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2015 Fierce 40 Previews: #19 Georgia Tech

by DJ Boyer on Aug. 21, 2015

#19 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

2014 Recap:

Georgia Tech got all the way to the ACC Championship but ultimately lost to Florida State 37-35. The highlight for the Yellow Jacket season had to be the final two regular season contests when they destroyed Clemson 28-6 and then outlasted Georgia 30-24 in 2 OT. The Yellow Jackets regained their momentum after the loss to Florida State, as they downed Mississippi State 49-34 in the Orange Bowl.

Coaching:

Paul Johnson and his rushing attack has worked for 7 years at Georgia Tech and during his 18 years as a head coach. Georgia Tech led the FBS in rushing last season with 342 YPG, and in his 18 years as a head coach a Paul Johnson offense has finished #1 in the nation in rushing five times. Paul Johnson continues to serve as the offensive coordinator along with being the head coach. Ted Roof takes a defense that was 79th overall but 14th in the nation in turnover ratio, an opportunistic statistic that Georgia Tech would like to see repeat in 2015.

 

Offensive Analysis

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

Justin Thomas is far from the conventional quarterback that we are accustomed to seeing at the next level, but he is perfect for a Paul Johnson team. If Georgia Tech is able to once again challenge for the ACC title it will likely be due to the exceptional play of Thomas who could find himself in the Heisman Trophy hunt. Thomas led the Yellow Jacket offense with 1,086 yards rushing, but that was just a fraction of the nearly 4,800 they gained as a team on the ground. The key to the passing game for Thomas is limiting turnovers and making big plays, and an 18-6 touchdown to interception ratio is acceptable running this offense. Thomas will have to be even more effective running the football, as many of the proven running backs in this system have gone down to injury early.

Georgia Tech is already down a pair of running backs lost to season ending injuries in C.J. Leggett (knee) and Quaide Weimerskirsch (foot). Broderick Snoddy is now the top returning runner from last season, and that was over 280 yards on just 28 carries. Dennis Andrews will serve as one of the running backs, and junior Marcus Allen will be the third starter, as he has been moved from wide receiver due to the injury issues. We have Thomas listed as the best prospect of the bunch, but that will be as a straight up running back for the NFL at 5’11” 190 pounds.

Best Draft Prospect: Justin Thomas RB 6th Round 2016.

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

Despite being known as a team that likes to run on first second and third downs, the Yellow Jackets lost a pair of receivers to the next level in 2015. DeAndre Smelter and Darren Waller both possessed tremendous size, and their big play ability made them attractive to a number of teams. Georgia Tech is now left with only one returning starter from last season in Michael Summers. Summers had just 45 yards on seven catches last season. Sophomore Ricky Jeune is a big body at 6’3” 215 and his blocking skills are exceptional. Blocking is something Georgia Tech wide receivers must excel at in sealing the edge for the running game. Jeune may even wind up as the team leader in receptions, although it’s likely that neither he or Summers total 25 catches during the season.

Best Draft Prospect: N/A.

 

Offensive Line:

It isn’t all doom and gloom for the offense. Justin Thomas is back, but you may be reading this and thinking…wow…that’s about all Georgia Tech has going for them. Nothing could be further from the truth, as Georgia tech will start the season with what looks to be the most efficient offensive line in the ACC and one of the most underrated units in the entire country. Bryan Chamberlain may be the most talented offensive tackle in the ACC, even though he is a little undersized (as most Georgia Tech lineman are). Chamberlain may be the most athletic left tackle in the country and has a tremendous wingspan with arms that all him to gain leverage on speed rushers with ease. Georgia Tech lost Shaq Mason to graduation, but the interior of the line is still in excellent shape. Trey Braun and Freddie Burden may find themselves on some ACC postseason award lists when the season concludes at guard and center respectively. Errin Joe is the largest lineman, and he will return at right tackle, letting Chamberlain continue on the left side due to his athleticism and Georgia tech’s propensity to run to that side of the line.

Best Draft Prospect: Bryan Chamberlain OT 3rd Round 2016.

 

Defensive Analysis

Defensive Line:

The defensive line is deep, but Georgia Tech knows they have to turn up the pressure this season if they want to replicate their 2014 success. Georgia Tech was near the bottom of the ACC, as they reached opposing quarterbacks only 20 times. While only having 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks last year, you are talking about a player that as a sophomore had those numbers read 14.5 and five. Gotsis is a rarity at the NCAA level, a productive Australian player that isn’t a kicker or punter. Gotsis has the talent needed for the NFL, but he played around 275 as a sophomore and about 280 last season. If he wants to play defensive tackle at the NFL level that weight should be closer to 290, or he could be used as an end in a 3-4 set.

Georgia Tech uses a 4-3, and KeShaun Freeman brings the majority of the pressure along the outside. Freeman actually led Georgia Tech with 4.5 sacks last season. The Yellow Jackets were one of only six teams at the FBS level that did not have a player reach at least five sacks on the roster. The good news for Georgia Tech is Freeman did all this damage as a freshman and should only improve. Jabari Hunt-Days is another player along the interior that should help the production of Gotsis and eliminate the number of double teams he faces. Again star power is not abound, but depth is not an issue for the Yellow Jackets.

Best Draft Prospect: Adam Gotsis DT/DE 4th Round 2016.

 

Linebackers:

P.J. Davis leads a unit that only averages 224 pounds but has some of the best sideline-to-sideline speed you will see at the ACC level. Davis may project to the pros as a larger safety, but his contributions at linebacker make him one of the best playmakers for Georgia Tech. Davis led the team with 119 tackles and made 8.5 for loss while forcing three fumbles. Davis played some of his best football at the end of the season, as in the ACC Championship Game and the Orange Bowl. He led the team with 11 tackles in both contests. Davis should not only be the primary playmaker this season, but he has accepted the role as the leader of the defense and will be calling many of the plays and formations while communicating with coordinator Ted Roof. Tyler Marcordes is back starting in the middle, and Davis will be joined on the outside by senior Anthony Harrell. Harrell did not start last season but saw action in 13 of the 14 Yellow Jacket games while being one of the special teams leaders. Newcomer Brant Mitchell could figure heavily into Georgia Tech’s plans throughout the season.

Best Draft Prospect: P.J. Davis LB/S 5th Round 2017.

 

Secondary:

Georgia Tech did so well in the turnover ratio department a season ago in large part due to the 18 interceptions logged by the secondary. The co-leaders with four a piece also happen to be the top playmakers on defense in cornerback D.J. White and safety Jamal Golden. White plays much larger than his 5’11” frame, as he matched up with some of the top receivers in the ACC last season and shut them down. Opponents completed only 44% of passes thrown in his direction. White also logged 66 tackles, and his eight pass breakups were also tops on the defense.

Jamal Golden came back in 2014 after injury, and he was effective, but many feel he was not up to his 2012 form when he looked like a superstar in waiting. His 61 tackles and four interceptions look good on paper, but Golden will need to improve his play recognition and run support. If he does it could be a banner year for the Yellow Jacket secondary. Chris Minton and Desmond Smith are also returning, meaning that Georgia Tech will see all four starters return from last season. P.J. Davis will drop into coverage from time to time, as Georgia tech goes with a 3-3-5 alignment about 10-15% of the time.

Best Draft Prospect: D.J. White CB 5th Round 2016.

 

Special Teams

Harrison Butker struggled with accuracy, going 11-18 during his sophomore campaign, especially in the 30-39 yard range where he was a dismal 3-7. Butker shows he has the leg strength, as his 53-yard field goal against Georgia saved the game and contributed to the Orange Bowl birth. Georgia Tech was among the top units in the ACC on punt and kickoff coverage. Opponents had nearly 23 yatrds per return on kickoffs and seven yards on punts, but Georgia Tech limited the big plays and won the special teams war in nearly all of their 2015 contests. Georgia Tech should rotate their return men, and Ryan Rodwell should continue to be an effective directional punter for the Yellow Jackets.

Best Draft Prospect: N/A.

 

Schedule

Georgia Tech has the talent and are a seemingly deeper roster than one year ago, but the schedule is not one of the easier ones in the ACC. The third game of the year will be the first road test, and that will come in South Bend against the Fighting Irish. The ACC schedule then opens with Duke, North Carolina and Clemson with only North Carolina coming at home. Georgia tech then finishes with three of their final four games on the road, and the grudge game against Georgia is on their turf this season.

 

Draft Prospects & Outlook

Bryan Chamberlain could be the surprise and elevate himself into a top tier offensive tackle, especially with more teams employing a spread formation rushing attack at the pro level. Adam Gotsis and D.J. White are also under appreciated seniors, and linebacker P.J. Davis projects as an active safety at the next level. Georgia Tech didn’t finish 11-3 by accident. This is a team with some serious talent, despite the fact that they run a gimmicky type of offense.

DJ Boyer