Georgia Tech suffered some key losses in the backfield and at receiver, but coach Paul Johnson’s team is positioned for another run at the Coastal Division title. The Yellow Jackets return 13 starters, with the most important being quarterback Justin Thomas. The defense ranked near the bottom of the ACC in the four main statistical categories but improvement should be noticeable in 2015.
Follow AthlonSports on Twitter: @AthlonSports
Previewing Georgia Tech’s Offense for 2015
Georgia Tech’s disappointing 2013 season raised questions about the direction of the program heading into last fall. That was particularly true on offense, where Paul Johnson attempted to customize his option playbook for quarterback Vad Lee’s throwing ability with mediocre results. With Justin Thomas at the controls in 2014, however, the Yellow Jackets got back to a more traditional option look and became as dangerous on offense by the end of the season as at any time in Johnson’s tenure.
With Thomas’ speed, elusiveness and intelligence, Georgia Tech should once again be among the nation’s most prolific rushing teams. Thomas has a chance to exceed his single-season school record (for quarterbacks) of 1,086 rushing yards and solidify his status as one of the nation’s must-watch players.
Georgia Tech loses its running back trio of Synjyn Days, Zach Laskey and Charles Perkins, who accounted for 377 carries and 2,218 yards last season. But most of those concerns will be eased by the depth on the offensive line — four starters and a handful of others with experience return — and the talent that has been groomed to replace them. A-back Broderick Snoddy showed big-play ability in a limited role before breaking his leg last season. However, depth at B-back is a concern after C.J. Leggett, the expected starter, was sidelined with a torn ACL in the spring. Patrick Skov – a graduate transfer from Stanford – is expected to factor into the backfield this season.
Georgia Tech will also look for young receivers to step up after losing DeAndre Smelter and Darren Waller, who had a knack for making timely catches.
Previewing Georgia Tech’s Defense for 2015
Johnson won’t sugarcoat the Jackets’ struggles on defense, particularly against the run. “We weren’t very good,” he says of a unit that gave up 25.7 points and 411.3 yards per game last year. Depth along the defensive front was a major concern, and it will likely remain that way. The good news for the Yellow Jackets is that their first team is solid with senior All-ACC performer Adam Gotsis anchoring the interior and KeShun Freeman coming off a season in which he earned various Freshman All-America honors at end. Johnson is counting on Jabari Hunt-Days, academically ineligible last season, to make a big impact after moving from end to tackle and bulking up to 295 pounds.
Losing All-ACC linebacker Quayshawn Nealy, who contributed 92 tackles, two interceptions and three fumble recoveries last season, leaves a big hole in the middle of the defense. But the Yellow Jackets are hoping for some of the same attributes out of senior Tyler Marcordes, who had 5.5 tackles for a loss and a pair of sacks.
Georgia Tech should be solid in the secondary with senior safety Jamal Golden, who had 61 tackles and four interceptions. Georgia Tech remains stable at cornerback with seniors Chris Milton and D.J. White, who was involved in game-saving takeaways against Virginia Tech and Georgia.
Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128
Previewing Georgia Tech’s Specialists for 2015
Georgia Tech is looking for more consistency out of junior kicker Harrison Butker, who made some high-pressure kicks — such as a 53-yarder at Georgia to send the game to overtime — but also had five misses inside 40 yards. Junior punter Ryan Rodwell returns after an ACC-low 32 attempts last season.
Coming off an 11-win season capped by a dominant Orange Bowl victory, there are more positive vibes and higher expectations around the program than any time in recent memory. Though Tech will need to re-tool in some areas, having Thomas for two more years means the offense will continue to be potent. Defense is always a question mark for the Yellow Jackets because they don’t have overwhelming athletes, but if Ted Roof’s unit makes even incremental improvement, another ACC Coastal Division title is well within reach.