Frustrating would be the word that most accurately described the 2017 Georgia Tech football season. The Yellow Jackets did not achieve bowl eligibility despite a 4-4 league record, becoming the firstACC team to achieve that dubious honor since the 2006 Virginia Cavaliers.
And the losses were mostly of the hair-pulling variety. Right off in week one, Georgia Tech dominated Tennessee only to fall to the Volunteers in overtime. The loss to Miami was a definite heartbreaker and the Yellow Jackets gave up a late lead at Virginia. Oh, what could have been.
Paul Johnson and his team now gets to work to make sure those close defeats become victories in 2018. Here’s a preview of what is important for Georgia Tech during their upcoming spring workouts.
5 Storylines to Watch During Georgia Tech's Spring Practice
1. Developing anything in the passing game
It’s obviously never going to be their thing and quarterback TaQuon Marshall was outstanding coordinating the option attack. But Georgia Tech was absolutely brutal throwing the ball and now receiver Ricky Jeune, who had 58 percent of the receptions last season, is gone. During Paul Johnson’s tenure, the Yellow Jackets have generally averaged about 120-130 passing yards per game and last year it was 84. Also, though they often take chances downfield, thereby lowering their completion percentage, Marshall’s 37 percent was too low. The Jackets don’t need to be Texas Tech, but they must make the passing game somewhat of a factor.
2. Help in the backfield for KirVonte Benson
The sophomore B-Back (above, right) took over when Dedrick Mills was dismissed from the team and had a huge year, rushing for 1,053 yards and six scores. But the Jackets got very little out of any of their A-Backs. Qua Searcy, Nate Cottrell and Clinton Lynch all return, but they combined for just 697 rushing yards and one touchdown. In Georgia Tech’s offense, the B-Back and the quarterback will gain more yards than any of the A-Backs. But the Yellow Jackets need more than what they got last year from that position group.
Lance Austin, Lawrence Austin, Step Mitchell and Corey Griffin all played in each of Georgia Tech’s 11 games last season and now they have moved on. This sets up several position battles in the defensive backfield this spring. Free safety A.J. Gray is the lone returning starter though senior Jalen Johnson has seen plenty of action in his career. A few players to watch over the next few weeks include sophomore Jaquan Henderson and redshirt freshmen Tre Swilling and Gentry Bonds.
4. Pass rush
With an inexperienced secondary covering opposing receivers, an effective pass rush would be extremely beneficial. However, last year Georgia Tech was 108th in the nation with just 1.55 sacks per game. Making matters even more difficult is that last year’s sack leader, defensive end Antonio Simmons, has used up his eligibility. Anree Saint-Armour takes over on the weak side, but the development of a young player like Cortez Alston is imperative this spring.
5. Turnovers — for and against
The 15 turnovers, 10 of which were the result of fumbles, were not in and of itself the main problem. And neither were the 15 other fumbles where the Yellow Jackets retained possession, but these mishandles oftentimes put the team behind the chains. And it’s an issue that was exacerbated by the fact that the defense produced just 10 takeaways on the year, a number that tied Georgia Tech for 125th in the nation. Over the next few weeks, the Yellow Jackets need to work on valuing the football on offense and taking it away on defense.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.