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Georgia Tech Football: 2017 Yellow Jackets Preview and Prediction

Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech Football

Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech Football

Thanks to a strong finish, Georgia Tech enters 2017 with momentum in what looks to be a crowded ACC Coastal Division. The Yellow Jackets return plenty of experience, but will be breaking in a new starting quarterback and have some questions up front on defense. As usual, Paul Johnson’s team should be able to run the ball effectively, but the development of the passing game and the maturation of the defense will determine whether Georgia Tech will contend for a division title or merely jockey for a bowl bid.

Previewing Georgia Tech Football’s Offense for 2017 

With the bulk of a promising young offensive line returning along with its most productive running backs and every contributor at receiver, Georgia Tech has a chance to be more potent offensively than last season, when it averaged 258.1 rushing yards, the second-lowest figure in the Paul Johnson/triple-option era.

But as always with Johnson’s offense, the quarterback is the catalyst for everything, and Georgia Tech hasn’t had this much uncertainty at that position since 2013. Junior Matthew Jordan, who often handled short-yardage situations last season, will begin fall camp in the strongest position. But Johnson also likes junior TaQuon Marshall, who offers more dynamic playmaking potential and started his career as an A-back because of his speed.

Whoever starts will be helped by experienced skill players and an offensive line that jelled in the second half of last season with three freshmen contributing.

B-back Dedrick Mills, a stout physical specimen at 5'10", 217 pounds who averaged 86 yards per game as a rookie, could grow into one of the league’s best runners. Clinton Lynch (11.2 yards per carry) and J.J. Green are quick, change-of-direction types who can break big plays.

Previewing Georgia Tech Football’s Defense for 2017 

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is determined to reignite a pass rush that has fallen flat the past couple seasons, generating just 18 sacks in 2016. That would do wonders to help out an experienced secondary that is capable of making big plays but has had to survive too many aerial assaults in the quarterback-rich ACC.

The Yellow Jackets have never been dominant on defense under Johnson, but their best teams typically create enough negative plays and turnovers to give the ball to their clock-dominating offense. Last season, for example, it was nickel back Lawrence Austin’s two interceptions and fumble recovery against Virginia Tech that keyed a 30–20 upset. Austin and his twin brother Lance combined for six INTs last year, but they can’t do it all.

“When you’re trying to match scores, it’s not good,” Johnson says. “Especially when the possessions are limited, winning the turnover battle is probably the most important thing we can gauge ourselves on.”

Georgia Tech needs senior defensive end KeShun Freeman to become a more explosive playmaker while getting starting-quality production from junior Anree Saint-Amour and senior Antonio Simmons, who have flashed pass-rushing ability. There’s also some question at outside linebacker, where three-year starter P.J. Davis is gone.

Previewing Georgia Tech Football’s Specialists for 2017

With kicker Harrison Butker and punter Ryan Rodwell both graduating, Georgia Tech is putting a lot of faith in freshmen. Brenton King is an in-state placekicking prospect the Jackets identified at their summer camp, and Pressley Harvin III was one of the highest-rated punters in the 2017 class. If one or both struggle, the Jackets will have to turn to a walk-on.

Final Analysis

Something clicked midway through 2016. The Yellow Jackets finished strong, posting a 9–4 season including a win at Georgia that should give them momentum in a division in which the top programs are all losing multiple key players. With eight returning defensive starters and nine on offense, there are some proven, experienced ingredients. But replacing Justin Thomas, a highly productive three-year starter at quarterback, may not be that simple. And on defense, the front six has some intriguing young players but no clear-cut difference makers or vocal leaders. How Georgia Tech fills those personnel holes will likely determine whether it wins the Coastal for a fifth time in Johnson’s decade on the flats or has to sweat reaching bowl eligibility.

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National Ranking: 36

ACC Coastal Prediction: 4