2015 ACC Football Preview: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets


2014 Record: 11-3 (6-2 ACC)

Returning Starters: Offense (5)  Defense (8)

Key Players: QB Justin Thomas, RB Broderick Snoddy, DT Adam Gotsis, DE KeShun Freeman

After an extremely successful, and somewhat surprising 11-3 campaign in 2014, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets are back for more in 2015, and pegged by many to be the favorites to win the ACC Coastal division. It will not be easy this season though, as the Yellow Jackets have lost some key contributors on both sides of the football. Let’s take a look at who those replacements may be and the outlook of Georgia Tech overall this season.

It is no secret that running the ball has been the team’s forte under head coach Paul Johnson. Last season, the Yellow Jackets were ranked first nationally in rushing, averaging 342.1 yards per game and amassing 47 touchdowns on the ground as a team. Consistent play from their signal caller was a big reason why, and they return their quarterback and leading rusher heading into the 2015 season. Last year, quarterback Justin Thomas ran for 1,086 yards and eight touchdowns in the option system, while also passing for 1,719 yards with 18 touchdowns to only six interceptions. After a couple of tumultuous seasons with Vad Lee at the quarterback position, Thomas brought the Yellow Jackets some much needed consistency and stability through his rushing and passing abilities.

At a-back and b-back, the two primary rushing positions in Paul Johnson’s option system, the Yellow Jackets will have to replace some major contributors, which include Zach Laskey, Synjyn Days, and Charles Perkins. Broderick Snoddy is expected to play a major role at the a-back position, but is coming off of a year in which he broke his leg, so his carries will have to be monitored even though it is anticipated that he will have a major role. At b-back, the Yellow Jackets were planning on relying heavily on C.J. Leggett, but the projected starter tore his ACL in the spring, and will miss the season. No matter who the Jackets end up plugging into their multiple running back roles, expect them to have a relatively seamless transition, as Paul Johnson time and time again has his backs extremely well-disciplined and well-coached. A drop-off in the overall rushing attack is not widely expected, as Georgia Tech should once again be among the nation’s elite in that department.

The receiver position is another question entirely. Over the years, the Yellow Jackets have had the luxury of throwing the ball up to one of the top receivers in the conference on the off-chance that they would catch the defense off-guard and throw the football. With DeAndre Smelter gone to the NFL, Georgia Tech is still working to find adequate replacements at receiver late into fall camp. Former defensive back Jalen Johnson, who was buried on the depth chart at defensive back, has gotten multiple looks by the offensive staff at the receiver position, as the team looks to find an athletic body on the outside to make plays in the passing game. He could be a contributor after overcoming the obvious learning curve of making a position switch. This comes after Mike Summers, who has 19 games started under his belt in his career, suffered a leg injury in the fall. Johnson is looking to plug in multiple players as a result, with no real idea of how these players will react to being thrown into the fire.

On defense, the team will return eight starters, but improvement is much needed after some disappointing showings on that side of the ball last year. The team gave up 411 yards per game and ranked 79th nationally in total defense. While depth is still a concern, the defensive line boasts a strong first team with All-ACC defensive tackle Adam Gotsis and emerging defensive end KeShun Freeman. Additionally, former defensive end Jabari Hunt-Days, who was academically ineligible last season and was unable to play, is back in 2015 and has moved to defensive tackle. The coaching staff is hoping that Hunt-Days makes a seamless transition to the position, and bring his playmaking ability to the interior defensive line.

Out of the four starters on last year’s squad, the Yellow Jackets will miss All-ACC linebacker Quayshawn Nealy and his 92 tackles the most, as he is off to the NFL. The team will look to other veteran contributors in the linebacker group to fill the void left by Nealy, including Tyler Marcordes, who had a pair of sacks in a reserve role last season. In the secondary, the team returns starters at both cornerback postions. Experience rules the day, as Chris Milton and D.J. White are both hoping to have big seasons on defense, with hopes of improving the secondary play as a whole. Additionally, the Jackets return starting safety Jamal Golden, who is hoping to improve upon his 61 tackles and four interceptions from last season.

If this overview isn’t enough for you, check out a season preview video that Mark Rogers and I prepared, as we dive deeper in Georgia Tech’s 2015 campaign. We also take a look at the schedule, and try to project a win-loss total as well. The full video can be found below.



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