To reiterate: I think Georgia Tech’s going to be OK this season. Not great, but OK. That said …
Tech is coming off a 6-7 season. With such a team — and Georgia is also such a team — there can be no givens. I’ve picked the Jackets to go 8-4, and with NCAA winds swirling around Miami and North Carolina it’s possible Tech could rise to second in the ACC Coastal Division. (Can’t see anybody catching Virginia Tech, though.) Things could, as things sometimes do, also go wrong. Such things include:
1. Nesbitt could prove irreplaceable. The new quarterback is redshirt junior Tevin Washington. The backup is redshirt freshman Synjyn Days. The people’s choice is freshman Vad Lee. They’re following a truly tough act.
Starting quarterback is the most important position on any team, and his value increases exponentially in Paul Johnson’s stylized offense. Johnson’s quarterback has to make choices — as opposed to simply handing the ball off — on every snap. The quarterback in the spread option also gets hit a lot, and even the indomitable Nesbitt wound up getting hurt. It was encouraging that the Jackets gained 512 yards against Georgia with Washington at quarterback, but that game might have been a red (and black) herring.
2. These B-backs could turn out to be C-minuses. Johnson believes he could deploy Wolf Blitzer at B-back and have the man gain 1,000 yards. (Although Wolf Blitzer would seem a better candidate for outside linebacker in the 3-4.) That’s the nature of this system and the faith Johnson has in his creation.
The past two feature backs have been Jonathan Dwyer and Allen, and both were NFL draftees. Preston Lyons entered camp as the No. 1 B-back, but has been supplanted by David Sims, who once was a quarterback. Sims isn’t as husky as Dwyer or Allen, which could be reason for concern: B-backs get hit a lot, too.
3. The defense could suffer more Groh-ing pains. Defensive coordinator Al Groh made a remarkable admission after Tech lost to North Carolina State 45-28 last September: His men simply hadn’t made many plays. (He counted three.) Then he said: “There’s no supermarket we can go down to and buy new players.”
This Tech defense will have had ample time to absorb Groh’s 3-4 scheme, which was new to the Flats last season, but the question lingers: Are there any playmakers in the house? If so, who? Outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu has that potential, and inside backer Julian Burnett does, too. And maybe end Izaan Cross. The secondary, however, is all new.
4. The Jackets could lose an early game they shouldn’t. Let’s go on record as saying Tech won’t lose to Western Carolina on Thursday night. But next week brings a dicey road assignment: Middle Tennessee in Murfreesboro. That’s the kind of game that could make the Blue Raiders’ season — and imperil Tech’s.
Middle Tennessee lost to Tech 42-14 last season, but that game was here, and Nesbitt was healthy. The Blue Raiders finished 6-7 last season, same as Tech, and will have already faced a team from a BCS league — even if it is only Purdue — by the time the Jackets arrive. And let’s recall what happened when Tech traveled in Week 2 game last season: It lost to Kansas, which would finish 3-9.
5. The talent gap could prove too great even for Johnson to override. Some keen-eyed Jackets-watchers insist this is the least gifted Tech team since the inglorious days of Bill Lewis. As good a coach as Johnson is — and he’s very good — he can’t outflank everybody all the time. Last season proved as much.
We on the periphery tend to overrate recruiting rankings, but the cold truth is that the playmakers Johnson inherited from Chan Gailey — Nesbitt, Dwyer, Derrick Morgan, Demaryius Thomas, Morgan Burnett — are gone, and suitable replacements have yet to emerge. Preseason all-conference lists aren’t the most reliable indicators, either; still, it’s worth noting that Tech placed only guard Omoregie Uzzi on the 25-man all-ACC team. If Tech is to have its bounce-back season, much coaching-up must be done.
By Mark Bradley