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

ATL XMAN

April 3rd, 2010
1:08 pm

tech will not be going to south beach anytime soon as their roster is filled with div 1aa players thanks to paul johnson and his high school offense.

Pago Pago Trojan

April 3rd, 2010
4:35 pm

I think we’re looking at a Top Ten finish this year for sure.

naganole

April 3rd, 2010
4:50 pm

GT’s lines on both sides are too small. Recruiting at Tech has dropped off under CPJ. It was easy to play defense with Gailey’s kids. Got harder last year, and will be quite bad this year. He’s a great gameday coach, but CPJ lacks the talent to repeat. GT’s 2010 schedule with my odds of winning:

Sat. 09/04/10 South Carolina State – 98% blah
Sat. 09/11/10 at Kansas – 33% Going across country so early is never good
Sat. 09/18/10 at North Carolina – 25% UNC has SEC size on their DL and can manhandle the TO
Sat. 09/25/10 NC State – 50% – At home, tough game after two weeks away
Sat. 10/02/10 at Wake Forest – 70% Wake lost everything
Sat. 10/09/10 Virginia – 66% A team with new coaches on both sides of the ball at home,
Sat. 10/16/10 Middle Tennessee – 98% blah
Sat. 10/23/10 at Clemson – 50% Because lost a lot on offense and I think they lose Parker, too D is very good even w/o R Sapp.
Sat. 10/30/10 Open Date
Thu. 11/04/10 at Virginia Tech – 50% Budd Foster will have the same defensive problems Tech is having, but it’s on the road so a coin flip at best.
Sat. 11/13/10 Miami (FL) – 33% 2nd best DL with best overall DLman (Bailey) they’ll see all year. If Jacoby has grown as a passer at all, it’ll be ugly for GT. at leadt it’s at home.
Sat. 11/20/10 Duke – 66% No Lewis, one of the few ACC teams GT has more talent then, at home
Sat. 11/27/10 at Georgia – 50% transition year for UGA’s defense. Never good when facing the TO, Logan who? Too bad Murray isn’t quite ready. Coin flip cause it’s in Athens.

That’s comes out to right at 7 wins. 7-5, with 4-4 in ACC play. Tough Coastal games on the road undue GT this year.

ctift

April 3rd, 2010
6:25 pm

ACC and GT? That is what we are talking about? Hint for ya AJC! No one cares about this small time football team and the league they play in!

Delbert D.

April 3rd, 2010
8:47 pm

Tony Barnhart seems to have hit this one spot on. Tech will continue to make adjustments with the offense, and the defense will present something entirely new, scheme-wise.

Yes, Tech lost a starting DE and starting safety to the NFL. This year Tech brings back a starting DE who missed the season and a starting safety who missed the last 9 games. Plus, *two* starters at right OT. A lot of games will be predictably close, and the outcomes will depend on how well the team performs and responds to adversity on game day.

naganole

April 3rd, 2010
10:18 pm

ATL XMAN – What have you seen out of UGA in the past 5 years to think they can win the SEC East, much less a MNC?

Butts Wagner

April 4th, 2010
12:35 am

naganole,

I think you’re either overestimating some of GT’s opponents or underestimating GT. I see 7 definite wins and 5 toss-up games. So if one assumes GT wins half of the toss-ups(2.5, rounded down to be conservative), then GT should go 9-3 in the regular season. I really think that all of the toss-up games are truly toss-ups because each of the tougher teams have different strengths and weaknesses. If I had to rank the toughest games from likeliest GT win to least likely GT win, it would look like this(as of today): UNC, VT, Uga, Clemson, Miami. Basically, I think the teams with the strongest offense will have the best chance against GT because I think these 5 teams all have similar defensive talent(and Uga is a bit of an unknown at the moment due to the new scheme). But there are so many uncertainties as of now(such as whether Parker stays at Climpson), that my level of confidence is likely to change. The hope for GT is that there is statistically insignificant drop off on offense and the defense takes a step forward. The defensive numbers at UVA during Groh’s years there do not lie. He is a good defensive coach. To get back to a point that needs to be reiterated: If the UVA and GT offenses were switched last year, UVA would have had one of the top rated defenses in the country(like top 10) and GT’s defense would have ranked as one of the worst(like 5 or 10 worst). There are, of course, other factors at play, but if Groh can improve GT’s defensive rate stats(yards allowed per play, etc) by, say, 10-15%, that will make a huge difference. Subtle improvements on defense might be worth a game this year, which might be the difference between winning the division or not. If you want to make gamblers sweat, isn’t 9 wins the current line? To make it difficult on the doubters, I’ll drop it to 8.5

naganole

April 4th, 2010
12:55 am

Butts Wagner- The problem GT will have is scheduling, and when and where it plays teams. At Kansas and the At UNC, home for NS State, then the middle of the schedule is a little easier, then At Clemson and At VTI, followed by UM. That’s a couple of tough stretches. You have to remember these games aren’t on neutral fields. Being away matters. I also don’t think GT has the talent on the defense this year that they’ve had recently. New scheme will take a while to install. I think GT’s offense might be better this year. A backs > B Backs for big play potential in the TO, and GT’s depth and talent at A Back is the best it’s been under CPJ…

Annette

April 4th, 2010
8:47 am

Richt is praying that no more of his quarterbacks are arrested.

And hoping that his parolee will get permission to travel out-of-state to away games.

It’s hard to coach when half your team are felons.

And those ankle monitoring bracelets are heavy. :-)

Dostoyevskiy

April 4th, 2010
2:16 pm

Stupid stupid stupid. UNC’s defense is not trendy. They finished 6th last year and have everybody back this year plus good reshirts and backups. You can’t refer to last year’s offense in talking about this year’s team. It will be much improved this year. The wide receivers are very talented and were highly recruited. Greg Little will be one of most dangerous offensive players in country. Jerhamie Boyd and the Jones kid were all-world out of high school. They will be sophomores this year. TJ Yates can make all the right throws, problem is, he is capable of making the wrong throws as well. If he makes better decisions, the offense will keep the defense off the field this year. If so, GaTech, VaTech…be careful when you play beneath the pines this year.

Tech fan

April 4th, 2010
4:02 pm

I’ll say this… If Miami offense becomes better than it was in 2009, the ACC needs to watch out…they have a lot of playmakers in Coral Gables..

South Beach Sal

April 4th, 2010
4:16 pm

Tech wins the ACC again, easily—mark it down. Paul Johnson is clearly the best coach in the conference and GT will dominate again. Georgia? another minor bowl on the horizon—none of those 3 QBs are any good, no matter what Richt says. Ga will lose big to Florida, Auburn and Tech and lose 2 more games. But, 7-5 will get you to a bowl somewhere.

RomeDawg

April 4th, 2010
11:11 pm

Too many holes to fill vacated by big time talent. Trust me, we at UGA just went through this, however, we still beat Tech!

Football Fan

April 5th, 2010
4:19 am

GT will not win the ACC again. They do not have a quarterback who can pass the football
because the coach does not like to pass. The game of football is usually played by most all teams
with both passing and rushing in the offense. GT has been fortunate to get away with just rushing
for 2 years. It will not last forever. If this is such a great offense why do other teams not use it?

Kincade Licks Buck's Nuggets

April 5th, 2010
6:57 am

Who cares? As long as they lose to UGA 7 to 9 times a decade, they can win the ACC every year as far as I am concerned.

Lance

April 5th, 2010
7:28 am

naganole

April 5th, 2010
9:24 am

Kincade Licks Buck’s Nuggets – So as long as you win against them, you don’t care if GT makes a BCS Bowl every year while you go to the PaPaJohns.com bowl?? WOW…

wesleywhatwhat

April 5th, 2010
11:49 am

@ daniel, thanks for answering my rhetorical question. i guess u showed the world who the idiot is, correct?

uga fans are always good for a laugh ;)

Dawg'88

April 6th, 2010
1:40 pm

The better question is….if they do or don’t repeat…Who Will Care?
Its like the old question…if a tree falls in the forest and there is noone there to hear it, does it make a sound?

If Yech repeats, who will see it, hear or again care?

wesleywhatwhat

April 8th, 2010
8:22 am

@ “dawgwithanIQof88″, if people didn’t care (including yourself), would there be 270 comments on this story?

at this point in time, and the foreseeable future, GT is the more relevant football team, both locally and nationally.

it’s good to be a yellow jacket.

GT Fan ...

April 13th, 2010
7:55 am

Lemme guess “naganole” …… your Seminoles are going undefeated, right??