2009 ACC Football Preview: Georgia Tech

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Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Returning Starters: 16 (9 offense, 7 defense)

Key Returnees: QB Josh Nesbitt, BB Jonathan Dwyer, AB Roddy Jones, AB
Lucas Cox, WR Demaryius Thomas, C Dan Voss, RG Joseph Gilbert, LG Cord Howard,
DE Derrick Morgan, LB Sedric Griffin, LB Brad Jefferson, LB Kyle Jackson, CB
Rashaad Reid, CB Mario Butler, ROV Morgan Burnett, FS Dominique Reese

Key Losses: LT Andrew Gardner, RT David Brown, DE Michael Johnson, DT
Vance Walker, DT Darryl Richard, DT Elris Anyaibe, LB Tony Clark, CB Jahi
Word-Daniels

Overall View

Georgia Tech finished the 2008 season with a 9-4 record, an impressive
showing in Paul Johnson’s first year. They were able to run their flexbone
offense with much greater efficiency than anyone thought, and they’ve got almost
their entire team returning for the 2009 season.

The Yellow Jackets beat quality teams last year, such as Florida State, Miami
and Georgia. However, they were blown out by LSU in the Chick-fil-A bowl when
the Tigers had a month to prepare for the triple option.

We’ll find out in the month of September exactly how good Georgia Tech will
be. They play Clemson, Miami and North Carolina in three straight games.

Offensive Strength

The offensive backfield is easily the strength of Georgia Tech’s
offense heading into the 2009 season. B-back (GT’s version of a fullback)
Jonathan Dwyer was the ACC Player of the Year, running for 1,395 yards and
averaging seven yards per carry. Dwyer is only a rising junior and has been
selected as the conference’s Preseason Player of the Year.

The Jackets have a lot more than just Dwyer. Louisville transfer Anthony
Allen, who rushed for over 1,100 yards in two years at Louisville, will join the
team as an A-back. The other GT A-backs (wingbacks) will be Roddy Jones and
Lucas Cox. Jones ran for 690 yards as a r-freshman last year, including a 214
yard performance at Georgia. Cox had 200 yards on the season as well, averaging
7.7 per carry.

Quarterback Josh Nesbitt does a good job running the option, and he added 693
yards on the ground. If he can improve his passing ability, he can become a
dynamic threat.

Offensive Weakness

Georgia Tech’s wide receivers are the weakness of the offense, by
default. The Yellow Jackets didn’t throw the ball enough last season for their
wideouts to have a big impact. Demaryius Thomas is perhaps the best wide
receiver in the ACC. He finished with 39 catches for 627 yards and three
touchdowns, but no other wide receiver had more than 53 yards through the air.

Georgia Tech plans to expand their passing game this coming season, and
Thomas will be a big part of that. However, will they have any other receivers
who are capable of helping out?

Defensive Strength

Georgia Tech returns all four starters in the secondary, which
should be the strength of their defense in 2009. Morgan Burnett is arguably the
best safety in the ACC. He intercepted seven passes last year and broke up eight
more at his rover position. Dominique Reese is a good an experienced safety, so
the Yellow Jackets should be very good in the deep middle of the defense.

Mario Butler and Rashaad Reid are the starting cornerbacks. They aren’t known
as standouts, but there isn’t a lot of depth at wide receiver in the ACC, so the
Yellow Jackets should be able to get by.

Defensive Weakness

Georgia Tech lost three defensive linemen to the NFL, plus their top backup
defensive tackle. This makes their defensive line the weakness of the
Yellow Jacket defense. Defensive end Michael Johnson was a third round
selection, while tackles Darryl Richard and Vance Walker were selected in the
seventh round.

Derrick Morgan returns as one of the top defensive ends in the ACC, but the
rest of the line will be very inexperienced. They also don’t appear to have a
lot of depth. Georgia Tech is generally very solid up front on defense, but 2009
could be a down year for the defensive line.

Key Game

Georgia Tech gets an easy win in their first game against Jacksonville State,
but then they host Clemson on Thursday, September 10. Clemson will have
spent much of their offseason preparing for the triple option attack, as they’ll
likely not put much effort into their opener against Middle Tennessee.

We saw what happened to Georgia Tech against LSU, when the Tigers had a lot
of time to prepare. Clemson has a fast, experienced defense, and they did a
great job against the Georgia Tech offense last year despite the fact that Dabo
Swinney took over as head coach less than a week before the game.

If Georgia Tech can beat Clemson and run their offense effectively, then they
will be a major threat. They also play Miami and UNC in September, so we’ll know
quite a bit about the Yellow Jackets early in the season.

Chris Coleman’s Thoughts

Georgia Tech’s offense is scary. They have the perfect pieces in place to run
their offense: a mobile quarterback (Josh Nesbitt) who understands how to run
the option, a fullback (Jonathan Dwyer) who can pound it between the tackles and
outrun defenders, as well as a wingback (Roddy Jones) who can make plays in
space. They also have a wide receiver (Demaryius Thomas) who will keep defenses
honest.

OThat’s not even mentioning other things, such as A-back Lucas Cox, a good
offensive line, and the fact that it’s very difficult to prepare for the triple
option in just a week. Throw in Anthony Allen as an extra running back, and it
seems like Georgia Tech has almost too many threats on offense.

If the Yellow Jackets can develop a more consistent passing offense, then
watch out. This offense will be almost impossible to stop. Defenses will have to
focus on eliminating big plays, and hoping Georgia Tech turns the ball over. The
Hokies were able to do that successfully last year, but almost everyone else was
not.

On the other hand, I don’t think Georgia Tech’s defense is going to be as
strong as they generally are. I believe the Hokies and other ACC teams with good
offensive lines will be able to run the football. We’re all used to seeing GT
teams that can stop the run, but are susceptible to the pass. However, it looks
to be the direct opposite this year.

To take advantage of their depth in the secondary, the GT coaching staff has
come up with a bit of a different defensive scheme. They are going away from the
traditional 4-3 look and are switching to more of a 4-2-5, with the new
“Wolf” position replacing one of the outside linebackers. The
“Wolf” is a combination outside linebacker/defensive back, similar to
the “Whip” in Virginia Tech’s scheme. This move will allow Georgia
Tech more versatility with their defensive alignments.

I’ll be honest, Georgia Tech scares the heck out of me. That will be the
toughest offense the Hokies face this year. Thankfully Jake Johnson and Barquell
Rivers will have started six games before they have to face that triple option.

I’d prefer the Hokies to have a bye week before playing Georgia Tech, but
I’ll settle for one afterwards. The Hokies will know that they just need to play
hard for one more game, on October 17, before getting a much-needed week off to
prepare for the closing stretch of the season.

I’m expecting Georgia Tech to be very good, but their schedule isn’t easy.
Besides Clemson, Miami and UNC in September, they get Florida State and Virginia
Tech back-to-back in October. With only Virginia, Wake Forest and Duke on the
ACC schedule after October 17, the Yellow Jackets will likely know their ACC
fate halfway through the season.

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