2011 Record: (8-5, 5-3 in ACC)
Head Coach: Paul Johnson (43-22 at GT, 141-58 All-Time)
Last Bowl Game: 2011 Sun Bowl (lost to Utah 30-27)
Big Name Out of Conference Opponents: 10/27 vs BYU, 11/24 at Georgia
Stats to Cheer: converted on 53.85% of 3rd downs (1st in ACC, 2nd in Nation); scored TDs in 72.73% of trips to the red zone (1st in ACC, 10th in Nation)
Stat to Fear: allowed opponents to score TDs on 66.67% of trips to red zone (95th in Nation)
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: (Offense: 7; Defense: 6; Specialists: 2)
Key Defensive Returnees: LB Jeremiah Attaochu (59 tackles, 6 sacks), S Isaiah Johnson (78 tackles, 3 INT), CB Rod Sweeting (56 tackles, 3 INT), S Jemea Thomas (50 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 INT)
Key Offensive Returnees: QB Tevin Washington (11 passing TD, 8 INT, 986 rushing yds, 14 rushing TD), RB Orwin Smith (615 yds rushing, 10.08 ypc, 11 TD), RB David Sims (698 yds rushing, 7 TD), OG Omoregie Uzzi
Inside Scoop with The ACC and SEC Blog:
CFBZ: From a statistical standpoint, the Georgia Tech defense did not show an improvement last season. This is Al Groh's third season, will we finally see the switch to the 3-4 pay off for Georgia Tech?
The ACC and SEC Blog: Its going to be tough to improve a lot on defense having lost, unexpectedly, the most productive player in ILB Julian Burnett to a career ending injury. Replacing Burnett and how much the defensive line, especially the NT position, improve will be the biggest keys. The linebackers have more depth having recruited to the 3-4 for two seasons now, even with the Burnett loss. The unit needs some players to step up as difference makers; OLB Jeremiah Attaochu is a player to watch here as is RS Fr. Jabari Hunt-Days.
The secondary is the strongest unit on the defense with three solid cornerbacks and two productive safeties. This unit was better than the stats showed last year, but the lack of pressure from the front seven made pass defense tougher than it should have been.
One overlooked item this offseason was the hiring of a new strength and conditioning coach. I have thought for the last three seasons under the old regime Tech looked physically overmatched on defense, especially up front. It may take until next season to see changes with the hire coming just last month.
The improvement on defense really comes down to finding playmakers in the front seven to slow the run and get a consistent pass rush.
CFBZ: QB Tevin Washington seems to have held off the younger upstarts this spring but is he the right guy to be under center for the Jackets when the season starts (and when it finishes)?
The ACC and SEC Blog: The QB position is the hottest topic right now in the GT fan base. As in most programs without a clear starter the backup is the most popular player on the team. Washington is a solid QB, but he is not great and not a consistent difference maker.
Vad Lee is a redshirt freshman who has a lot of hype, but the only time the fan base has seen him is the Spring Game. That night he showed he is clearly the best passer on the team, but cannot run the base offense and the option very well. Lee makes more plays than Washington, but sometimes it is for the other team. Synjyn Days is also in the mix and the best runner of the three but I see him being moved to A-Back to get his athleticism on the field.
The Yellow Jackets start the season at Virginia Tech and I would be very surprised to see anybody but Washington starting that game. I think we will see Lee in passing situations solely at first. As soon as Lee can run the base offense and cut down on the turnovers he will start.
CFBZ: Who are some players that need to step up for GT this year if they want to contend for the ACC Coastal crown?
The ACC and SEC Blog: I think Washington or Lee are obvious key players with the ball in their hands so much on offense. A key player on defense needs to be TJ Barnes at NT. He has the size to be a difference maker and reports say heading into his final season his conditioning is at the level it needs to be.
Davis Sims at B-Back is another that could have a breakout year. In his first season at the position Sims showed flashes but lacked consistency. A big play threat at the position would open up the outside. GT returns 0 catches at receiver so someone has to step up here. The most likely candidates are senior Chris Jackson and sophomore Jeff Greene. The best projected pro prospect on this team is Attaochu. He came into last season with a lot of hype, but wasn't the All-ACC player many were hoping. He needs to get some help from his teammates to free him up and become a feared pass rusher off the edge.
CFBZ: What is your gut feeling on the final record for the 2012 season and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
The ACC and SEC Blog: I think Georgia Tech will have a better team this season, but may not improve in record due to a tougher road schedule. The first game in Blacksburg is huge to the season and I think GT has a better shot than most will give as Paul Johnson is at his best as a road underdog. I say a better team, but still an 8-4 record with a good bounce making 9-3. A successful season would need to include a Coastal Division title or beating UGA, but I think the fan base would still be very happy with a 10 win season if it included a bowl win.
2012 will mark the first time during the Paul Johnson era that Georgia Tech will open the season against a team that is not in the FCS. This mean trouble for Tech because they face a perennial power in the ACC and it's a proven fact that teams that have time to prepare for the Georgia Tech offense typically beat the Jackets (they are 0-4 in bowl games under PJ). The good news for GT is that overall, they don't have a tough schedule. The three toughest games are at Virginia Tech, at Clemson and at Georgia. Outside of that they play some games that should be tough but are very winnable (Miami, Virginia, BYU, UNC). Tech also gets the three bottom ACC teams and they get two of them at home (vs BC, at Maryland, vs Duke). Georgia Tech probably won't storm out to a 6-0 record this year but they should at minimum meet last years record.
One thing Tech needs is someone to break out at RB as "the man". Under Paul Johnson, from 2008 to 2010, Tech had a 1000 yard rusher RB. Last year, their leading rusher was their QB and their leading RB, David Sims, had 698 yards. Orwin Smith put up some eye popping numbers last year but in his last six games he was very mortal when faced with better competition. The leading rusher David Sims also struggled in Tech's toughest games last year (32 yds against VT and 36 yds against Georgia). Tech needs someone to emerge at RB.
Last year was Tevin Washington's first year as a starter although he did see action as a sophomore when Josh Nesbitt went down with an injury. As a senior, Tevin Washington is the incumbent starter and looks like he will get the rock for Tech this year despite some grumblings from the fan base. Last year, Washington dazzled early against weaker competition with 10 TDs but in his last eight games he had just one TD as compared with 7 INTs. Georgia Tech doesn't pass the ball much but when they do they have to do it at a better level than they did last year. Last year, their biggest threat was a deep jump ball to Stephen Hill (he averaged 29 yards per catch). This year there is no Stephen Hill to throw the Hail Mary to. Washington has to improve on his accuracy this year as a passer and he also needs to find a new target. Overall, at worst the offense looks poised to be the same as last year but could be better if Washington improves and if they find a legit threat at RB.
If Georgia Tech improves this year, it will likely be on the strength of their defense which has shown little to no improvement under Al Groh since Tech switch to the 3-4. Last year Georgia Tech was fifth in the ACC in total defense at 359 yards per game (in 2009 before the switch they allowed 360). Tech was eighth last year in points allowed at 26.1 (in 2009 they allowed 24.8). If Georgia Tech wants to take the next step forward they must do it on defense and I just don't see the horses in the front seven to think they will improve this year. I don't think they will be worse, but I don't see a big jump happening for Tech on defense. Tech will compete in the ACC this year, just like they do every year under PJ. They have an excellent chance of finishing second in the Coastal division behind Virginia Tech. In order to take the next step they need to recruit better players on defense and they need to do a better job developing them once they get on campus.
2012 Prediction: 8-4
Previous 2012 Previews:
Big 12: Kansas