4% 10.0 68 8.3 32.6
Synjyn Days RB 6'2, 232 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 8 3 43 37.5% 4.5% 62.5% 5.4 -6 6.1 6.7
B.J. Bostic RB 5'11, 172 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 7 5 33 71.4% 3.9% 60.0% 4.7 -25 4.0 5.1
Deon Hill RB 6'0, 194 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 7 4 49 57.1% 3.9% 100.0% 7.0 -3 4.7 7.6
Zach Laskey RB 6'1, 217 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 7 3 54 42.9% 3.9% 20.0% 7.7 8 14.6 8.4
David Sims RB 5 2 71 40.0% 2.8% 100.0% 14.2 39 6.7 11.0
Tony Zenon RB 5'8, 174 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 2 1 6 50.0% 1.1% 0.0% 3.0 -8 2.7 0.9
Dennis Andrews RB 6'0, 182 So. 3 stars (5.6) 1 1 37 100.0% 0.6% N/A 37.0 27 0.0 5.7
Matt Connors RB 6'0, 205 Sr. NR 1 1 3 100.0% 0.6% N/A 3.0 -7 0.0 0.5
Corey Dennis WR 6'2, 208 Sr. 3 stars (5.5)
Ricky Jeune WR 6'3, 218 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)
Qua Searcy WR 5'11, 170 Fr. 3 stars (5.6)








Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 114.5 3.14 3.37 44.1% 71.8% 16.4% 114.8 6.2% 5.6%
Rank 12 34 50 16 42 20 52 102 50
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Career Starts Honors/Notes
Shaquille Mason RG 6'1, 311 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 26 1st All-ACC
Will Jackson LT 42
Jay Finch C 41
Ray Beno RT 34
Trey Braun LG 6'5, 295 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 8
Bryan Chamberlain RT 6'4, 286 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 8
Chase Roberts LT 6'3, 270 So. 3 stars (5.5) 3
Errin Joe RT 6'3, 326 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0
Thomas O'Reilly C 6'3, 302 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0
Nick Brigham LG 6'3, 302 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0
Freddie Burden C 6'3, 292 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0
Shamire Devine LG 6'7, 370 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7)
Chris Griffin LT 6'6, 294 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)
Andrew Marshall OL 6'4, 265 Fr. 3 stars (5.7)

6. A sudden dearth of experience up front

Efficiency might already be an issue for Tech with Thomas behind center. But after two years of strong continuity up front, the Yellow Jackets' offensive line has some rebuilding to do as well, and nothing throws off efficiency like a glitchy, young line.

Now, Tech does still return four players with starting experience (39 career starts, 26 of which come from all-conference guard Shaq Mason), but three departed starters had combined for 117 starts. The Tech line will always have the advantage of uniqueness with its options and cut blocking, and after four starters were listed under 300 pounds last fall, bigger players like Shamire Devine and Errin Joe could enter the rotation this year. Still, you never know if last year's backups are as capable as last year's starters until they prove it.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.16 67 IsoPPP+ 100.6 56
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 43.9% 85 Succ. Rt. + 93.6 85
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 30.3 68 Off. FP+ 102.5 32
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.9 38 Redzone S&P+ 72.8 124
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 20.8 ACTUAL 20.0 -0.8
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 28 79 85 39
RUSHING 11 54 52 24
PASSING 85 93 99 55
Standard Downs 84 95 50
Passing Downs 76 58 96
Q1 Rk 49 1st Down Rk 76
Q2 Rk 94 2nd Down Rk 77
Q3 Rk 60 3rd Down Rk 70
Q4 Rk 83

7. Another tweak

You can't claim that Johnson isn't trying to fix his defense. Georgia Tech has moved from a 4-3 to a 3-4 to a 4-3 through the years and has cycled through different coordinators. Ted Roof replaced Al Groh as coordinator last year and moved back toward a four-man line. This year, the tweak is relatively minor, but presumably in an attempt to fix a pretty dreadful pass defense -- Tech ranked 54th in Rushing S&P+ but 93rd in Passing S&P+ (despite a top-25 pass rush) -- the Jackets will be implementing basically a permanent nickel, a 4-2-5 designed to get more speed and pass defense capabilities onto the field.

A lot of teams have adopted the 4-2-5 alignment through the years. It seems a natural defense to battle spread offenses, and TCU has proven that it can succeed at a very high level. But it can lead to you getting pushed around a good amount, and if you don't have the right personnel, it seems you can get gashed even more easily than in a 4-3.

The right personnel might be a bit of an issue in 2014. The return of safety Isaiah Johnson will help, as will plain old experience (the top four returning tacklers in the secondary were all sophomores last year), but a 4-2-5 asks quite a bit of the defensive line, and the Tech line is starting nearly from scratch in 2014.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 99.1 3.10 2.88 38.7% 77.8% 20.1% 126.4 8.1% 6.3%
Rank 62 87 24 58 109 48 21 5 75
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jeremiah Attaochu DE 13 41.0 6.1% 16.0 12.5 0 2 1 0
Jabari Hunt-Days DE 13 38.0 5.7% 7.0 2.5 1 1 1 0
Euclid Cummings DT 13 31.0 4.6% 5.5 2.5 0 0 1 0
Adam Gotsis DT 6'5, 285 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 13 30.5 4.5% 14.5 5.5 1 1 0 0
Emmanuel Dieke DE 13 21.5 3.2% 2.0 1.0 0 1 1 0
Anthony Williams DE 10 7.5 1.1% 2.0 1.0 0 2 0 0
Christopher Crenshaw DE 4 6.0 0.9% 1.0 0.5 0 0 0 0
Jimmie Kitchen NT 6'3, 270 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 8 4.5 0.7% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 1
Patrick Gamble NT 6'5, 280 So. 3 stars (5.7) 8 4.5 0.7% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Nick Menocal (2012) DE 6'3, 244 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 14 4.5 0.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Shawn Green NT 6'0, 280 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 7 4.0 0.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Francis Kallon DT 6'5, 296 So. 4 stars (5.8) 10 3.5 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Tyler Stargel DE 6'3, 242 So. 3 stars (5.6)
Roderick Rook-Chungong DE 6'3, 248 So. 3 stars (5.6)
Darius Commissiong DL 6'3, 275 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Kenderius Whitehead DE 6'5, 220 So. 3 stars (5.5)
KeShun Freeman DE 6'4, 230 Fr. 3 stars (5.6)

8. A sudden dearth of experience up front, part 2

In terms of line stats, Tech's defense progressed nicely in 2013. After ranking 82nd in Adj. Line Yards and 53rd in Adj. Sack Rate in 2012, the Jackets improved to 62nd and 21st, respectively. Jeremiah Attaochu, who played OLB in Groh's 3-4, took nicely to the position of 4-3 end and recorded a sack per game, and he got plenty of help.

This year, Attaochu is gone, as are the next three ends on last year's list. So is tackle Euclid Cummings. And for that matter, so is likely Attaochu replacement Jabari Hunt-Days, who was deemed academically ineligible for 2014. So that leaves Adam Gotsis, some slightly experienced fellow tackles, and a whole hell of a lot of inexperience at defensive end.

One can see the end position turning into something impressive in 2015-16 as young, athletic players like Roderick Rook-Chungong, Tyler Stargel, KeShun Freeman (in for spring and already listed as a co-starter), and Kenderius Whitehead grow into their new roles. But one can also see them struggling to make much noise in 2014. And considering how much a good pass rush helped out a scuffling secondary in 2013, that's a scary thought.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Quayshawn Nealy LB 6'1, 236 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 13 55.0 8.2% 3.5 0.0 2 2 0 2
Brandon Watts LB 12 54.0 8.0% 3.5 2.5 1 1 1 0
Paul Davis LB 5'11, 218 So. 2 stars (5.2) 13 38.0 5.7% 5.0 1.0 0 1 0 0
Tyler Marcordes LB 6'4, 243 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 13 13.5 2.0% 2.5 1.5 2 0 1 0
Anthony Harrell LB 6'2, 229 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 7 9.0 1.3% 2.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Daniel Drummond LB 10 4.5 0.7% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Beau Hankins LB 6'1, 225 So. 3 stars (5.6) 8 3.5 0.5% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Chase Alford LB 6'1, 225 So. NR 5 2.5 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Kyle Travis LB 6'3, 230 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 13 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Tremayne McNair LB 6'2, 230 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 9 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Marcus Allen LB 6'2, 231 So. 3 stars (5.7) 2 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jemea Thomas S 13 80.5 12.0% 6.5 3 2 8 2 0
Isaiah Johnson (2012) SS 6'2, 213 Sr. 2 stars (5.1) 13 70.0 9.4% 4.5 1 1 1 1 1
D.J. White CB 5'11, 190 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 13 45.0 6.7% 1 0 1 5 2 0
Demond Smith NB 6'0, 194 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 13 38.5 5.7% 3 0.5 0 4 0 0
Louis Young CB 13 34.5 5.1% 2 0 2 5 0 0
Domonique Noble NB 6'2, 216 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 13 26.0 3.9% 2 0 0 3 0 0
Chris Milton CB 5'11, 183 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 13 14.5 2.2% 1 0 2 2 0 0
Jamal Golden FS 6'0, 193 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 3 10.0 1.5% 0 0 0 0 1 0
Lynn Griffin CB 6'0, 200 So. 3 stars (5.6) 12 7.5 1.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Coray Carlson S 7 6.5 1.0% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Zach Allen DB 5'9, 177 So. 2 stars (5.0) 3 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 1 0 0
John Marvin SS 6'1, 199 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Corey Griffin FS 6'2, 195 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)
Step Durham CB 5'11, 175 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)
Lance Austin DB 5'10, 170 Fr. 3 stars (5.6)
Lawrence Austin DB 5'9, 170 Fr. 3 stars (5.6)

9. "The secondary is the least of Tech's worries"

Tech ranked 23rd in Passing S&P+ with a mediocre pass rush in 2012. Heading into last fall, the secondary appeared to be returning basically everybody but corner Rod Sweeting, and I declared in the Tech preview that the Jackets were going to be just fine in the backfield. But Isaiah Johnson didn't recover in time from a Sun Bowl knee injury as I assumed he would, and Golden joined him on the sideline after three games.

Turns out, if you lose your starting cornerback and end up having to replace your two most experienced safeties, you could suffer. Jemea Thomas moved from corner to safety midway through the year to stem some of the bleeding, and it worked pretty well, but the damage from the Miami game had been done.

Moving to more of a 4-2-5, and therefore putting more defensive backs on the field a year after they struggled quite a bit, is ripe for a backfire. But with the return of Johnson and Golden, it makes sense. With them at strong and free safety, that frees up Demond Smith and Domonique Noble to get aggressive at the nickel back role (they combined for five tackles for loss and seven break-ups last year). Plus, D.J. White more or less held his own as No. 1 corner when Thomas moved to safety, and four-star freshman Step Durham was in for spring.

With the turnover up front, it's possible that the secondary goes from the defense's biggest weakness to its biggest strength in a single offseason. (That's both good and bad. Hooray, the secondary is better. Boo, the line is potentially much worse.)

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Sean Poole 45 42.3 3 11 15 57.8%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Harrison Butker 6'3, 201 So. 73 62.9 30 4 41.1%
David Scully 8 63.3 3 0 37.5%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Harrison Butker 6'3, 201 So. 53-54 5-7 71.4% 5-7 71.4%
Andrew Chau 5'10, 174 Jr. 4-4 0-0 N/A 0-0 N/A
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Lynn Griffin KR 6'0, 200 So. 8 26.5 0
Jemea Thomas KR 8 23.5 0
DeAndre Smelter PR 6'3, 225 Sr. 11 11.3 0
Jamal Golden PR 6'0, 193 Sr. 3 3.7 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 22
Field Goal Efficiency 63
Punt Return Efficiency 18
Kick Return Efficiency 53
Punt Efficiency 21
Kickoff Efficiency 59
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 32

2014 Schedule & Projection Factors

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
30-Aug Wofford NR
6-Sep at Tulane 91
13-Sep Georgia Southern 125
20-Sep at Virginia Tech 19
4-Oct Miami 30
11-Oct Duke 56
18-Oct at North Carolina 35
25-Oct at Pittsburgh 39
1-Nov Virginia 62
8-Nov at N.C. State 66
15-Nov Clemson 5
29-Nov at Georgia 10
Five-Year F/+ Rk 7.8% (40)
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 69
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* -4 / -1.1
TO Luck/Game -1.1
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 10 (5, 5)

10. Another Gailey in the works

I also proclaimed last year that, with a potentially rough schedule on tap, Tech fans might end up being happy with pulling another Gailey and going 7-5 again. They pulled that off despite the mid-season defensive lull.

This time around, the schedule eases up a bit. The Jackets finish the season with two projected top-10 opponents, but in the first 10 games only two teams project higher than Tech's No. 34 ranking last year: No. 19 Virginia Tech and No. 30 Miami. If the Jackets can avoid a pratfall at Tulane and beat Duke again (this time at home), they could start the season 4-2 or 5-1 and, in theory, position themselves for another run at a division title.

Or, the offense could lose efficiency, the defensive line could get pushed around too much, and Tech could lose to both Tulane and Duke (in addition to the Hokies and Hurricanes) and head into a tough road trip (at UNC, at Pitt) at 2-4. Both options are on the table.

Thanks mostly to Justin Thomas and a more stable secondary, this 2014 Georgia Tech squad seems to have more upside than its 2013 counterpart. But until Thomas and/or Tim Byerly prove that they can pass at least as well ("well") as Vad Lee, and until the Tech defensive line proves it isn't a complete liability, there's more downside as well.

Tech improved back into the 30s last year and projects in the 40s this year, but I see this team ending up in either the 20s or 50s. There's a lot of volatility here, and I'm curious what happens with Johnson's job if he fails to at least pull a Gailey this time around.

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