One of the great debates in the ACC this offseason has been whether or not ACC defensive coordinators will adjust to—and ultimately slow down—Paul Johnson’s genius triple option attack in 2009-2010.
In some ways, it seems like the anti-option debaters have a point. UNC clipped the Jackets 28-7 after having an extra bye week to prepare; and LSU destroyed GT 38-3 after a month of bowl preparation. It’s easy to see the connection: more time to prepare, more success. Right?
Paul Johnson says no. (http://www.ajc.com/sports/content/sports/gatech/stories/2009/06/09/georgia_tech_offense.html) . And he’s got a load of stats backing him up.
First of all, the man can win games. He helped Hawaii get its first ever bowl win. He tied an NCAA record with 50 wins in his first four seasons at Georgia Southern, two of them national championships. He made Navy football relevant again, leading the Midshipmen to wins over Pitt, Notre Dame, ECU and UConn. And he shocked the ACC in 2008 by winning 9 games.
In all of those wins in all of those locations, he ran the same option offense. And it always worked.
But there’s another common link in those losses to UNC, LSU, and VT: powerful defensive tackles on the opposing squad. And if there’s a way to bust out the can of Raid on Paul Johnson’s Jacket offense, it’s taking away the middle. But good luck doing it.
The 2009 offensive unit returns QB Josh Nesbitt, the whole gang of running backs(who averaged 7.4 yards per carry last year as a unit), and 3 starting offensive linemen. There’s no reason to think that this old-school Nebraska-esque offense can’t rush for 300 yards per game in 2009.
QB: Josh Nesbitt (43% passing 2 TD, 5 INT, 96 QB rating; 693 yards rushing, 7 TD) and Jaybo Shaw (63% passing, 194 rating; 200 yards rushing, 3 TD)
Nesbitt was recruited as a passing QB, but he has quickly adapted to Johnson’s option scheme. His phenomenal 08 campaign included a 151 yard effort at Virginia Tech and a 93 yard game vs. Miami. Nesbitt could definitely improve as a passer, but his 43% completion percentage shouldn’t be taken too seriously. When the Jackets “threw”, it was mostly well down the field to keep defenses on their toes.
It takes 4 Hurricanes to bring down one Yellow Jacket? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Ov4d_WPipg
RB: Jonathan Dwyer (1395 yards 12 TD, 7 ypc; 200 yards receiving, 26 ypc)
All-ACC selection Jonathan Dwyer was the best ACC running back this past fall, and he should be again in 2009. He brought a lot of speed and toughness to the inside handoff, averaging an eye-popping 9 yards per carry on first down (11 ypc on first down at home). However, when opponents managed to neutralize Dwyer, they also neutralized Georgia Tech. Dwyer averaged just 59 yards on 4 ypc in losses to VT, UVa, UNC* and LSU.
Check out a little Dwyer Power.( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pyLIiq1CmMQ)
*In this calculation, I chose not to include Dwyer’s 85 yard TD run with 6 minutes left and UNC up 21-0. I considered the game “already decided” at this point. Dwyer finished the game with 22 carries for 157 yards.
RB: Roddy Jones (690 yards rushing 8.5 ypc, 4 TD; 155 yards receiving, 19 ypc, TD)
If Dwyer was the sting of the Yellow Jacket option game, Jones was the wings. As a freshman, Jones led the nation in yards per carry with 8.5. (His yards per reception (19.4) wasn’t too shabby either). Most people know him from his 13 carry 214 yard performance at Georgia, but he averaged 7 yards per carry in the other games, too.
Reverend Jim Jones could have run through this hole. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5hlw2SOMp6I&feature=related
RB: Anthony Allen
This 6’1 225 lb Louisville transfer rushed for 20 TDs in two seasons of college football. He should see some carries after sitting out last season.
RB/FB: Lucas Cox (200 yards, 7.7 ypc, 3 TD)
Lucas Cox quietly punished defenses (if you don’t count the helmets he smashed into) in 2008 from the fullback position. At 6’0 238 lb, he brought a little power to the running game. (Notice how I didn’t make the painfully obvious thunder and lightning simile; if I hear that one more time about any rushing tandem, I’m going to send the commentator to Ron Cherry public speaking camp. )
Close your eyes, Miami fans. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bo4-4Ru-EXQ&feature=related)
WR: Demaryius Thomas (627 yards, 3 TD, 16 ypc)
At 6’3 229 lb, Thomas looks more like a linebacker than a wide receiver. (Usually when you’re a wide receiver in this offense, it doesn’t really matter what you look like.) He had some big games (230 yards against Dook), but mostly his role was to make sure the other team’s cornerbacks had something to think about other than the ice bath that awaited them in the locker room after being cut blocked every play.
Nick Claytor (T), Austin Barrick (T), Cord Howard (G), Joseph Gilbert (G), Dan Voss (C)
The Jackets have to replace both offensive tackles, including NFL 6th round pick Andrew Gardner. Maybe I’m being a little superficial here, but Barrick checks in at just 254 pounds and he’s a tackle. At that size, he will be smaller than most ACC defensive ends and some ACC linebackers. That could be a major concern, especially on rare passing downs. The offseason was tough for the line, as a number of players spent time in the training room with injuries.
But with another year of experience in the option offense, I think the line should be improved from last season, when some folks considered them the team’s weak link (http://myespn.go.com/blogs/acc/0-6-222/Hope-and-concern–Georgia-Tech.html ).
Can the Jackets develop any kind of passing game to keep defenses more honest? Can they successfully replace their offensive tackles? Will they be able to beat teams with powerful defensive interior lines?
Georgia Tech finished 25th in the nation in total defense in 2008 (313.5 yards per game). They have a small, fast defense that (pun intended) swarms well to the ball.
They lose three queen bees from last year’s hive: Michael Johnson (17.5 TFL, 9 sacks), Daryl Richard (10 TFL, 4 sacks), and Vance Walker (8.5 TFL, 3 sacks) were the strength of the defense in 2008. All of them will be playing on Sundays this year.
However, the return of Morgan Burnett, Derrick Morgan, Cooper Taylor, and Sedric Griffin should make rewaxing the hive a little bit easier. This could be a top 25 defense again, but with the losses of so much defensive line talent, I’d guess the defense finishes around 40th or so in the nation.
DE Derrick Morgan (51 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 7 sacks, 4 fumble recoveries)
Morgan put up big numbers in 2008, but they might have been inflated by the presence of Johnson, Richard and Walker on the inside. He’ll certainly face a lot more double teams this year than he did last year.
DE Robert Hall (13 tackles, 1.5 TFL)
Hall is light (248 lb) on the scale and light on experience. He’ll be hard-pressed to put up half the tackles for loss and sacks that Johnson produced in 2008.
DT Ben Anderson (2 tackles, 2 TFL, sack)
Anderson didn’t play much in 2008, but when he did, it looks like he made a few big plays.
DT Jason Peters (5 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 sacks; four star DE prospect class of 2007)
Peters was a highly rated DE recruit coming out of high school, and he moved to DT at Georgia Tech. As with Anderson, he didn’t play a lot but he produced at a pretty high rate. He could be the next great Jackets lineman.
*JC Lanier (4 star prospect, class of 2009)- Also keep an eye out for JC Lanier, a 4 star DT prospect from the class of 2009 who will be a true freshman this fall.
LB Sedric Griffin (53 tackles, 8 TFL, 3 sacks)
Griffin led the GT linebackers in TFL with 8. His second year starting should be even better than his first.
LB Cooper Taylor (69 tackles, INT)
Cooper Taylor is a long, rangy linebacker at 6’4 200 lbs. He fits Georgia Tech’s speedy defense, but with that size, it’s easy to see why he had 0 tackles for loss in 2008. Nonetheless, he won National Freshman of the Week honors from Rivals.com for his performance against Florida State, where he forced a fumble to save the game in the fourth quarter.
LB Brad Jefferson (24 tackles, TFL)
At 6’2 236 lb, Jefferson is the strongest player on the Jacket defense. If he can overcome injury problems, he should have a good year in 2009.
S Morgan Burnett (93 tackles, 7 TFL, 7 INT, FF)
Burnett had one of the best sophomore seasons of any defensive player in the country. He tied for 3rd in the nation in interceptions, and yet he was still strong in run support.
S Dominique Reese (44 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 3 INT)
Reese did a great job in his first season as a starter, although he too struggled with injuries.
CB Mario Butler (41 tackles, 3.5 TFL, INT)
Yet another Georgia Tech defender who excelled in his first year as a starter, Butler should be strong again in 2009.
CB Rashaad Reid (45 tackles, 3 TFL, 3 INT)
Reid earned 2nd team freshman All-America honors in 2008.
Can Morgan thrive without Walker, Richard and Johnson to soak up double teams? Will the linebackers be able to hold up against the run without the same power up front on the defensive line?