Wednesday, August 26, 2009

CFI Countdown: #17 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

2008 Record: 9-4 (ACC: 5-3)
Bowl Game: Lost Chick-fil-A Bowl to LSU 38-3
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Stadium: Bobby Dodd Stadium (55,000)
Head Coach: Paul Johnson
Overall: 116-43 (13th season)
@ Georgia Tech: 9-4 (2nd season)
Link to Ga. Tech Football Page

The assumption many in the media are making is that a team that exceeded expectations with nine wins in their first season under a new head coach and new system will improve simply by showing up in year two. That isn’t always the case. That is not to say that Coach Paul Johnson or stars Jonathan Dwyer and Morgan Burnett have any such ideas—because they don’t. With expectations comes added pressure and it also means a win over the Ramblin’ Wreck is a feather in the cap of their foes. It will be interesting to see which direction the Jackets go.

When the Yellow Jackets Have the Ball

Offensive Coordinator: Paul Johnson (2nd season)
Scheme: Spread (Triple) Option
Starters Returning: Nine
Key Losses: OT Andrew Gardner

No one in the ACC can match the firepower Tech brings in the offensive backfield led by junior Jonathan Dwyer. The ACC’s leading rusher from a year ago has both the ability to bulldoze defenders and blaze his way for a big run—he’s been a perfect fit as Coach Johnson’s B-back in the option attack. Dwyer was devastatingly effective, averaging seven yards per carry. A perfect complement emerged in sophomore Roddy Jones who rushed for 690 yards despite only 81 carries. Adding to the depth is the powerful Anthony Allen, a junior transfer from Louisville. Running the show is junior quarterback Josh Nesbitt who was very adept at running the ball and leading the option—a point guard who could dish or keep it. If they are to take the next step and win the ACC title (as ACC Insider Brian Palmese has predicted), Nesbitt will have to become a better all-around player, which means he has to improve his passing. Last season, the junior completed only 43.9 percent of his passes for two scores (five interceptions), which isn’t going to cut it. He has a legit number one receiver in 6’ 3” junior wide out Demaryius Thomas. The offensive line is also in question—they lost two starters, but have the entire line intact from impressive wins over Georgia and Miami (as well as a thrashing at the hands of LSU). Even though they ran the ball well, the line doesn’t possess the quickness and athleticism Johnson typically craves.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) RB Jonathan Dwyer (JR), 2) WR Demaryius Thomas (JR), 3) OG Joseph Gilbert (SO)

When the Other Team Has the Ball

Defensive Coordinator: Dave Wommack (2nd season)
Scheme: 4-3/4-2-5
Starters Returning: Eight
Key Losses: DE Michael Johnson, DT Darryl Richard, DT Vance Walker, LB Tony Clark, CB Jahi Word-Daniels

With so much focus on the offense, the amount of playmakers Tech has on defense often gets overlooked. Gone are starters Darryl Richard and Vance Walker at tackle, as well as electrifying end Michael Johnson. It will be nearly impossible to replace their production, but junior end Derrick Morgan isn’t a bad start. He needs to prove he is ready to be the man and that he wasn’t a product of the attention the seniors received. They should be fine at linebacker where they are healthy and deep, led by talented sophomore Kyle Jefferson and senior Sedric Griffin. But the strength of the defense lies at the safety position. Strong safety Morgan Burnett is an instinctive player with phenomenal ball skills which allow him to contribute against both the run and the pass. Fellow junior Dominique Reese and sophomore Cooper Taylor are talented in their own right. Don’t be surprised to see all three on the field at the same time. They should be solid, not spectacular, at cornerback.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) SS Morgan Burnett (JR), 2) DE Derrick Morgan (JR), 3) LB Kyle Jackson (SO)

The Schedule

For the most part, the Jackets can’t have too many complaints when it comes to the schedule. First and foremost they play both Virginia Tech and North Carolina—their most likely challengers for the Coastal Division crown (and two of their three conference losses in 2008)—in Bobby Dodd Stadium. They also host Georgia in the finale and Clemson on Thursday night in week two. In addition to Clemson, they play Florida St. from the Atlantic Division and that one is on the road, where they’ve never beaten the ‘Noles. And let’s not forget that Thursday night trip to South Beach to take on the rising ‘Canes.

Pivotal Point

A balanced attack would go a long way towards seeing the Ramblin’ Wreck beat out the Hokies and the Heels and make it to the ACC Championship Game. Does Nesbitt have it in him? His 43.9 percent completion rate, two touchdowns and 73.5 yards per game last season were down right anemic. The irony is many questioned whether a Chan Gailey recruited quarterback could play effectively for Bobby Johnson. Nesbitt has a decent enough arm, but can he be accurate enough, even with teams focusing on the run? Another reason the Jackets need to be more balanced is that being so run dominate ignores their second most talented offensive player in Thomas. He’s is a big target who can go up and get the football with the potential to be an explosive playmaker—see Duke, October 4th, when Thomas went off for 230 yards (over a third of his sophomore production).

CFI Final Analysis

The offense may get better with another year under their belt in Johnson’s flex offense, but let’s not forget the defense is in a transition period as well, which was eased last season with three impact seniors along the defensive line. With three new starters and no more John Tenuta blitzes can they create the same havoc, and how will that impact the back seven? Don’t fret Techsters, your Jackets won’t take a step back, but a step forward won’t be automatic.

College Football Insiders Top 25 Countdown:

The Next 25 (26-50) Plus 18 Bowl Teams
#25 West Virginia Mounainteers
#24 Tennessee Volunteers
#23 Clemson Tigers
#22 Pittsburgh Panthers
#21 Michigan St. Spartans
#20 Utah Utes
#19 Oregon Ducks
#18 Florida St. Seminoles

Contact Daniel Mogollon via email

Photo Credit: Georgia Tech Sports Information Office