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

Dan

April 2nd, 2010
1:24 pm

I don’t think 9-3 or 10-2 is an unreasonable guess. 9-3 is more likely though.

Everyone keeps talking up VT, but I’m not all that threatened by them. They proved last year that they are helpless to stop our offense (as most teams were) and they can’t wheel out Williams & Evans every down because they both do the same thing. UNC couldn’t score on Paris Hilton so unless they fix that, they won’t be a threat either. I expect Miami and Climpsun to be our toughest in-conference opponents and for UGA to be much improved next year too.

Adam

April 2nd, 2010
1:27 pm

Ummm…who cares? The ACC is a joke conference. It ranks even behind the WAC.

For discussion purposes, Miami will win the ACC.

Anybody that can play

April 2nd, 2010
1:27 pm

LSU wears out ACC opponent as usual on National TV. The new year starts just like all the others. When does BBall start again, at least we have Duke.

Jacket Backer

April 2nd, 2010
1:29 pm

with CPJ, all things are possible!!

Go Jackets!!!!

Dan

April 2nd, 2010
1:30 pm

Right, Adam.

If it was such a joke, you would not have taken the time to read the article, think of something witty say, come up empty (shocker!), and then post a stupid comment anyway. But whatever….

TML

April 2nd, 2010
1:36 pm

Rebuild…reload. Now CP”Goferit”J has CAG to captain the defense to go along with the most excellent offense. Get ready Muttlanders…the balance of power has shifted to North Avenue and the heat’s on CMR, not on Goferit.

GT historical football art available at http://www.stinGTees.com.

Waleska Dawg

April 2nd, 2010
1:37 pm

In his post, Tony (and by Tony I don’t mean “Tony from Smyrna”) writes:

“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.”

I will admit that I am not familiar with the rule changes for the upcoming year, but I’m pretty sure that the NCAA is keeping the rule that says that the team with the most points at the end of the game wins.

Otto

April 2nd, 2010
1:38 pm

Irony: A GT fan talking smack about someone scoring with a girl.

Jacket Backer

April 2nd, 2010
1:38 pm

i love all the mutt fans saying they don’t care?!…..one question, if ya’ll don’t care then why are you reading this article about Tech????…..its pretty obvious you indeed do care!…….think its safe to say the rivalry is back……we will be competitive with the mutts every year under CPJ and the leghumpers just can’t stand that!

Goooo Jackets and THWG!!!!

Randy Shannon$

April 2nd, 2010
1:43 pm

GA Tech? Didn’t yall see the whooping we put on them last year? Without Dwyer and Thomas, they’re toast. The ACC title runs through Miami this year boys.

Eaassy

April 2nd, 2010
1:45 pm

solid regular season. no acc championship. the real question: will Tech win its first bowl game since ‘04???

Dan

April 2nd, 2010
1:46 pm

GT fans get plenty of women. Don’t hate us because all the UGA girls want to do mixers w/ us…

Randy Shannon$

April 2nd, 2010
1:47 pm

Mixers Dan? Come on, it’s 2010.

Eaassy

April 2nd, 2010
1:47 pm

Tech is 3-7 in bowl games since 2000. Solid.

dawgy

April 2nd, 2010
1:48 pm

I think tech will be pretty good, but not sure about repeating as the A-She-She champs. And for those of you thinking Stephen Hill will be comparable to Thomas, you’re dreaming. Thomas was a devastating blocker on the edge – i’m not sure that Stephen Hill’s frame could block my three year old nephew.

But they’ll be alright – looks like it will be war after thanksgiving again.

UGAY in the Papa Johns Bowl

April 2nd, 2010
1:49 pm

ATL AXMAN-UGA THE #1 TEAM AHAHAHAHHAHAHAHHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHHAHAH OMFG ARE U F*CKING KIDDING ME? i ALMOST FEEL OUT OF MY CHAIR WHEN I READ THAT. THE BEST NCAA FOOTBALL TEAM IN THE INDEPENDENCE BOWL HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Eaassy

April 2nd, 2010
1:49 pm

Dan, you “mixing” ruffies in UGA’s girls drinks doesn’t count. sorry dude.

Daniel

April 2nd, 2010
1:50 pm

wow, “mixers” Dan? Do you also host “box socials” as well? Georgia girls might have cozied up with techies back in the day, but in the last 50 years the majority of tech students grew up next to a slurpee machine in their families quickeemart. So unless they want to move back to Pakistan upon graduation, they want nothing to do with you bees. Keep dreaming nerd. Old nerd in this case.

Senor William Martinez

April 2nd, 2010
1:52 pm

I pantsed Paul Johnson and his queer offense this past year at Historic Mark Richt Field in Atlanta. And what did I get? A pink slip. That shows you how important beating the nerds is.

Dan

April 2nd, 2010
1:54 pm

Referring to the sororities wanting to hook up with us but not the frats at UGA. Can’t help it if we’re better looking, stand to make more money, and just more fun.

Eaassy

April 2nd, 2010
1:55 pm

Yeah you did Willie. That’s about all you did this year though

JASon

April 2nd, 2010
1:55 pm

Paul, thank you so much for how you handled the georgia game. This run style offense is really well suited for three deep pass plays in a row. Then, lets say you do score on one of those plays, you still have left Georgia plenty of time to get in position to kick a field goal and win. You are a brilliant coach, with your three straight deep passes. So smart. Thanks again for those three straight deep passes.

BLUE

April 2nd, 2010
1:55 pm

its the year of the blue devils Duke wins the title in basketball and football , did you see we signed a 2 star in football watch out here come the devils

Iceman

April 2nd, 2010
1:56 pm

Dawgs won the ACC. Tech sucks.

UGAY in the Papa Johns Bowl

April 2nd, 2010
1:58 pm

DEAR UGA, CAN U PLEASE DO A BLACKOUT WHEN U PLAY TECH THIS YEAR?

BartBuzz

April 2nd, 2010
1:58 pm

I’m proud to admit that I’ve never been to a UGA(ly) blog. And now I know why. The UGA(ly) comments on the Tech blogs are just not that interesting. But keep practicing your writing skills and maybe I’ll be tempted to visit a UGA(ly) blog one day. Now I remember why I love your fight song. “Glory, glory to old Georgia. The cesspool of the south.” At least those were the words when I was at Tech back in the day.

THWG! Go Jackets!

There. Now I feel just like one of the UGA(ly) bloggers.

Dan

April 2nd, 2010
1:59 pm

Dawgs didn’t win the ACC, Iceman. Sorry.

Randy Shannon$

April 2nd, 2010
2:00 pm

Dan, I have never met anyone from Tech that I would categorize as “fun”. Now if I wanted my 7-11 remodeled, you would be the guy I would want to talk to.

UGAY in the Papa Johns Bowl

April 2nd, 2010
2:01 pm

WELL, I GUESS IT’S TIME FOR GEORGIA TO START BUYING RECRUITS BRAND NEW TRANS AMS LIKE THEY DID FOR HERSHEL F*G WALKER. TYPICAL GEORGIA MOVE.

Dan

April 2nd, 2010
2:01 pm

Well then you don’t get out much, Randy. May be you should more often.

BLUE

April 2nd, 2010
2:02 pm

so when you were a student at tech all you could think about was UGA . sad man sad , but I understand its ok I won’t tell

Dan

April 2nd, 2010
2:02 pm

That makes no sense, BLUE.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

April 2nd, 2010
2:03 pm

this is so laughable. tech will have its struggles losing a lot of marquee players this year. be satisfied with 7-5. and please stop with the “we’ll beat UGA this year”…everyone knows that UGA has been dominating the jackets for the past decade- deal with it.

Daniel

April 2nd, 2010
2:03 pm

Klimpson bought Herschel the car – not sure how much Georgia gave him, but he was worth every penny. In fact, if someone was taking up a collection today I would probably contribute.

Now, let’s talk about the Beemer that Cremins bought Stephon “Georgia Tech University” Marbury…

UGAY in the Papa Johns Bowl

April 2nd, 2010
2:03 pm

INDEPENDENCE BOWL HERE WE COME HAHAHAHAHA HAVE FUN IN SHEREVEPORT F*GGOTS

Annette

April 2nd, 2010
2:05 pm

Oh goody, four more UGA thugs about to be arrested.

We’re only three months into the year. With the other arrests, this could be a record year for arrests.

When will Richt stop recruiting this kind of undisciplined, unprincipled thug?

Dan

April 2nd, 2010
2:06 pm

Doc, no one has argued that UGA has had it’s way against us (at least not me). No doubt, we’ve found 100 different ways to lose games to UGA that we should have won. But don’t give us this crap about being happy with 7-5 when you know we will win more than that and may beat y’all.

It’s not like we don’t have players who can step in and fill the void.

Ellsbury

April 2nd, 2010
2:06 pm

Dan – define delusional, please. What you rattled off at 1:54 is bordering on sociopathetic. Do you seriously believe that about tech people. No, stop. Seriously??

UGAY in the Papa Johns Bowl

April 2nd, 2010
2:06 pm

STAY OUT OF JAIL

UGAY in the Papa Johns Bowl

April 2nd, 2010
2:07 pm

DR KENNETH D*OUCHE BAG

Daniel

April 2nd, 2010
2:08 pm

UGAY – one thing is for sure, if we go back to Shreveport we’ll probably win big again. How’d you dorks do in your bowl? Or how do yall do in bowls in general? I’m trying to remember the last bowl tech wasn’t thoroughly embarrassed in. Can you help me out with this?

Southside Drug Rep

April 2nd, 2010
2:08 pm

The good news is that we’re actually talking about Tech football in April. That last game is circled on my calendar and means something again. I hope Tech is 11-0 before losing in Athens. Good luck Techies.

Dan

April 2nd, 2010
2:08 pm

Sorry, Ellsbury, but the proof is in the proverbial pudding.

UGAY in the Papa Johns Bowl

April 2nd, 2010
2:08 pm

7-5 INDEPENDENCE BOWL HERE WE COME.

Mandall

April 2nd, 2010
2:09 pm

Annette – nice grammar. And thank you for your pontificating. Now, run along back to the kitchen.

UGAY in the Papa Johns Bowl

April 2nd, 2010
2:10 pm

DANIEL-ID RATHER LOSE IN THE ORANGE BOWL THAN WIN IN THE INDEPENDENCE BOWL. TRUST ME F*GGOT. UGAY SUCKS, DEAL WITH IT

Dan

April 2nd, 2010
2:10 pm

We lost our bowl game but we sure as hell had a better time in Miami than you did in Shrevepit..

Ellsbury

April 2nd, 2010
2:11 pm

Dan, wow, you’re bordering on psychotic now. Do you actually believe that? I went to a tech game last year and the student section looked like the bar scene in “Star Wars.” You have the ugliest student body I have ever seen. Your women are hideous. Your “men” are just plain sad. It’s safe to say you don’t know what you are talking about. Get back to your cubicle – I want those TPS reports pronto.

Daniel

April 2nd, 2010
2:14 pm

Hey, don’t get me wrong, I’m glad tech finally had the opportunity to play in a BCS bowl. It was kind of embarrassing having a rival who hadn’t even sniffed one since the BCS’s inception. And the results were more than hilarious. Georgia has never lost to a Big Slow 10 team. EVER. And tech was thoroughly embarrassed by an also-ran on national TV.

Classic.

Moondog

April 2nd, 2010
2:15 pm

you know a football program is pathetic when they start bragging about bowl losses.