2007 ACC Football Season Preview: Georgia Tech

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Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

15 returning starters (7 offense, 8 defense)

Key Players: QB Taylor Bennett, RB Tashard Choice, WR James Johnson, C
Kevin Tuminello, LT Andrew Gardner, DE Adamm Oliver, DT Darryl Richard, MLB
Philip Wheeler, SLB Gary Guyton, SS Jamal Lewis, P Durant Brooks

Overall
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Georgia Tech returns plenty of talent and experience on both sides of the
ball, and they feature Ray Guy Award finalist Durant Brooks at punter. Calvin
Johnson is off to the NFL to play for the Detroit Lions, and he is easily
Georgia Tech’s biggest loss. Despite that loss, the Yellow Jackets should still
be good this year, and could potentially challenge for the Coastal Division
championship.

Except for the loss of Johnson, this is the most talented and complete
Georgia Tech team of the Chan Gailey era.

Offensive Strength

Without a doubt, Georgia Tech’s offensive strength is the running game, which
is led by the best offensive line in the ACC. They opened holes for the ACC’s
leading rusher in 2006, Tashard Choice, who had 1,473 yards on the ground and 12
touchdowns.

Choice got it going as the season went along last season, rushing for over
100 yards in the last seven games of the season, and nine of the last 10. His
breakout performance came against Virginia Tech when he had 105 yards on 18
carries, and two touchdowns. He is the perfect running fit behind Georgia Tech’s
offensive line.

That offensive line is talented and experienced. Four starters return. Not
only are they returning starters from last season, but they’ve all started at
least 26 consecutive games for the Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech’s offensive line
could be the best overall offensive unit in the ACC.

Offensive Weakness

Anytime you lose arguably the best player in the country, his position is
going to be a weakness the following season. That’s the case at wide receiver
for Georgia Tech heading into 2007. The Yellow Jackets have one legitimate
option, junior receiver James Johnson. He caught 39 passes for seven touchdowns
opposite Calvin Johnson last season. He’ll be expected to step it up even more
this year.

The other receiver will be 6-3, 220 pound Demaryius Thomas. The r-freshman
has drawn rave reviews from quarterback Taylor Bennett and the coaching staff.
But he’s unproven, and all the backup receivers have very little game
experience.

Defensive Strength

Tech’s defensive line should be very good this season. They are talented and
athletic, and they are also experienced, returning seven of their top eight
players from last season. The best is probably defensive end Adamm Oliver, who
had 70 tackles and 11 tackles for loss last season. The other defensive ends,
Michael Johnson and Darrell Robertson, are also very effective. Johnson is 6-7,
250, and had five sacks last year.

Defensive tackle is probably a little more worrisome, but this group should
still do fine. Darryl Richard returns as a starter, and Vance Walker will move
into the starting lineup after being in the two-deep as a freshman last season.
None of Tech’s defensive tackles weigh in at more than 285, so they can move up
and down the line very well.

Defensive Weakness

Georgia Tech is a team that loves to blitz. They’ll blitz from any and every
spot on the field. That leaves their defensive backs in a lot of one-one-one
situations, and they can get burned in the passing game. Corners Jahi
Word-Daniels and Avery Robinson are solid, but not game breakers. Behind them
are former wide receiver Pat Clark and r-freshman Dominique Reese. But this is a
relative weakness; they are certainly not a bad unit.

Georgia Tech has more talent at the safety positions. Strong safety Jamal
Lewis was First Team All-ACC last season, and Djay Jones had four interceptions.
They are both experienced seniors and should be major weapons for Jon Tenuta’s
defense.

Key Game

October 13 at Miami. Forget about the opening game at Notre Dame. Georgia
Tech will beat the Irish fairly easily. It’s possible that the Yellow Jackets
could be 6-0 or 5-1 heading into that game at Miami. If they can knock off the
‘Canes for the third year in a row, their only remaining ACC games will be Duke,
UNC and Virginia Tech. They’ll have a good shot to win the Coastal Division.

Overall Georgia Tech has a favorable schedule. They get Boston College,
Clemson, Virginia Tech (on a Thursday night) and Georgia all at home.

Will Stewart’s Take

Chris avoided the jab that every other preseason writer has been taking at
the Yellow Jackets, or more accurately, their departed quarterback, Reggie Ball.
Most writers say that Ball’s departure could be addition by subtraction, because
Ball’s only consistency was his inconsistency. Last year, for example, when the
Jackets had the Hokies by the throat, leading 21-7, Ball threw interceptions on
two straight plays, allowing the Hokies to stop the bleeding and close the gap
to 21-13.

That was classic Reggie Ball. The second interception came on a disguised
coverage that shouldn’t have fooled a senior, four-year starter like Ball.

Taylor Bennett is Ball’s replacement. Bennett subbed for the suspended Ball
in last year’s Gator Bowl and threw for 335 yards and three touchdowns, then
followed that up with five TD passes in GT’s final spring scrimmage. Bennett is
four inches taller than Ball — 6-3 versus 5-11 — and thereby offers new
offensive coordinator John Bond more options in the passing game. (Former OC
Patrick Nix was reportedly reluctant to have the diminutive Ball throw across
the middle.)

One last stat: Georgia Tech’s first-team defense allowed an average of 6.0
points over the final three regular-season games and the ACC title game, and the
Jackets lost twice, to Georgia (15-12) and Wake Forest (9-6, ACC title game).
Ball, in his final game as a collegian against Wake, was 9-of-29 for 129 yards,
with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Going by the stats, you can blame the
loss of the ACC title on Ball.

Despite all that, the questions remain: Did Reggie Ball hold back an
otherwise very good Georgia Tech team from achieving even more? Now that he’s
gone, will the Jackets be an improved team, the loss of Calvin Johnson
notwithstanding? Or was Ball unfairly made the scapegoat for a program that
really could have — and should have — won the ACC last year?

The Hokies are heavily favored to win the ACC, but Fear the Jackets. By the
time Tech visits Tech on Thursday, November 1st, we’ll have a better idea if
Taylor Bennett is a big improvement over Ball, thus elevating the program, or if
this is the same old good-but-not-great Georgia Tech squad.

GT
2007 Football Schedule

GT
2007 Roster

GT
2007 Depth Chart (PDF file)

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