Top 25 Team Previews
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets"/>
Top 25 Athlon Team Previews: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
2009 Record: 11-3 (7-1 in ACC)
Head Coach: Paul Johnson
Josh Nesbitt :: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
South Carolina State
at North Carolina
at Wake Forest
at Florida State
vs. Clemson (Tampa)
Iowa (Orange Bowl)
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Anthony Allen, RB: Moving from A-back to B-back will put him in a more natural position.
Jerrard Tarrant, CB: He intercepted two passes and returned two punts for touchdowns last season.
Josh Nesbitt, QB: He passed for 1,701 yards, rushed for 1,037 more and was responsible for 28 touchdowns last season.
Jonathan Dwyer, RB: He was tough enough to the get the short yards and fast enough to run away from cornerbacks.
Derrick Morgan, DE: He had 12.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss to earn the ACC's Defensive Player of the Year award.
Demaryius Thomas, WR: A tough blocker who sealed the ends on the triple option, he also had 46 catches for 1,154 yards.
5: Georgia Tech has lost its last five bowl games, including last season's 24-14 loss to Iowa in the Orange Bowl, marking the longest postseason losing streak in school history.
Despite losing two of its biggest playmakers from last season, Georgia Tech's offense shouldn't miss a beat this year since most of the projected starters have at least two years of practice in coach Paul Johnson's run-based option offense.
Even without B-back Jonathan Dwyer, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and three starters on the offensive line, Johnson doesn't seem concerned that the offense will slow down this season.
"For 30 years I've heard this is the year (opposing defenses) catch up," Johnson said. "That's why you play the games."
Few figured out the Yellow Jackets in Johnson's second year. Tech averaged 295.4 rushing yards per game last season, best in the ACC and second-best in the FBS, on its way to winning the ACC and playing in the Orange Bowl. But there is still room to improve.
Josh Nesbitt, one of the more dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation, rushed for more than 1,000 yards and passed for more than 1,700, but needs to improve his accuracy (46.3); Thomas won't be around to go up and get the ball no matter where it's thrown.
Tech actively tried to get A-backs Embry Peeples and Roddy Jones more involved in the passing attack as the season progressed last year, and Johnson has said there will be more wrinkles this year. That may include some shotgun formations, something Tech worked on in the spring.
A powerful 6-foot, 239-pound back, Anthony Allen will be the workhorse at B-back, taking over for Dwyer. Johnson said he will be stunned if Allen doesn't surpass 1,000 yards.
Tech scored a coup when it hired former Virginia head coach Al Groh to take over a defense that had many issues last season. The Jackets allowed 208.6 passing yards and 151.6 rushing yards per game, relatively average stats except for the fact that opponents were on the field a mere 26 minutes per game.
Dissatisfied with the results of his stop-unit, Johnson let go of former defensive coordinator Dave Wommack and brought in Groh to teach a 3-4 system. Groh said the key will be pressuring the quarterback -- something that only NFL first-round pick Derrick Morgan consistently did last year -- and creating turnovers.
Tech's most talented defender is likely cornerback-turned-safety Jerrard Tarrant, who also excelled in the return game last season.
Tech will look to improve on the two punt returns for touchdowns it had last season, and the two it allowed on kickoffs. It also must improve its field goal kicking. Against teams not named Clemson, Scott Blair was 7-of-13. Against the Tigers, he was 7-of-7. Because the Yellow Jackets are deeper as a team this season than last, the kickoff coverage be improved with fresher legs running down the field and Blair improving the placement of his kicks. Chandler Anderson averaged more than 40 yards per punt last season, despite not getting very many chances.
Although other teams are more fashionable picks to win the ACC, the Yellow Jackets still return 12 starters from last year's championship team. As long as Nesbitt and Allen can replicate the success Tech's offense had last season, there's no reason to think the Yellow Jackets won't be in the thick of the conference race when they enter a tough three-game stretch that begins against revenge-minded Clemson on Oct. 23.