2008 ACC Football Season Preview: Georgia Tech

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Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Returning Starters: 8 (4 offense, 4 defense)

Key Losses: RB Tashard Choice, WR James Johnson, FB Mike Cox, TE Colin
Peek, C Kevin Tuminello, OG Matt Rhodes, OG Nate McManus, DE Adamm Oliver, DE
Darrell Robertson, LB Philip Wheeler, LB Gary Guyton, S Djay Jones, S Jamal
Lewis

Key Returnees: QB Josh Nesbitt, RB Jonathan Dwyer, WR Demaryius Thomas,
OT Andrew Gardner, OG Cord Howard, DE Michael Johnson, DT Vance Walker, DT
Darryl Richard, LB Shane Bowen, LB Anthony Barnes, S Morgan Burnett, CB Jahi
Word-Daniels

Overall View

Chan
Gailey was fired in the offseason, and the Yellow Jackets hired Navy head coach
Paul Johnson. Johnson’s Navy teams were known for a triple option attack, and
his Georgia Tech team will employ the same offense, with some elements of the
spread offense mixed in. Johnson is lucky because he has a quarterback perfectly
suited to run his offense in Josh Nesbitt, as well as a top notch B-Back (the
primary ball carrier in the triple option) in Jonathan Dwyer.

Defensively, Georgia Tech lost some stars, but they should be good up front.
Jon Tenuta and his heavy dependency on the blitz are gone, which is probably a
good thing when you consider how well the Jackets’ cornerbacks fared against
good receivers when left on an island.

Offensive Strength

The current school of thought is that it will take awhile for Georgia Tech’s
players to get used to running Johnson’s new offense. That’s true. However, it’s
also going to take awhile for opposing defensive coordinators of the ACC to get
used to stopping it. We’re talking about a week of preparation that will be
completely different than anything else you do during the regular season.

The
Yellow Jackets have two perfect candidates to run the offense effectively.
Quarterback Josh Nesbitt was used in running situations last season, and he ran
for 339 yards, including four carries for 32 yards against Virginia Tech. Dwyer
backed up Tashard Choice and ran for 436 yards, averaging 5.3 yards per carry
and scoring nine touchdowns.

It will take more than good players to stop Georgia Tech’s offense. It will
take disciplined defenders and a defensive coordinator who can avoid personnel
mismatches.

Offensive Weakness

Georgia Tech didn’t have any standout receivers last year, and that won’t
change this year. In fact, leading returning receiver Greg Smith has moved to
A-Back (the pitch man in the option). Second leading receiver Demaryius Thomas
returns, but third leading receiver James Johnson left the program, as did
promising tight end Colin Peek, who caught 25 passes.

That said, Johnson’s passing offense doesn’t rely on great players. It relies
on mismatches, trickeration and play-action. The lack of quality receivers might
not be as big a problem as it would be at other schools.

Defensive Strength

Georgia Tech has some big time players on the defensive line. Defensive end
Michael Johnson and defensive tackle Vance Walker are being projected by many
NFL Draft analysts as first round picks in next year’s draft. Senior defensive
tackle Darryl Richard returns as well. He and Walker combined for 25 tackles for
loss last season.

Depth might be a question mark, but the Yellow Jackets always seem to be able
to rotate eight quality defensive linemen. This group should easily be the
strength of the defense this year, if only because of the three top notch
seniors.

Defensive Weakness

Morgan
Burnett is a rising star at strong safety, and Jahi Word-Daniels is a solid,
experienced cornerback. Other than that, no one in Georgia Tech’s secondary
really stands out. In the past, they’ve generally gotten burned by any team with
quality wide receivers.

Of course, it’s unlikely we’ll see as much blitzing from Georgia Tech as we
did in the past, with Jon Tenuta gone. Those defensive backs won’t be on an
island quite as much. Still, as a group I don’t think they are as good as the
Yellow Jackets’ defensive line or linebackers. They can and will be beaten
through the air.

Will Stewart’s Take

I know what you’re thinking. Small time coach Paul Johnson brings his cute
little 1-AA running attack to the ACC, where it will get chewed up and spit out,
right?

Not so fast. Paul Johnson’s triple option is widely regarded as an innovative
offense, one that is truly his and his alone, and he has made it succeed
wherever he has been, to the tune of smashing school records at every stop along
the way (Georgia Southern, Hawaii, Georgia State, and Navy twice, once as OC and
once as head coach).

And it’s not just a rushing attack. If Johnson has a good throwing QB, he
knows how to use him. Hawaii QB Garrett Gabriel threw for 2,752 yards in 1990
with Johnson as his OC. To put that in perspective, only one quarterback in the
history of VT football has ever thrown for that much yardage: Don Strock in 1972
(3,243 yards).

Johnson has won everywhere he has gone, to the tune of a .718 winning
percentage as a head coach (107-39). So don’t dismiss this offbeat hire, and he
could be a steal for GT and the ACC.

But then again, John Bunting and Ted Roof were great hires too, right? So
we’ll see.

GT
2008 Football Schedule

GT
2008 Roster

GT
2008 Depth Chart (PDF file)

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