Editor’s note – It’s kickoff week and no better time to take another look at all the teams in the ACC Nation Football Preview. Chris Bond takes a look at a team ready to re-energize their offense, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
Losing four of their last six games and coming off a 3-9 campaign in 2015, Paul Johnson needed a victory in the worst way. Blacksburg, Virginia is a bad place to find yourself in need of win. Add to their troubles a 48-20 drubbing one week earlier at North Carolina.
To top it all off, Georgia Tech would give quarterback Matthew Jordan his first start after three-year starter Justin Thomas had suffered a neck injury.
Jordan came through with 2 touchdowns while rushing 149 yards in the 30-20 victory in Blacksburg. Johnson’s squad ended on a 4 game winning streak including a bowl win over Kentucky.
The opportunity allowed Jordan to demonstrate his worthiness as Thomas’ heir apparent. Thomas had been Johnson’s most successful QB during his tenure in Atlanta. Thomas is currently trying to make the NFL dream happen as a wide receiver for the Los Angeles Rams.
Meanwhile, Jordan looks to fill the most important spot in any offense, under center. He’s had to overcome a lot, including working through Type 1 diabetes. In the off season, Jordan speaks to youth who have Type 1 diabetes.
As a red shirt junior, he’s wasted no time getting his degree already, not an easy task at a school with a challenging curriculum. It’s a testament to his leadership skills.
ACC Nation Football Preview – Sting Like A Bee
Speaking of leaders, the back field has another in Dedrick Mills. In his freshman campaign Mills shined, winning ACC rookie of the week twice. Although he played at least four fewer games than his nearest competitors, his 12 rushing touchdowns were tied for third nationally among freshmen. If he played in enough games to meet the minimum for inclusion in FBS per game stats, he would have ranked second among all freshmen nationally in scoring (8.7 ppg). Mills would have been fourth among freshmen in rushing with 85.7 ypg. Lined up next to him is Clinton Lynch who averaged a whopping 17.1 yards per touch – 53 touches, 37 rushes, 16 receptions for 905 total yards.
The offensive line is what makes this offense hum and they return three starters with 54 starts in total. The team did lose 3 time all ACC center Freddie Burden. Kenny Cooper, who is highly regarded, will take his place. Any drop off in production should be minimal at best.
Receivers are not traditionally the highlight of Johnson’s offense. Some of the best play makers in Johnson’s time have been found on the fringes. Demaryius Thomas and Stephen Hill found success and NFL contracts under Johnson’s coaching staff.
Ricky Jeune and Brad Stewart return and while only totaling 690 yards combined they had key moments especially in the last 4 games, all wins. Jeune led the team with 25 receptions and ranked second on the squad with 427 receiving yards and caught at least one pass in 11-of-13 games.
ACC Nation Football Preview – Always A Question
An area of serious concern is the defensive line. Here the Yellow Jackets lost three starters on a line that only accrued 18 sacks and gave up 180 yards rushing a game. The returning starter, KeShun Freeman comes back with 4.5 sacks and 6 tackles for loss. The most promising of the new starters is Antonio Simmons at the other end with 18 returning tackles in reserve duty. He’ll need a lot more for this line to show improvement.
The linebackers will also need to shine for a defense that gave up 400 yards a game. Terrell Lewis, a senior will finally have his chance to contribute full time. Lewis saw action in every game the last two years as a reserve. He’s the returning tackler in this group with 36 from 2017.
With all four starters returning, the strength of the defense is in the secondary. The signal caller is 3rd team All ACC Corner Lance Austin. Austin’s a two-time ACC Defensive Back of the Week. He led the ACC and finished tied for 15th nationally with 15 passes defended. He also finished tied for the league lead with 12 pass breakups. At the other corner Step Durham shined as well. He notched a career high five tackles in back to back road games versus nationally ranked teams. Durham had six more against Kentucky to close out the season. Corey Griffin is a quality enforcer at strong safety while A.J. Gray is one of the best in the conference in over the top coverage at free safety.
ACC Nation Football Preview – Special Teams
On Special Teams, four year kicker Harrison Butker left with his 50+ yard leg and 54 touch backs out of 74 kickoffs. Also, Ryan Rodwell graduates so the kicking and punting duties fall to incoming freshmen Brenton King and Pressley Harvin.
ACC Nation Football Preview – The Road Ahead
The schedule is manageable with difficult stretches out on the road. Clemson and Miami will probably be too much to ask for a win in those locales. Virginia Tech is the biggest and most daunting challenge at home as they’re hungry for revenge. A third place finish in the coastal division behind Virginia Tech and Miami is a fair expectation. Johnson always gets the most out of his kids. So 7-5 is my call but 8-4 or 9-3 isn’t out of reach.
Yellow Jackets always sting when it’s least expected, much like their namesake in nature.