Georgia Tech is looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2017 campaign that resulted in head coach Paul Johnson making a change at defensive coordinator. The Yellow Jackets' bread and butter is their option-oriented offense, which should be productive on the ground once again. The question is if the quarterback can consistently make plays through the air. The offense will need to carry the load as the defense will adjust to a new system. Besides asking some players to line up in new spots, the secondary will be a work in progress with three new starters. With more than enough firepower on offense returning, Georgia Tech should be able to get back to a bowl game. If the passing game evolves and the defense adjusts to new scheme, the Yellow Jackets could once again be a threat in the ACC Coastal Division.
Previewing Georgia Tech Football's Offense for 2018
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The effectiveness of Georgia Tech's flexbone typically mirrors its quarterback play, which means it should be at least as good as 2017 when it ranked fifth nationally in rushing. But it could get a lot better if explosive senior TaQuon Marshall, who had six 100-yard rushing games, can become more threatening as a passer in his second season as a starter. On a team that returns six offensive linemen with starting experience and depth at running back, it's critical for Marshall to improve his accuracy from 37.1 percent last season and at least present the threat of a downfield pass. "I don't know if he's got to complete 60 or 65 percent, but if he's over 50 he's going to be pretty good," coach Paul Johnson says.
Though there are questions at receiver, where the Jackets' returning players combined for just five catches last year, Marshall should benefit from an older, deeper offensive line that struggled at times to pass protect (Marshall took 20 sacks) at the tackle positions. There's a solid nucleus up front, led by junior Parker Braun, who has developed into an All-ACC player at left guard.
While there may not be a home-run hitter in the running back group, KirVonte Benson emerged last season at B-back and is particularly effective in short-yardage situations.
Previewing Georgia Tech Football's Defense for 2018
Johnson was dissatisfied with his defense last season, so he made a big change hiring Nate Woody from Appalachian State. Johnson wants a simpler, more aggressive scheme that will improve key metrics like sacks (17) and TFLs (47), where the Jackets ranked below 100th nationally.
The switch from Ted Roof's 4-2-5 to Woody's 3-4 should unleash Tech's smaller, speedy players such as 6'3", 247-pound defensive end Anree Saint-Amour (5.5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks) and Victor Alexander (team-leading 60 tackles), who will be more of a stand-up outsider linebacker. It's a risk-reward style Johnson believes will be more effective than watching his undersized front get pushed up and down the field.
The plan could work if youngsters such as sophomore Bruce Jordan-Swilling and freshman Quez Jackson develop at linebacker, and the secondary, which lost a lot of leadership, coalesces around senior cornerback Lamont Simmons. Tre Swilling, a highly rated recruit and son of Georgia Tech all-time great Pat Swilling, could make an immediate impact coming off a redshirt.
Previewing Georgia Tech Football's Specialists for 2018
While punter Pressley Harvin had a superb freshman season, Johnson didn't have confidence in the placekicking game last year as the Jackets attempted only 10 field goals. Shawn Davis suffered a torn ACL in October, and Brenton King made 5-of-6 (albeit with a long of only 42 yards) after that, so expect an ongoing competition into the fall. Johnson also says the return game is due for a revamp, though Brad Stewart (who handled punts) and Nathan Cottrell (kickoffs) are both back.
Johnson's teams traditionally outperform expectations, but last year's 5-6 record was disappointing because a play here or there in games they led late against Tennessee, Miami or Virginia cost them a bowl berth. With nearly the entire offense returning and a defensive philosophy that should better fit the personnel, it's easy to envision those games going their way in 2018. There's never a huge margin for error at Tech, but with even small improvements in Marshall's passing, offensive line play and the kicking game, Tech should return to the postseason and factor into the ACC Coastal race.