Thursday, June 8, 2017
Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Georgia Tech had an interesting run in 2016, finishing 9-4 overall, but the Yellow Jackets lost all four of those games in ACC play. With some new pieces coming into play in 2017, the Yellow Jackets still look like a team that can make a run in a very weak ACC Coastal Division, but will their losses and the changing pieces prevent them from making that run, and can this team do what others have not, and take a consistent turn to become a year by year player, rather than an every other year player?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Dedrick Mills had a fairly exciting freshman season for the Yellow Jackets, and returns to lead the power option attack once again after rushing for 12 scores on 771 yards in nine games last fall. He is a candidate to have a major breakout season in 2017.
Marcus Marshall is also slotted to return after rushing for 624 yards and four scores, and he averaged 6.5 yards per carry over the course of 11 games. Clinton Lynch was one of the most explosive backs in the nation last season in limited opportunities, averaging 11.22 yards per carry, and was a major receiving threat out of the backfield as well, as he led the team with 490 yards receiving. Qua Searcy and JJ Green also return, and every one of these backs have big play potential in the right set up.
Both starting WRs return in Brad Stewart and Ricky Jeune, and they combined for over 800 yards receiving last fall in an option offense.
The offensive line returns four starters as well, which is a sign that the offense can really take off this fall. Trey Klock (LT), Parker Braughn (LG), Will Bryan (RG), and Eason Fromyan (RT) all return, and Kenny Cooper, who was the primary backup Center as a freshman, is slated to start this fall as well, if he can hold the job in camp.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
The offense should be just fine in 2017, however, there is a question at QB, where Justin Thomas has moved on after passing for 1559 yards and eight scores, and rushing for 604 yards and six scores. Thomas was never perfect in this offense, but Matthew Jordan is highly inexperienced, and attempted just nine passes last fall, completing just three of them. He did manage to carry the football 65 times last season, but as has always been the case with this football team, if you cannot find a way to pass the football, the team will shrink away. It is a run first offense, but the pass is what keeps teams honest against it.
Harrison Butker, who hit 15/17 FGs last season, is gone, and that is a huge hole to fill with a team that needs a solid kicking game if the passing game does not flow.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
The back end of the defense will be the strength of the unit this fall as the front end undergoes a complete rebuild. More on that momentarily.
Every member of the secondary is scheduled to return this fall. CBs Lance Austin and Step Durham are back , and Austin tied for the team lead in INTs with three. The two combined for 18 PBUs last fall.
Corey Griffin is back at SS, while AJ Gray is back at FS. Girffin led the team in tackles with 82, while Gray finished third with 72.
At Nickle, Lawrence Austin returns after a very solid 2016 season. He finished with 47 tackles and three INTs, and anchors the defense against the slot.
The LB corps returns two starters and a third player that was in competition for a starting job when the season ended. Brant Mitchell finished with 71 tackles at MLB last fall, and will return to be the stabilizing force in the middle of the field. He added two INTs last season. David Curry and Terrell Lewis were battling for one OLB spot during the bowl prep. Neither player has a ton of experience, but played enough to gain valuable experience last season, and either could be ready to start at either outside spot this fall. Victor Alexander is first in line to replace PJ Davis, who has moved on.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The defensive line is under a complete rebuild, with only one starter returning from last season. KeShun Freeman is the lone returning starter, and will line up at DE, and he was hardly the most effective player on the line last fall, registering just four TFLs. Finding replacements at both tackle spots and at the other DE spot will prove invaluable towards having success on defense this fall. Kyle Cerge Henderson will have first crack at one DT spot, while Brentavious Glanton, a sophomore, will get first crack at the other. Antonio Simmons will likely battle with Anree Saint-Amour for the open DE position. However it all plays out, there will be very little in the way of experinced depth behind the starters, and that is a big concern.
The Punting game will also need to find a replacement, as Ryan Rodwell has moved on after averaging 43.13 yards per punt. Grant Aasen will likely be given the first opportunity to win the job, and punted once all of last season.
UPDATE: Aasen has given up his final season of eligibility to purse the priesthood in the Catholic Church. This was confirmed within the last 72 hours.
Scott Bilo 6/14/17
2017 Schedule: 9/4 Tennessee at Atlanta, 9/9 Jacksonville State, 9/16 at UCF, 9/23 Pittsburgh, 9/30 North Carolina, 10/12 at Miami, 10/21 Wake Forest, 10/28 at Clemson, 11/4 at Virginia, 11/11 Virginia Tech, 11/18 at Duke, 11/25 Georgia
The Yellow Jackets could be a team to beat in the ACC Coastal, but they are not nearly an ACC overall title contender at this point. They are not in the league of Louisville or Florida State in 2017, and even Clemson should be a better overall football team. That being said, if Tech can muster up a decent bit of QB play, and they can figure out their issues up front on defense, this team could do some damage in a very weak division, and possibly play in the ACC title game. The schedule sets up nicely for as many as nine regular season wins, and that should be enough to propel the Yellow Jackets to a very nice season, on paper anyway.