W-L: 7-7 (5-3)
Postseason: 21-7 Hyundai Sun Bowl win over USC
Top Offensive Performer: Tevin Washington, QB
Top Defensive Performer: Jeremiah Attaochu, LB
It’s hard to get a handle on just what happened during Georgia Tech’s roller coaster season. After starting the year with a close loss to then-no. 16 Virginia Tech, hopes were high in Atlanta. But soon after, the wheels came off and three straight losses would land them at a very disappointing 2-4 record. Three in-conference wins in a row and two postseason bans would catapult them into the ACC Championship Game somehow, but not before they were embarrassed by rival Georgia. Though they lost the ACC title game to Florida State, they’d aptly put up a fight, before ending the odd season with a dominating win over USC (preseason no. 1 team in the country). Have you followed all that so far?
Georgia Tech’s offense performed mostly as advertised in 2012; running the ball using Paul Johnson’s triple-option, while throwing it sparingly. The group’s 33.6 points per game (33rd in the FBS) were similar to last season (34.3), but admittedly, that doesn’t tell the whole story. In the 2012 season preview I wrote up for Georgia Tech, I emphasized that although their run-first offense certainly worked, there was a ceiling applied unless the team learned how to pass with efficiency. Not surprisingly after losing star receiver Stephen Hill to the NFL Draft last year, the passing numbers did go down (by 14 yards per game). It should also be noted that departing senior QB Tevin Washington — while a natural for the triple-option — is hardly a “passer” by any FBS standards. In his four years at Tech, he’s managed just 21 touchdown passes and 50.7-percent completions. His passing yardage diminished by 400 yards despite playing in one additional game this season, though it would be remiss to leave out his reduced playing time, too. Running the ball, however, was truly his forte. The senior ran for 20 scores this year, giving him 38 on his career. He was always more comfortable advancing the ball on the ground, which is what made him (and the Tech offense) overly consistent during his career, too.
The defense, however, is really what drives the motor for the ‘Wreck, though the jury’s still out on whether or not former D-coordinator Al Groh’s mid-season firing was truly warranted (I vote not). Both before and after the dismissal, the Yellow Jackets were porous in every aspect of the game, but there’s also something to be said for how they closed out the year. Following a 42-10 demolition at the hands of UGa, the team would only allow a combined 28 points in their final two games while facing talented offenses in both FSU and USC. Still, as a unit, GT allowed 28.3 points per game (65th in the FBS) and opponents scored 40 or more points on them six different times. Removing their one FCS win, the ‘Jackets let up 30.3 points per game. So what changed in those final two games, creating a stark -16 point differential with their FBS season average? Turnovers, for starters. Georgia Tech forced six turnovers in that pair of contests, versus 19 in their other 12 games combined. Plus taking advantage of opportunities to get after opposing quarterbacks. Without an elite threat on the D-line, they still managed to record 28 sacks; a number certainly bolstered by the number of dropbacks playing against a ball-control team forces (lower possession time equals more passes).
So again, what do we make of Georgia Tech’s season? They arguably got worse on both the defensive and offensive end, lost seven games and had to fire a major member of their staff midway through the year. On the other hand, they won their first bowl game in seven tries, developed plenty of young talent for the future and played for another ACC Championship Game (their third trip). Washington’s ability to run the triple-option may be missed in part, but honestly, this is a team well-equipped for a new chapter. Both Synjyn Days and Vad Lee showed off their own respective abilities to run this offense throughout the season, thought it’s Lee that should truly have everyone excited. In 155 touches, he accounted for 13 scores and over 1,100 yards of offense. If given more typical reps (Washington had nearly three times that in 2011), this is suddenly a more dynamic offense again. In the meantime, Johnson’s got the monkey off his back in terms of earning this group a bowl win. Now, he just needs to deliver the type of elite season everyone’s expecting around campus, or else it could be his job next year.