By: Steven Lassan | 5/14/12, 4:59 PM EDT
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#35 Georgia Tech
ACC Coastal PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Paul Johnson, 34-19 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Paul Johnson | DEF. COORDINATOR: Al Groh
The questions about the Georgia Tech offense are obvious. The loss of wide receiver Stephen Hill to the NFL is huge, considering no returning receiver has a single career reception. Quarterback Tevin Washington has to prove he can perform against the toughest competition after he failed to throw a single touchdown pass over the final seven regular-season games.
But the Yellow Jackets hope that doing the small things right will improve the bigger picture for the spread-option offense. Georgia Tech spent spring practice honed in on its base package of plays and drilling against all the different defensive looks it expects to face. “It sounds maybe a little simplistic, but it’s pretty in-depth,” quarterback and B-backs (fullbacks) coach Brian Bohannon says.
Film review of the 2011 season showed that better fundamentals could have changed the course of three losses. With five of the top six linemen, Washington, A-back (slotback) and top playmaker Orwin Smith and B-back David Sims returning, there is reason to believe the spring rehearsals will pay dividends.
The offense depends on precision and quickness, and the familiarity and cohesion developed among so many players should result in big plays and long drives, two hallmarks of coach Paul Johnson’s offense.
For two years, defensive coordinator Al Groh fit 4-3 defense pieces into his 3-4 scheme. This year, Groh has more of his own pieces and is trying to better adapt to the others in his collection.
Groh will free up linemen like Izaan Cross to play more aggressively, rather than to “hold the point” to free up linebackers, a task they have not always been capable of performing. At the same time, players recruited since Groh’s arrival in 2010, including outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu, are coming into their own.
It sounds good in theory. Only time will tell if Cross, nose tackle T.J. Barnes, defensive end Euclid Cummings and others can generate pressure and stuff the run to a degree that the defense couldn’t last fall. If they can, a solid secondary and an athletic linebacking group could make the Yellow Jackets a testy bunch.
“It’s not a complicated game,” defensive line coach Andy McCollum says. “You’ve got to beat your blocks and you’ve got to get off your blocks and you’ve got to go make plays, and that’s what they’ve got to continue doing.”
Both the punting and kicking games were inconsistent last season and, as has been the case since Johnson’s arrival, special teams were often a disadvantage. For the first time in his career, Johnson hired a pure special teams coach, David Walkosky, to shape up the operation. Fiery and consumed with that aspect of the game, Walkosky seems up to the considerable challenge. If he can get punter Sean Poole and kicker Justin Moore (or their backups) to produce consistently, he’ll have made Georgia Tech far more capable of competing every Saturday.
A year ago, most predicted six or seven wins from a young team. The Yellow Jackets responded with eight, and it could have easily been 10. This season, nine wins and a strong shot at the ACC title are not unreasonable goals.
The Jackets have experience and the sour taste of losses to rivals Virginia Tech and Georgia, as well as a seventh consecutive bowl loss, to drive them. If Washington and Sims, in particular, can raise their level of play, and the defensive line delivers, there’s no reason they won’t be in the mix in the ACC.