The monumental task the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets are facing as they open up the 2012 season is probably about to get even harder. The forecast calls scattered thunderstorms throughout the evening in Blacksburg (stop me if you’ve seen this script before) that could greatly impact the season, ACC, and division opener for the only two teams to ever win the ACC Coastal division.
The Yellow Jackets entire tonights game trying to erase the memory of last season’s melt down towards the end of the year where a 7-2 Yellow Jacket squad, poised to play in its second ACC title game in three years lost three of it’s last four games, including one to Virginia Tech, essentially wrapping up the division race.
Many will say the turning point in Georgia Tech’s season last year came against Virginia Tech, in a game Georgia Tech, then ranked 20th in the nation, led 26-21 late in the third quarter. However, an egregious personal foul committed by Yellow Jacket linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu extended a Virginia Tech drive that should have already been over. The result? The Hokies scored 16 unanswered points and held the Yellow Jackets to just one yard over their final three drives in coming back for a 37-26 victory in Atlanta.
Clearly, the first task for Georgia Tech tonight will be to slow down Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas. Thomas blistered the Yellow Jackets defense a year ago, as the Hokies racked up 476 yards of offense, the highest amount surrendered by the Jackets all season. Of those 476, 209 came through the air, on just seven completions. Somehow Georgia Tech must find an answer.
That answer may not come so much from Al Groh finding solutions on his defense, though he does have six starters back and reason for optimism, but rather what the Hokies do not return on the offensive side of the football.
Yes, Logan Thomas returns to run the show, but Danny Coale and Jarrell Boykin, who combined for 121 receptions, over half of the teams total, do not. It’s not as though there’s a complete void behind those two though. Marcus Davis averaged 17 yards per catch last year as the third option. At 6’4 228 lbs Davis poses serious matchup problems for the Georgia Tech secondary, which was supposed to be returning essentially four starters. However, two expected starters will not play tonight for the Jackets. Cornerback Louis Young is serving a suspension, and safety Fred Holton is injured. Some young, and inexperienced players in that secondary will be thrown to the fire. Where over the summer it appeared that perhaps the Yellow Jacket secondary would match up well with the new receiving corps in Virginia Tech, that advantage no longer looks so much in Georgia Tech’s favor.
One glimmer of hope however, and one that cannot be understated, is the amount of inexperience along the Virginia Tech offensive line. The starting unit only brings back center Andrew Miller from last year’s team that rushed for 187 yards per game while allowing just 17 sacks. Fitting in four new starters to open a season rarely works well, for anyone. Georgia Tech must find a way to take advantage of this.
A lot of whether or not Georgia Tech can make the most of the greeness of the Virgina Tech front five will rest on T.J. Barnes, the 345 lb senior nosetackle that people keep waiting on to deliver. In all fairness it’s not just Barnes, the entire defensive line has been an underachieving unit ever since Derrick Morgan left campus to go play in the NFL.
Last season Georgia Tech allowed 179 rushing yards on a 4.9 yards per carry average in league games, a number that must be reduced significantly for this team to come close to reaching its goals, and to have a chance to beat Virginia Tech tonight. The defense did generate 22 sacks, which while not eye popping, isn’t terrible. Unless you take into consideration that 11 of them came in two games Western Carolina and North Carolina. 11 sacks in the other 11 games? Now that, that is indeed terrible.
Georgia Tech’s defense has more experience than the Virginia Tech offense, for sure, but can it capitalize on that? Can it find a way to slow down one man wrecking crew Logan Thomas? If it can, Georgia Tech will absolutely be in this football game in the fourth quarter. If….
If… as always seems to be the lead story with Georgia Tech, the offense clicks. The Jackets offense is based heavily on timing and perfect execution as opposed to superior talent, so one would think it’s an offense that would sputter at the outset of a year and then pick up steam as the season wore on. Quite contraire.
After their 768 yard outburst against Kansas in the third game of the 2011 season, Georgia Tech’s offense proceeded to post totals, succesively, of 496, 413, 386, 296, and finally 211 yards against Miami as each week the offense was less and less productive. So perhaps getting the Hokies early isn’t so bad.
Georgia Tech does have one huge advantage on the offensive side of the ball, and it’s the return of four starters on the offensie line. In addition, Paul Johnson likes his depth up front so much that you can expect a steady rotation along the offensive line, which in effect, theoretically should help the offense wear down an opponent as the game goes on.
Benefitting most of course from the offensive line will be A-Back Orwin Smith, who despite battling injury problems as the year closed, still racked up nearly 1,300 all purpose yards and averaged over 10 yards a carry.
Of course, it’s not really the running game that overly concerns Georgia Tech people, it’s the lack of a passing game. Tevin Washington completely less than half his passes last season for just 11 touchdowns while throwing 8 interceptions. All this while he had high NFL draft pick Stephen Hill outside.
With Hill gone, a new threat must emerge, and fortunately for the Jackets a couple options present themselves. Sophomores Jeff Greene and Darren Waller, along with junior Jeremy Moore give Tech three targets that all stand 6’3 or taller, so there are some intriguing options.
The other question will be how short is Washington’s leash? Redshirt freshmen Vad Lee is, as is often the case with the backup quarterback, perhaps the most popular Georgia Tech player in the blogosphere. Washington’s first struggles with have the Yellow Jacket faithful clamoring for Lee.
The biggest issue facing the Georgia Tech offense tonight however is simply though, the other teams defense. Last year Georgia Tech allowed just 13 sacks. However, five of those sacks came courtesy of the Virginia Tech defense, a defense that brings back nine starters. Worse for Tech, of the 41 sacks registered by Virginia Tech a year ago, those responsible for all 41 will be back on the field this Friday night as well.
If there’s any shred of silver lining it’s that the two new starters will be at safety, a position of great importance when defending the option. If you remember in 2009 against Virginia Tech, it was Paul Johnson’s adjustment on how to block the Hokies safeties that ignited his offense. The safeties must be disciplined against the option, or they can quickly allow big plays, and few offenses in the country of put up big plays like Georgia Tech has under Johnson.
Sophomores Detrick Bonner and Kyshoen Jarrett will man the safety spots for Virginia Tech, and both got a good deal of playing time a year ago. However, it’s a lot different when the lights go on for a nationally televised season opener that essentially could have your season decided before you even play your second game.
The last factor, and quite possibly the wildcard in all of this, is the aforementioned weather. Georgia Tech’s offense is heavily predicated on ball handling, and deception. Slick ball handling while playing with a wet football on a wet surface can be disastrous.
Georgia Tech will have to be careful with the football, especially Tevin Washington. Running an option offense in downpour conditions is far less than ideal. One advantage an offense may typically have in such conditions is that because of the poor footing, knowing where they are going and forcing a defense to react puts the offense in better shape. However, the key to defending Georgia Tech’s offense is just the opposite. You don’t read and react, you play you responsibility. So in many ways, the defense, they too know exactly where they need to be, so that potential edge is wiped out for the Yellow Jackets.
When all is said and done, Georgia Tech fans should feel good if this team goes up to Blacksburg and is still in the game in the fourth quarter. The Hokies stellar defense, the weather, and that Logan Thomas guy, not to mention the Lane Stadium environment, make it seem like the result is enevitable.
Then again, that’s precisely when Paul Johnson’s squad likes to surprise you.