The critics said it would be a long first season for Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson. They said Johnson’s option-oriented system couldn’t succeed in the ACC.
Members of the ACC media voted Georgia Tech to finish fourth in the Coastal Division, while SI.com had the Yellow Jackets ranked 80th in the country with a 3-9 record by season’s end.
Johnson simply brushed away every criticizing comment. In a preseason interview with the Georgia Tech media, Johnson said, “Those are opinions. That’s all they are. It’s up to us to go out and prove them wrong.”
A look at four pre-season criticisms of the Yellow Jackets:
“The Option-Oriented Offense Won’t Work in the ACC”
To the general football fan who’s not too familiar with Paul Johnson’s offense—describing it as a triple-option offense is actually frowned upon, because that’s really not what it is.
It’s that and much more.
While most football fans are used to a RB and FB in the backfield, the Jackets instead have an AB and BB, that’s A-Back (basically a morphing of a running back and slot receiver) and B-Back (described as half-running back, half-fullback).
The offense thrives off its ability to provide multiple looks to a defense, and as a result, yards can pile up quickly—specifically with big plays in the running game. The Yellow Jackets had 349 yards on the ground against Jacksonville State in week one. Saturday’s totals against Boston College—162 yards rushing—would be average against most schools.
However, it’s a respectable total on the road against an Eagles front seven that is arguably the best in the ACC.
“The Overall Talent Pool Isn’t There to Compete”
There are those with the ill-conceived notion that all of Georgia Tech’s talent bought a one-way ticket out of town once Chan Gailey was let go. That simply isn’t true.
In fact, Georgia Tech’s 2007 recruiting class—15th in the country according to Scout.com—still features a number of its most talented players, including four-star recruits Jonathan Dwyer and Josh Nesbitt, who both are at the forefront of Paul Johnson’s offense.
Dwyer, the starting B-back who also appears on the Doak Walker watch list, has exploded for two 100-yard games, including 109 yards against Boston College. Nesbitt, the athletic QB and head of the offense, escaped pressure from the Eagles defense time and time again on Saturday.
“He made plays when he needed to make plays”, said Boston College head coach Jeff Jagodzinski. “He’s a good athlete and that offense suits him well.”
And don’t discount Georgia Tech’s defense, who led the nation with 3.69 sacks per game in 2007. Returning for their senior seasons are DE Michael Johnson and DT Vance Walker, both who made the “Pre-Season All-ACC Team”. Walker himself tackled QB Chris Crane for a safety during Georgia Tech’s win over Boston College—a play that ended up being the game’s crucial turning point.
“The Playcalling is Too One-Dimensional”
Every crack at the system’s one-dimensional side should instead be replaced with a comment about the offense’s big play ability. Against Jacksonville State, the Yellow Jackets had 10 plays of over 20 yards per play.
In addition to the big play ability, Georgia Tech also has balance in its offense—just in its own way. Against Jacksonville State, the Yellow Jackets had 46 running plays with no individual carrying the ball more than 11 times. In Saturday’s game at BC, the Yellow Jackets hit on big plays again—with two plays by Jonathan Dwyer and Josh Nesbitt covering 119 yards.
“The Players Are Not Used to the New System”
There will be kinks along the way while the recruits learn Coach Johnson’s system—and that’s evident as the Jackets certainly haven’t played flawless football. In two games, Georgia Tech has fumbled eight times, losing five of them.
However, Johnson doesn’t blame his offensive system when it comes to the team’s turnover issues.
“The thing that was disappointing was that when we turned the ball over it wasn’t option related,” Johnson said after the Boston College game. “It was just poor ball security.”
To further compete within the ACC, Georgia Tech’s special teams will also have to improve—specifically in the kicking game, where Scott Blair is 1 for 5 in field goals through the first two games (plus a missed extra point). To his credit though, Blair’s two misses at BC were pushing 50 yards (one off the upright).
Georgia Tech, mostly left by critics to bask in ACC mediocrity, has instead responded by giving Paul Johnson his first ACC victory—a 19-16 win on the road against Boston College.
Building off of its victory over the Eagles, and seeing the kind of talent that Georgia Tech has on its roster while playing in a watered-down weak Coastal division, there’s no reason to believe that the Yellow Jackets won’t contend for the ACC crown this season.
Next up for the Yellow Jackets is a trip to Virginia Tech, and if they surprise the Hokies, could be the next in line to join East Carolina among the Cinderellas of the year.
With the way the Hokies have been playing, the glass slipper may fit—and sooner than expected.