By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
Last year, NFL teams like the Washington Redskins and the San Francisco 49ers discovered ways to incorporate the Pistol offense of the college game into theirs, while keeping balance with the league’s typical pro-style systems as well.
What they did was find ways to use the power formations and the read-option of the Pistol into their schemes, and it worked.
Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson, who is also the Yellow Jackets’ offensive coordinator, took notice. He used the winter to study the way the 49ers use the read-option, thus giving opposing defenses this year something else to worry about when trying to slow down a running game that once again led the ACC in 2012.
“Well, I think each year (the offense has) changed, probably more to us than the normal eye might see or understand,” Johnson said. “We try to find things that have given us problems and try to find ways to tweak that and take advantage of doing some things that we feel like people lined up and gave us some issues in certain areas.”
Johnson hopes the new wrinkles will allow him to use quarterbacks Vad Lee’s and Justin Thomas’ run-pass talents even better, as it forces defenses to slow down just enough to respect the threat of the pass.
“I think you play to the ability of the guy that’s playing,” he said. “I could see possibly throwing the ball a little more with these guys. I think they’re a little better at it than what we’ve been playing at, if we can get the protection and the guys that can catch it. It’s not just one guy, it all intertwines together.
“We’re not going to get away from what we’ve done. We’ve been fairly successful offensively. You can always be better. If you go back and look through the years, we’ve had some success doing what we do.”
Nov. 14 @ Clemson Memorial Stadium, Clemson, S.C.
2012 record: 7-7
2012 ACC record: 5-3, 3rd in the Coastal Division
The series: Georgia Tech leads 50-26-2. Since Tech joined the ACC in 1983, this has been the best rivalry in the conference with the Yellow Jackets holding a slim 16-15 lead in 31 meetings.
Same ole thing, but a few new wrinkles, too
Returning starters: 8
QB: Lee has emerged as the unquestioned leader of the football team. His performance at the end of the season, when he came in as a second-threat at quarterback, earned the respect of the team, especially when he led the Yellow Jackets to 55 of their 68 points in a 68-50 win over North Carolina. Thomas, a redshirt freshman, will serve in the role Lee did last year, coming off the bench to give the Jackets a change of pace. He has excellent speed and has a cannon for an arm.
RB: The Yellow Jackets must replace Orwin Smith at running back. However, Robert Godhigh, Deon Hill and B.J. Bostic return with enough experience to make sure Tech’s option offense continues to dominate ACC defenses. Godhigh averaged 7.9 yards per rush last year and is one of the best downfield blockers on the team. David Sims is back as the power back and is able to give Tech those though yards in key situations. Zach Laskey gives the Jackets the speed on the edges as he returns after leading the squad with 697 yards in 2012. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry.
WR: Once again this is the biggest question mark on offense. Only two players return with career catches in Darren Walker and Anthony Autry. But they combined for only 11 receptions and Autry is making his way back from a torn ACL he suffered last October. Walker has the size and speed to be one of Tech’s next great wide receivers and can be the team’s deep threat in Johnson’s offense. Travin Henry is also expected to help this season. He too is coming off a torn ACL. Michael Summers will also be in the mix.
OL: The Yellow Jackets return 94 career starts up front from six different players. They must replace Omoregie Uzzi, a two-time All-ACC player, but a ton of experience returns from a group that helped Tech finish fourth in the nation in running the football last season. Will Jackson returns at right guard as the new leader of the group and as a four-year starter. Shaquille Mason replaces Uzzi at left guard and he has a ton of potential, while Ray Beno (left) and Morgan Bailey (right) return to start at tackle. Jay Finch returns for his final year and will start at center.
Tech goes back to the 4-3
Returning starters: 8
DL: Former Georgia Tech star and former Duke head coach Ted Roof, returns to his alma mater and brings with him a new look on defense. The Yellow Jackets will return to a more familiar 4-3 as it tries to help a unit that has struggled to keep pace with the ACC’s more explosive offenses. Jeremiah Attaochu will move from playing outside backer to rush end in the new scheme, while Emmanuel Dieke will play the strong-side end position. Euclid Cummings will also have to make the switch from playing end to now playing the three-technique as a defensive tackle. Adam Gotsis, a sophomore, will start at nose tackle.
LB: Jabari Hunt-Days returns as the starting middle linebacker. He has a nose for finding the football and is one of the team’s best hitters. He was a freshman All-American last season. Quayshawn Nealy will start at strong side after starting the last three seasons for the Yellow Jackets. Senior Brandon Watts, who is one of the fast players on the defense, will start on the weakside to give the Yellow Jackets some serious talent and experience at linebacker this fall.
DB: This was the most maligned group on the defense last fall after they gave up one big play after another in 2012. And though there were some bad times last season, that experience should help a group that returns three starters in Louis Young (corner), Jemea Thomas (corner) and Isaiah Johnson (safety). The question is can these guys stay healthy? Johnson is returning from a knee injury and nagging injuries kept Young on the sideline as much as on the field at times in 2012. Fred Holton, who has been sideline with injuries the last two seasons, will start at the other safety position.
PK: Harrison Butker, one of the best prep kickers in the country last year, will handle the placekicking duties. Tech was 4 of 8 on field goals last season and has not had a kick longer than 41 yards in three seasons.
P: Sean Poole, a senior, will get the nod as the team’s new punter, but Butker is capable of handling this position as well as he was one of Georgia’s best punters in high school, too.
SP: Jamal Golden was the only player in the country in 2012 to finish the season in the top 10 in both punt and kick return averages. He returned two kickoffs last season for touchdowns.
Bottom line: Georgia Tech has one of the more experienced teams in the country with players that have a combined 361 starts entering the new season. That ranks fourth in the nation behind Texas (393), Mississippi (365) and Duke (364).