Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 2016 Preview and Prediction
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#49 Ga. Tech Yellow Jackets
ACC Coastal PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Paul Johnson, 62-44 (8 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Paul Johnson | DEF. COORDINATOR: Ted Roof
To say Georgia Tech's 2015 season would be one to forget, would be an understatement. After winning the ACC Coastal and playing in the Orange Bowl the previous year, the Yellow Jackets slumped to 3-9 overall and won just one game in conference play. Despite last season's disappointment, Georgia Tech should rebound in 2016. Quarterback Justin Thomas returns for his final year, and the supporting cast features a deep group of options at running back. The Yellow Jackets have question marks on the offensive line and in the secondary, but a bowl trip and winning record is a realistic goal for coach Paul Johnson's team.
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Previewing Georgia Tech’s Offense
The success of Georgia Tech’s program is largely tied to its triple-option offense, which produced 256.2 rushing yards per game last season — the lowest output under ninth-year coach Paul Johnson. Though there are several keys to getting the offense turned around, its underperforming offensive line stands out like a sore thumb. “It all starts up front,” Johnson says.
If Georgia Tech can’t get that fixed, it will likely be another frustrating year for senior quarterback Justin Thomas, who averaged just 3.4 yards per attempt and didn’t have a 100-yard rushing game, compared to five when he was so brilliant in 2014. Johnson added a second offensive line coach in veteran Ron West to help address the issue, but more important might be the health of right guard Chris Griffin, who missed last season with an ACL injury, and whether the two sophomore tackles take a step forward.
Johnson also knows that injuries and youth at the skill positions were huge problems last season, though the primary running backs and receivers — several of whom were supposed to be redshirted — all now have game experience. Sophomore Clinton Lynch was arguably the most exciting of the A-back group, averaging 9.5 yards on 49 carries while also leading the running backs with 11 receptions. Johnson believes sophomore Marcus Marshall, the younger brother of former Georgia running back Keith Marshall, has improved significantly after making three starts last year and should slide in at B-back. Dedrick Mills, an early enrollee who had offers from most of the SEC, also made a strong impression in the spring and should help right away as a willing blocker.
Previewing Georgia Tech’s Defense
Georgia Tech forced just 17 turnovers last season, a significant drop from the 29 they swiped in 2014. That will be a huge focus for coordinator Ted Roof, along with reinvigorating a pass rush that generated only 14 sacks.
Though it will be a challenge to replace All-ACC nose tackle Adam Gotsis, who was a huge physical presence in the middle of the line, this might be as deep a group up front as Georgia Tech has had in some time. Senior defensive tackle Patrick Gamble has taken a step forward each year, but it would be extremely helpful if Francis Kallon — once a highly touted prospect with significant physical tools — finally reached his potential and could slide into Gotsis’ spot. Roof will also look for more consistency out of junior KeShun Freeman, a talented pass rusher who didn’t quite live up to expectations last season but still has room to improve.
At linebacker, P.J. Davis doesn’t have prototypical size, but he has racked up 196 tackles (15 for a loss) over the past two years and gives Georgia Tech stability in the middle of its 4-2-5 alignment. The real question is in the secondary, where young players will be pushed into lead roles.
Previewing Georgia Tech’s Specialists
There isn’t much competition in the kicking game, as seniors Harrison Butker and Ryan Rodwell return as multi-year starters at placekicker and punter, respectively. Talent and leg strength have never been problems for Butker, but consistency has been an issue.
In Johnson’s first seven seasons, Georgia Tech exceeded preseason expectations seven times and made three trips to the ACC Championship Game. Then came 2015, a shocking season that ended the program’s streak of 18 consecutive bowl seasons. The Yellow Jackets will need significant improvement in key areas to get back in the Coastal mix, starting with a return to 2014 form from Thomas. If Tech’s returning players on the offensive line, the defensive front and at wide receiver make natural progressions, things should return to normal in Atlanta.