Can Georgia Tech repeat as ACC champs?

This time last year I sat in Paul Johnson’s office and my inquiring mind wanted to know: After one season in the ACC, what would be the over/under on how many times Johnson would be asked whether or not the league had caught up with his offense? The question was asked every year when he was at Navy, so it was bound to come up here.

Johnson smiled because he already had his answer ready. “Yeah, we’ve been running this offense 26 years but THIS will be the year that people catch on.” It was pretty big hit at ACC media days in July.

As it turned out, most of the teams Georgia Tech played may have THOUGHT they knew what was coming, but they had a hard time stopping it. The Yellow Jackets were second in the nation in rushing (295.43 ypg), 15th in scoring offense (33.79 ppg) and won their first outright ACC championship since 1990. Now there were some disappointments along the way. The Yellow Jacket defense struggled against Georgia and lost to the state rival the week before the ACC championship game. And the Orange Bowl performance against Iowa was certainly nothing to write home about.

But there weren’t a lot of people who predicted that in only two seasons Johnson would deliver a conference championship and a berth in a BCS bowl.

“This time a year ago the program was light years from where it was when we got here,” said Johnson. “We took a step forward last season. Now we have to see if we can take another step forward.”

A year ago the question of the day was whether or not opposing  defenses had learned the nuances of Johnson’s option offense. This season the major question will be whether or not Georgia Tech will move forward or take a step back after the loss of four great football players: RB Jonathan Dwyer and WR Demaryrius Thomas on offense and defensive end Derrick Morgan and safety Morgan Burnett on defense.

“We are going to miss those guys because they were really good players but it’s our job as coaches to recruit and develop players to fill those holes,” said Johnson. “And now players who have been waiting their turn get their opportunity. We’ll see if they take advantage of it.”

Truth be told, the Georgia Tech offense is going to be good again. Josh Nesbitt returns for his senior season at quarterback and, if he stays healthy, will run for over 1,000 yards again. Johnson has to find a backup he can trust because Nesbitt will miss a series now and then simply because of the pounding he takes.  In the early going David Sims looks like he could be that guy. Anthony Allen played the “A” back last season to Dwyer’s “B” back. Allen is a really a “B” back, said Johnson, but he wasn’t going to beat out Dwyer and he was just too good to stand on the sidelines waiting.

Thomas averaged 25.1 yards per catch and will be missed but everyone at Tech expects Stephen Hill (22.8 average on six catches) to step right in and make big plays against defenses who are (rightfully) obsessed with the running game.

It’s the defense where Georgia Tech has a chance to take a quantum leap beyond where it has been the past two seasons. The Yellow Jackets were 56th nationally in scoring defense last season (24.79 ppg) and, more importantly, lacked any real identity.

That is about to change.

In convincing Al Groh, the former Virginia and New York Jets head coach, to join the Georgia Tech staff as a defensive coordinator, Johnson has potentially done for the defense what he did for the offense when he came as head coach.

“Just like our offense, I wanted our defense to have a clear system and a clear personality that everyone understood,” Johnson said. “Al Groh knows defense and he knows exactly what he wants to do. And he will be able to teach it to our players.”

Groh teaches the 3-4 defense, which is a staple in the NFL and is starting to gain popularity in college football. Nick Saban used it to win a national championship at Alabama in 2009. Clemson’s Kevin Steele is getting good results in the ACC. Georgia hired Todd Grantham from the Dallas Cowboys to install the 3-4.

The system puts a premium on large, fast linebackers, which are easier to find in recruiting than the dominating defensive linemen. The learning curve can be steep, but once players get it, they usually like it.

“We always tell our players and the people we recruit that there are a lot of ways to be successful in football and to win games,” said Groh. “But this way works. We’ve proven it.”

If Georgia Tech can improve on defense then the Jackets won’t be faced with the weekly dilemma of having to simply outscore people to win.

“When you can get some stops it takes some pressure off of the offense,” said Johnson. “And I’ll think we’ll do that.”

Georgia Tech will need to play better on defense because the ACC Coastal is going to be better in 2010. Miami looks like it may be finally ready to turn the corner under Randy Shannon. North Carolina returns a ton of people on defense and just needs to improve on offense. Virginia Tech will still be Virginia Tech but this season the Hokies return two 1,000-yard rushers instead of one.

It will not be an easy path for Georgia Tech as three out of the first five games (Kansas, North Carolina, Wake Forest) are on the road. There are also road games to Clemson, Virginia Tech and Georgia.

“I just tell the guys that with all of those players leaving nobody believes they can win anything,” Johnson said. “But it’s up to us to prove that they are wrong. Nobody gives you anything. If we’re willing to work hard enough, we’ll be just fine.”

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271 comments Add your comment

Yellow stained Fuzz

April 2nd, 2010
8:42 am

ACC! ACC! ACC!

Too Easy

April 2nd, 2010
8:43 am

So what if they do? Just leads to a loss to the Dawgs and some random bowl opponent.

dawg

April 2nd, 2010
8:47 am

No. No they will not. That simple.

Colin

April 2nd, 2010
8:48 am

I’m happy Groh landed somewhere. The years I spent watching him at UVA, I realized he may be a “defense guy,” but his teams didn’t always show it. I thought he did well with some of the secondary and the linebackers, but he basically needed a Chris Long to have a successful defensive line.

I think Georgia Tech has a good chance to win the ACC with Groh, provided they get some good D-Line recruits. I wish Groh the best, but I am glad UVA has Mike London instead (even though it will be a few years before UVA will find itself in another 9 win season or Gator Bowl trip).

And Geaux Tigers.

Mick

April 2nd, 2010
8:51 am

meh

April 2nd, 2010
8:52 am

I think Clemson will finally man up and take control of the ACC this year.

John

April 2nd, 2010
8:58 am

In his autobiography, STOP ACTION, Dick Butkus talked of the Bears teams of his era & how frustrating it was to know that the D unit could keep the team “in the game” if they could hold the opponent to under 17 points . The problem for them was that they could never manage to score that many. GT will score , no worries , but to reduce the defensive trend will be a huge task in this first season. The learning curve of the new roles & terminology alone will create opportunities for other teams. Special teams play will be a deciding factor as will hopefully a disciplined unit that will not hurt itself with stupid penalties.

Fernando Appleyard

April 2nd, 2010
8:59 am

7 or 8 wins with a loss to UGA and a trip to the blue carpet.

david

April 2nd, 2010
9:00 am

No, they have too many holes from players moving on. It’s between Miami, Va Tech, and North Carolina.

RAMBLE ON!!!

April 2nd, 2010
9:14 am

Yes, Josh Nesbitt will bring home the Heisman.

sugarpikegang

April 2nd, 2010
9:19 am

We’re rootin’ for you, Paul! Georgia Tech Football is on an upward swing and I couldn’t be much happier about it!

Its great to be a Yellow Jacket!

SEC FANATIC

April 2nd, 2010
9:23 am

The bigger burning question. Can UGA repeat as Fulmer Cup Champions? http://www.onlineathens.com/stories/040110/bre_599224333.shtml

Alabama jack

April 2nd, 2010
9:26 am

Dumb delusional dawg fans remain irrelevant and unwanted.

Bill

April 2nd, 2010
9:32 am

Football Very good chance but Basketball will Paul Hewitt–He!! no ! Fire Hewitt.

bigdawg01

April 2nd, 2010
9:33 am

Nope, they sure wont. Too many playmakers gone.

Steady GT Fan

April 2nd, 2010
9:34 am

I just doubled my season tickets. Its a great place to take friends and family. I hope others will increase their tickets so we fill the place.

DawginLex

April 2nd, 2010
9:45 am

I don’t see GT going to Blacksburg and winning. When is the last time GT won at chapel hill? Miami is in Atlanta so that is in GT favor.

I see 9-3 and 2nd place in the division and a good bowl.

VT vs FSU in ACC title game. VT is my sleeper pick to win national title if their defense can step up. Problem is, even with a win over Boise and running the table in the ACC, Bama and Ohio state will probably play for the title.

GTGuy44

April 2nd, 2010
10:06 am

Division is tougher, but I think we will be fine and should have a great shot at the ACC title. The defense will definitely be better. The players were not very happy with Wommack as a coach. He seemed like a nice guy, but not a very good coach.

What do GT and UG fans have in common?

April 2nd, 2010
10:09 am

They both love talking about GEORGIA TECH YELLOW JACKET FOOTBALL on a lovely, lovely Friday morning in April!

Thanks for spreading the good word Yellow Stained Fuzz, too easy, and dawg.

GT Letterman

April 2nd, 2010
10:10 am

Go Jackets. Better defense coupled with this offensive scheme will win more games than lose them, and will continue to frustrate those doggies each year who mistakenly believe that the universe is only about as large as Clarke County.

I'm not a Tech homer or a UGA hater

April 2nd, 2010
10:12 am

The offense will keep them in all games, but even with change at DC they seem to need more muscle up front on defense and more speed/coverage skills in secondary. 9 – 3 is the most likely scenario.

DawginLex

April 2nd, 2010
10:17 am

GT letterman,

universe covers all of the south including the SEC and ACC.

I can’t help that the ACC universe usually doesn’t win its bowl games in the BCS bowls…………………….

RE: dawginlex

April 2nd, 2010
10:21 am

Dawginlex, the last time we won in chapel hill was 2006. We last played in 2008. We’ve won 3 of the last 5 at their place.

GT is a football school

April 2nd, 2010
10:22 am

GA Tech will be the ultimate road warriors and cannot wait to see it…geaux/go straight to he!! Tigers (LSU)

NESBITT FOR HESIMAN let THE CAMPAIGN BEGIN

wesleywhatwhat

April 2nd, 2010
10:25 am

the gt/vt winner will go on to win the acc title, just like the last 2 years.

and uga won’t be overlooked this year. it could get ugly in athens. again.

BuzztheKiller

April 2nd, 2010
10:27 am

They may not win it, but will be in the running late. At UNC and VT will be deciding games. 9 or 10 wins and a good bowl is not too bad….bet UGA fans would take that right now in a heartbeat.

for sure

April 2nd, 2010
10:30 am

One thing is for sure. They’re better than UGA and will stomp them in their house yet again this year.

dagtbuzzman

April 2nd, 2010
10:35 am

Under CPJ the Jackets are beginning to learn to win consistently . They expect to win everytime they step on the field. That said , I think V Tech is just too loaded. G Tech will be 8- 4 and tied for 2nd in the Coastal Division. Then we will get the crappiest bowl because that always seems to be the way it plays out.
BTW, Jackets beat the Dead Puppies by 10.

BobbyGodd

April 2nd, 2010
10:36 am

Still can’t believe we lost to UGA with all the struggles they faced last year. Also, I would be shocked if we equaled the accomplishments of 2009 much less last year. We lost 4 games two years ago and 3 games last year. We have every rival game on the road this year. We likely drop one game against the Wake Forests, Kansas, Duke, NC State, MTSU, or UVA and win the other 5. We beat the one cupcake giving us 6 wins. Miami at home is a toss up. Clemson, UNC, UGA, and Virginia Tech – We will be the underdog in each of those games. We drop 3 of the four. Thus…8 wins is optimistic this year. 6-6 is pesimistic. So…7-5 will be the result. Tech winds up in the Bowl game in Texas next year.

Intelligence is a Gift

April 2nd, 2010
10:37 am

I am both too dumb and too smart to make predictions in college football anymore, maybe that is why I love it so much. Go Jackets! I’ll never leave the south so that I care about college football ALL year long. Even if tha means dealing with in state haters. its all part of the lifestyle.

cuttysark

April 2nd, 2010
10:47 am

Although Georgia Tech lost several playmakers from last year’s team, they will be replacing them with Paul Johnson’s recruits for the first time. The offensive line will finally start to get bigger up front after utilizing smaller linemen the first 2 years. The defense will be much improved, so the Yellow Jackets will again be competing for the top rung in the conference. Should be an interesting year on the Flats.

For more Georgia Tech Football articles go to http://isportsweb.com. Go Jackets!

Mikey

April 2nd, 2010
10:51 am

Nope. and does anyone really care?

damngooddawg.com

April 2nd, 2010
10:56 am

No. They didn’t win the ACC. We did.

GTFan

April 2nd, 2010
10:58 am

Travis Porter (All The Way Turnt Up) is performing here at the Wadsworth Auditorium, here in Newnan AG Monday April 5 @ 8. Hubby and I are going!

MELLER YELLER

April 2nd, 2010
11:00 am

tech will win the acc no doubt the only way they won’t win the national championship is if two teams from any of the overhyped conferences like the sec to name one go undefeated and tech gets hosed. our little sister fromm athens will get beat by 30 this year in one of there closer games

GT Ball Fan

April 2nd, 2010
11:02 am

Jackets repeat! Offense is in top 15 in scoring again this year. Defense is much better (We can’t be any worse than last year) and actually compliments the offense this year. Ugay fans leaving Stanford stadium sewage dump with 12:00 mins left in the 4th quarter with The Jackets up 44-10. UGA XXIII has cadiac arrest a few mins later.

damngooddawg.com

April 2nd, 2010
11:08 am

We also won the Advocare 100 Independence Bowl in Shreveport, the center of the football universe as everyone knows. Ask any Bulldawg and he will tell you: we won the ACC last year because we beat a single team in that conference – that makes sense doesn’t it? We will also win a National Championship this year just like we almost did last year and the year before that. As we always say: “Wait until next year”… and it is next year so we will be National Champions because we are the University of Georgia Bulldogs. Enough said.

Tech

April 2nd, 2010
11:17 am

UNC is a trendy pick because of their defense, but have you seen that offense? I don’t think they got a first down until the fourth quarter last year against Tech. I’m not kidding. VT is really good next year, I don’t like our chances there on a Thursday night in Blacksburg. Other than that, I don’t see many landmines for Tech. I would love to play for the title again, this year in Charlotte, but at this point I just want to win a bowl game.

T3

April 2nd, 2010
11:23 am

With the 2010 schedule line-up, GT can easily go 12-0.

ATL XMAN

April 2nd, 2010
11:30 am

stinger and the rest of the ga tech fans living in la la land..you need to wake up..you guys are way off if you even think that tech will win the acc this year..you have no returning good players for that joke of a offense ither than nesbitt, who is a gaily recruit, and he cant run every play. i know pj will try to run him every play because thats what the high school offense calls for, the best player runs the ball every play. the problem with that is that this is not high school and nesbitt wont make it pass the 4th game without some injurie that will cause him to miss a few games and then what will tech high school offense do? it will show its true colors and that is it will look like a high school team out there playing a div 1 team..telling you guys are setting your selves up for a big let down if you think you guys will look anything like you have the last 2 years with gailys players.

Blue Fox

April 2nd, 2010
11:32 am

Now if we can just get the second GIT Paul on the same coaching plane as Johnson . . .

Reality

April 2nd, 2010
11:32 am

What ugag fans haven’t yet understood….

1. We really don’t care what they think.
2. It isn’t about Tech’s “playmakers” it is about the system.
3. Tech’s “random” bowl which was a BCS bowl is lightyears better than Shreveport.
4. Adding Groh and a defense can only improve upon last year.
5. They need to be concerned for their own team. They need to figure out how to keep their low life players out of jail.

RambleOn84

April 2nd, 2010
11:36 am

The team will be better this year, but the record may not reflect that due to a tougher schedule.

I expect between 8 and 10 wins…2011 will be the best year yet, as our O-line will be all Johnson recruits and the defense will have more experience in the 3-4.

ATL XMAN

April 2nd, 2010
11:36 am

and tech simply does not have the players on defense this year to stop anyone..there best players are gone from the defense and your best guys now have a about 2 years to go before they can do anything. you guys are a good read for a laugh though. so fun to see the looks on ga tech fans faces when they lose to uga and any other team when they think they actually should win the game..very funny. the writings on the wall their guys just put on big nerdy glasses and read it. tech is heading back to loser ville with PJ as the leader..: ;)

Wreck

April 2nd, 2010
11:38 am

The sky is the limit. As has been the case the last 4 years (even under Chan!), the VPI-GT winner will play for the championship.

See y’all in CHARLOTTE!!

GO TECH

ATL XMAN

April 2nd, 2010
11:38 am

the problem with johnson o line is that they are way too small and if they are big they wont be able to run his high school offense..catch 22

now way tech wins 9 games this year.

RambleOn84

April 2nd, 2010
11:39 am

I am glad that UGA fans are excited about our team…more posts from their fans than by our own…

ATL XMAN

April 2nd, 2010
11:40 am

chan had tech in the acc championship game a few times so they are not that far off. only pj is going aginst less talent now and is easier for gailys players to dumb down the offense so they can play keep away from the other teams offense. only thing now is gailys very talented players are almost gone..

Born2Buzz

April 2nd, 2010
11:40 am

Realistic Tech Fans, if you were offered 9-3 and a Gator Bowl trip now would you take it?
This will be a tough season. UNC on the road early and then the 3 game stretch late of @ Clemson, @ VT and Miami will be the key games. But we have the most important player on the field coming back, Nesbitt. Having a proven QB, especially running CPJ’s offense, is huge. Just ask the doggies.

Al-Farouq Ahmed Ali Akbar

April 2nd, 2010
11:42 am

Yes, Jaquets can win big ACC champyonship for its fans like me.