COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25
ACC Coastal PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Paul Johnson, 41-26 (5 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Paul Johnson | DEF. COORDINATOR: Ted Roof
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson is starting his sixth season, but he’ll be working with just his third starting quarterback. Joshua Nesbitt and Tevin Washington had their strengths as option quarterbacks, but Vad Lee should offer a new dynamic to the Yellow Jackets’ spread-option scheme. Lee is a much better passer than his predecessors but also has the speed to outrun defenses. Johnson studied video of the San Francisco 49ers’ read-option scheme in hopes of putting Lee and backup Justin Thomas in a Pistol formation to utilize their run-pass talents.
“As far as getting playmakers the ball and getting to the outside, getting to the edge, I think it’s an advantage,” Lee says. “It’s kind of a twist for any defense because everyone’s used to seeing us in the standard spread formation.”
Lee will play behind an offensive line that brings back 94 career starts among six players, a group that did its typical strong work in producing the No. 4 rushing offense in the FBS.
Georgia Tech is remarkably green at wide receiver — Darren Waller is the leading returning wideout with eight catches — which may hinder the development of the passing game. But the running game should again be stout with B-back (fullback) David Sims and A-back (slotback) Robert Godhigh both returning.
Points typically haven’t been a problem for Georgia Tech in Johnson’s tenure. If Lee lives up the hype, the Jackets will be difficult to stop.
To go forward, the Yellow Jackets had to go backward. Johnson fired defensive coordinator Al Groh midway through last season after they had surrendered 40-plus points in three consecutive games for the first time in school history. Johnson hired alumnus Ted Roof, formerly at Penn State and the leader of the Yellow Jackets’ famed “Black Watch” defense of the 1980s. Roof has returned Georgia Tech from Groh’s 3-4 to the 4-3 and will be tasked with improving a unit that hasn’t ranked in the top 25 in the country in total defense since 2008.
With eight starters back, Roof has plenty of talent at his disposal. Jeremiah Attaochu, who is making the move from outside linebacker to end, and cornerbacks Jemea Thomas and Louis Young look like future NFL Draft picks. Linebacker Jabari Hunt-Days is a star on the rise.
There will no doubt be some growing pains with the transition to the new scheme, but Johnson is confident he has the right coordinator in place to run his defense.
Returner Jamal Golden was the only player in the nation last year to finish in the top 10 in both kickoff and punt return average. He also became the first Yellow Jacket to return a kickoff for a touchdown since 1998. And he did it twice. Harrison Butker, an incoming freshman, is the favorite to take over as the placekicker, an area in which the Jackets have struggled the last two years.
With 16 returning starters and a team loaded with seniors, the 2013 Yellow Jackets could be Johnson’s best team since the 2009 Orange Bowl squad. Much depends on how consistent Lee can be, and if Georgia Tech can handle a tough schedule in which it will play four Coastal Division opponents in a row, including Virginia Tech on five days’ rest. The Jackets will need to find a way to handle division rivals Miami and Virginia Tech as well. While there have been a number of close calls, Johnson is a combined 2–8 against the Canes and Hokies. Georgia Tech is hardly a favorite, but it has the ingredients to win the division and play for the ACC title.