There were no illusions about the difficulties that faced Geoff Collins in transitioning the Georgia Tech program out of the triple-option era.
As competitive as the Yellow Jackets had been under Paul Johnson, it was always understood that shifting to a different system would expose Georgia Tech’s roster as undersized and lacking in ACC talent. Predictably, as Collins went about instituting a more modern philosophy, the Yellow Jackets struggled badly at times to a 3–9 record.
Collins is a high-energy, culture-focused defensive coach who has significantly improved the program’s recruiting infrastructure and local appeal. With so much talent in the state, the school’s fans and administration wanted to build a program with a higher ceiling, even if it meant taking a few steps back as Collins overhauled the roster.
Though that project appears to be off to a good start, translating those returns to on-field results likely remains a couple of years away, meaning the school will embrace any signs of immediate improvement.
Previewing Georgia Tech's Offense for 2020
When Collins arrived, Tech’s offensive line averaged 6'1", 264 pounds with a group of quarterbacks who were recruited to run the ball more than they threw. So the first step in turning around an offense that ranked 120th in yards per play (4.79) and went three-and-out on a fairly remarkable 40 percent of its drives last season (57-of-142) was getting more ACC-caliber pieces up front. The second was adding competition to a quarterback room with redshirt sophomore James Graham, who took over as the starter in early October.
It’s possible that Graham, who completed just 45.1 percent of his passes for the season, will retain his job. The former four-star prospect has decent size at 6'1", 192 pounds and looks good throwing downfield. With better protection and understanding of the offense, Graham could flourish. When fall practice begins, the staff will also want to look at Jordan Yates and incoming freshman Jeff Sims, one of the top dual-threat prospects in the country.
The offensive line upgraded with the addition of grad transfer Ryan Johnson (Tennessee), but Devin Cochran (Vanderbilt) did not join the team as expected for fall practice. If center Kenny Cooper comes back healthy off a hip injury, that could uncork a running game that was already somewhat effective with Jordan Mason and Jamious Griffin, who flashed yards-after-contact ability as a freshman.
There’s also promise at receiver with the return of veteran Jalen Camp, who played only five games before season-ending surgery last year. Along with sophomore Ahmarean Brown and Miami transfer Marquez Ezzard, it’s a nice mix on paper that could fit coordinator Dave Patenaude’s desire to play faster and stretch the field.
Previewing Georgia Tech's Defense for 2020
Tech’s versatile group of linebackers and defensive backs proved to be a good fit last season with coordinator Andrew Thacker’s 4-2-5 scheme, which naturally provides opportunities for playmakers from the second level to make an impact. Given that nearly all of those players return, the Yellow Jackets have a good foundation for improvement, particularly on the back end.
David Curry, a sixth-year senior who led the team with 97 tackles last season, provides the leadership for that linebacker group and is responsible for relaying a lot of the communication from the sidelines. But star safety Juanyeh Thomas is the player opposing offenses will try to avoid, as he has shown a knack in his two years as a starter for making the electric play.
Former linebacker Charlie Thomas, who had a team-high 9.5 tackles for a loss last year, will start the season at nickel. That should allow more snaps for Quez Jackson, who plays with the kind of “friction” Thacker appreciates. He’ll also provide more support against the run, where the Yellow Jackets want to improve significantly on the 4.8 yards per carry they gave up last season.
Collins and Thacker will be thrilled to get former offensive lineman Jahaziel Lee back from a September leg injury and have defensive end Antonneous Clayton finally eligible after the NCAA ruled against him last season following a transfer from Florida. Those two should bolster the group up front, where T.K. Chimedza looked very promising as a freshman and Jordan Domineck showed some pass-rush ability off the edge.
Related: ACC Football Predictions for 2020
Previewing Georgia Tech's Specialists for 2020
Both of Tech’s kickers left in the spring, though it would be hard to get much worse than the team’s field goal performance last season, when they converted only 3-of-8 chances. That likely opens up the job for incoming freshman Jude Kelley, though it’s possible the team could pursue another transfer or walk-on. Senior Pressley Harvin III has been a top-level punter in his three years, but the Yellow Jackets need to make big strides in coverage, as six of his punts were returned for 20 or more yards.
Even if Tech makes incremental strides on offense, the Yellow Jackets will need to avoid getting buried by a schedule that includes Clemson, Georgia, Notre Dame and UCF in addition to its typical division foes. But ultimately, Collins is going to take the long-term view with this program and keep trying to build a roster that is deeper, more athletic and filled with ACC-level talent from top to bottom.
National Ranking: 75
(Top photo by Danny Karnik/GT Athletics)