While FSU coach Mike Norvell is in the first year of what you might call a retooling of the Seminoles football program, Georgia Tech head coach Geoff Collins enters the second year of what can only be considered a total rebuild of the Yellow Jackets program. Collins is in the infancy stages of turning over a roster, particularly on offense, that was recruited by former head coach Paul Johnson to run the triple-option offense. And while the former Florida defensive coordinator and Temple head coach will likely need a couple more recruiting cycles to get players that fit his system offensively and defensively into the program, he is expecting improvement from his team in his second season in Atlanta after going 3-9 in 2019.
“I have confidence in the way that we’re going to continue to go about our business to get better every single day, and when we do play them in the future, the team that they see is not going to be the team that they saw back in November after Thanksgiving,” Collins told SI.com prior to the start of fall camp in reference to his team’s 45-point loss to Georgia last season.
And there is plenty of room for improvement on both sides of the ball. Offensively the Yellow Jackets finished dead last in the ACC in scoring offense, passing offense and total offense. And despite having the personnel to be successful on the ground, Tech finished just eighth in rushing offense in the ACC last season. Collins’ defense also had it share of issues, giving up 33 or more points six times last season. GT finished 13th in the ACC in scoring defense, last in rushing defense and 10th in total defense. They did finish fifth in the league in passing defense but ACC Network Football Analyst Mark Richt told the Osceola earlier this week that he thinks that stat is misleading because teams simply didn’t have to throw the ball against the Yellow Jackets to beat them last season.
Collins and his team did get some good news when the ACC went to a reworked 10-game conference schedule, including opponents and dates, because of COVID-19. The Yellow Jackets were originally to take one for the conference and open the season against the mighty Clemson Tigers. And while not catching the Tigers in week 1 is a significant break, Collins and his staff got a late start in planning for a Florida State team with a new coach and offensive and defensive schemes that it wasn’t initially scheduled to play this season.
“Normally, over the summer, you break down all of the teams you’re going to play,” Collins told the Georgia Tech media, according to SI.com. “Offense, defense, special teams, you get a full breakdown. As we’ve been going later in the summer, and we’ve heard of the different possibilities, we started breaking down Florida State, we started breaking down teams that were (in) relatively close proximity of us. Whoever they tell us we’re going to play, we’re going to prepare, put the ball down and be the best versions of ourselves we can be.”
Tech on Offense
The big question for Tech on offense is who will be the trigger man for the offense as Collins and his staff try to figure out who is most capable of running his one-back, three-receiver spread offense.
Sophomore James Graham took over the starting back job in the middle of last season and threw for 1,164 yards but completed just 45 percent of his passes. That is the main reason Collins was having an open quarterback competition in fall camp, one that also features redshirt freshman Jordan Yates and one-time FSU commit and true freshman Jeff Sims. Collins is not expected to announce the starter prior to the game against the Seminoles.
The strength of the offense for the Yellow Jackets is aa smallish but veteran offense line. Three of its five starters from last year return. Senior center Kenny Cooper, junior left tackle Zach Quinney and senior left guard Jack DeFoor have a combined 76 career starts. They also added graduate transfer Ryan Johnson from Tennessee, who started 19 games for the Volunteers.
Last season Georgia Tech ran the ball 62 percent of the time and the most productive player on offense was running back Jordan Mason, who rushed for 899 yards while averaging five yards per carry as a sophomore. Graham, who is a threat with his legs, was the second leading rusher on the team with 290 yards (sack yardage included) on 99 attempts. Junior Tobias Oliver returns and provides depth in the backfield after rushing for 279 yards on 55 carries.
The Yellow Jackets do return their three leading receivers — sophomore Ahmarean Brown, junior Adonica Sanders and junior Malachi Carter combined for 56 catches last year for 885 yards and nine touchdowns. Brown would be considered Tech’s deep threat after averaging over 18 yards per reception in 2019.
Tech on Defense
The Yellow Jackets will run a base 4-2-5 defense, whose strength last season, at least statistically, was its back seven. Every starter in the secondary is back from last season led by senior linebacker David Curry, who led the team in tackles with 97 stops including six tackles for a loss.
Junior Charlie Thomas will move from linebacker to the nickel back/safety hybrid spot this season. He was very productive last season, leading the team with 9.5 TFL’s and was second on the team with 65 tackles. He will be joined in the secondary by one of the better cornerbacks in the ACC, junior Tre Swilling, who led the team with 10 passes broken up. Swilling also totaled 23 tackles. Senior safety Tariq Carpenter was third on the team in tackles last season with 62 stops. His 48 solo tackles were second most on the team.
Collins must replace all but one starter from his defensive front four a year ago. Sophomore defensive tackle T.K. Chimedza was impressive as a true freshman last year, recording 34 tackles. He will be joined this year by senior defensive end Antonneous Clayton, who transferred to GT from Florida before last season but was not eligible to play in 2019. The other projected starter up front, senior defensive tackle Djimon Brooks and sophomore defensive end Jordan Domineck, both played in all 12 games last season primarily as backups, where they combined for 52 tackles and 5.5 tackles for a loss.
Tech on Special Teams
Senior punter Pressley Harvin is a weapon, averaging over 44 yards per punt last year on 80 attempts. The Yellow Jackets must replace both of their place-kickers from a year ago. Oliver was very productive last year returning kickoffs, averaging over 21 yards per return. Brown was the team leading punt returner with 10 returns for just 34 yards last season.
Tech’s kickoff coverage team was solid last year, giving up just 20.9 yards per return. Their punt coverage, however, left something to be desired. They gave up over 11 yards per punt return. The good news for the Jackets here, though, as opposing teams only attempted 30 returns on 80 return opportunities.