ACC Football 2013 Season Preview: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Has Georgia Tech's Offense Become Too One-Dimensional? And Can Vad Lee Fix That?

Has Georgia Tech’s Offense Become Too One-Dimensional? And Can Vad Lee Fix That?

Team: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

2012 W-L: 7-7 (5-3)

Head Coach: Paul Johnson (42-26; sixth season)

Returning Starters: 16 (8 Offense, 8 Defense)

Was last season a success for Georgia Tech? That depends. The Yellow Jackets won three of their final four regular season games to qualify for the ACC title game (a contest which they barely lost) and then went and beat preseason no. 1 USC in the Sun Bowl to cap off the year. Before all that though, the Wreck were 2-4 after giving up over 40 points in three consecutive games, which is when they fired defensive coordinator Al Groh. Outside of a couple choice performances, the offense was stagnant (don’t believe the overall scoring and yardage and numbers — they’re largely inflated), has never relied so heavily on the rush and also struggled to score in the red zone (only converted on 80 percent of trips inside the 20). So… what are we going to see from them this season?

The Georgia Tech offense was far too predictable last year — especially when Tevin Washington was under center. With a terrible arm, Washington’s leadership forced the team to devolve from a rush-first attack to a rush-only one, effectively making them either take the lead early, or not at all. Last year’s team ran the ball a mind-blowing 808 times. No wide receiver caught more than 10 passes on the season, and no offensive player had more than 18 catches total. That is set to change this year, however. Or it will in theory once Vad Lee takes over as the full-time starter. While he’s certainly a bit rough around the edges still, Lee showed himself to be more adept at throwing the ball downfield and more willing to keep his options open (pass or run) than his fellow quarterback. He’ll also take snaps behind a line which returns all five starters from 2012. Lee doesn’t have to be an all-conference passer. But the threat of a throw needs to be there in order to make this offense as effective as possible. recent years have allowed it to be far too predictable. The hope (I think, anyway) is that Lee promotes a distinct change in philosophy and makes it much harder to gameplan for this Tech team — a potential nightmare scenario for opposing defenses.

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ACC Preseason Top 50 Players of 2013: #31, Zach Laskey

Georgia Tech’s Zach Laskey is #31 on Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

Georgia Tech’s Zach Laskey is #31 on Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

Less than three weeks until college football kicks off! In the past, we’ve limited these lists to just the top 25 players, but this season, we’re upping our game to 50. So just about every day until the season starts, there will be a new player profile up here as we count down to the top ACC player for 2013.

Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus completely bulletproof — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.

No. 31, Zach Laskey, RB/Georgia Tech (Last Season: NR)

It’s no secret that Georgia Tech’s offense is driven by the running game — but which back? New quarterback Vad Lee has experience, but I believe his value is found more in his arm and overall versatility in comparison to his predecessors. It could be any of the B-backs, who ultimately take over the scoring opportunities and drive-extending short-yardage situations. But to me, it’s the plethora of A-backs that really make the 2013 edition of this team look extremely promising. We’ve discussed David Sims, but it may be his counterpart Zach Laskey, who’s Tech’s most important ball-carrier this fall.

From a pure rushing standpoint, Laskey’s got a slight advantage, racking up 5.2 yards per carry on 133 rushes. He’s not the running back that’s going to be diving across the goal line (he’s 6’1″ and 208 pounds, so he doesn’t have the size for that sort of punishment), but he is a persistent rusher and one who can break off a big gain when possible. There’s also his value as a receiver out of the backfield — he had six catches for 122 yards and two scores last year — that makes him a different type of commodity for Tech. The Yellow Jackets don’t have a ton of pass-catchers on this team, so anything helps. As Lee gets acclimated as the primary signal-caller, that safety valve will be enormous. Fully expect Laskey to get further involved in that aspect of the game — especially early on.

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ACC Preseason Top 50 Players of 2013: #38, David Sims

Georgia Tech’s David Sims is #38 on Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

Georgia Tech’s David Sims is #38 on Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

We’re just over 40 days from the start of the 2013 college football season, and that means preview countdowns! In the past, we’ve limited these lists to just the top 25 players, but this season, we’re upping our game to 50. So just about every day until the season starts, there will be a new player profile up here as we count down to the top ACC player for 2013.

Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus completely bulletproof — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.

No. 38, David Sims, RB/Georgia Tech (Last Season: NR)

David Sims’s numbers took a slight dip last season, but that’s more a testament to the depth Georgia Tech had at running back and the struggles this offense seemed to experience than his own issues. Giving up carries to Zach Laskey at the B-Back position, plus the typical number of A-Back and quarterback rushes, it was not easy for Sims to establish much of a rhythm. He may see some similar issues this year — Laskey is certainly coming up fast behind him on the depth chart — but with a full season of health (he missed two games last year), it should serve him well to bump that production back up.

As a power runner, Sims isn’t necessarily expected to pick up large chunks of yards, but it’s not as if he hasn’t done so before either. Last year’s 4.5 yards per carry was a significant drop from the 5.2 he averaged in 2011, plus his longest run last year was for just 19 yards. This season, he’ll have to find a way to strike a balance between the two. His 6’0″ and 222-pound frame isn’t overly punishing for opposing defenses, but just the same, he knows how to get past initial contact. When healthy, Sims can be a reliable power option that draws defenses into the middle of the field and frees up the edge for the team’s quicker backs. Him picking up big yardage might just seem like gravy, but it’s that ability to make big plays from any part of the field that can make this Georgia Tech offense so dangerous.

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ACC Football Positional Rankings 2013: Running Backs

Devonta Freeman and Florida State Headline the ACC's Running Backs for the 2013 Season

Devonta Freeman and Florida State Headline the ACC’s Running Backs for the 2013 Season

While we’re still over two months away from the season, it does indeed seem to be that time of year — when college football blogs like this one and so many others start churning out season preview materials. We’ll be holding off till July and August for the team-by-team season previews, but in the meantime, there’s nothing wrong with taking a look at each position on the field and evaluating ACC squads’ respective strengths and weaknesses.

This week, we’re on to the running backs (you can check out last week’s feature on quarterbacks, too). Though there’s not a whole lot of experience at the position — just one returning back (Syracuse’s Jerome Smith) rushed for 1,000 yards last year — this group makes up for a lot of that in potential. Many of the most talented runners this year will be sophomores or juniors, so that aforementioned experience will come with time. As for those who are seniors, many possess a significant leg-up, which you’ll find reflected here as well.

Keep in mind that these are full unit rankings — not just one player — so just because one individual quarterback is better than another, it doesn’t necessarily mean the team’s entire crop of passers is. Still, disagree with any of these picks? Share your own selections below.

ACC Positional Rankings 2013: Running Backs

1. Florida State Seminoles: Injuries ravaged the Florida State backfield in 2012. But because of that, the team’s top two returning rushers, Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr., actually have quite a bit of experience under their respective belts (221 carries between them last year). They’re both vertical runners for the most part, doing most of their work in the middle of the line, but Wilder, in particular, also has some pass-catching ability out of the backfield (19 catches for 136 yards and two scores last year). Expect that role to expand this year, while also incorporating Mario Pender, who’s the quickest back on the roster and anxious to contribute after red-shirting last season.

2. Miami Hurricanes: Miami’s ranking here is purely on the strength of sophomore Duke Johnson, and his success is likely to decide how far the ‘Canes go this season. Despite splitting carries with Mike James last year, Johnson still ran for 947 yards and 10 scores, while tacking on another 1,133 yards from receiving and kick returns. With that on his resume in just one season, he’s now being listed among the most dynamic players in the country and will be the focal point of every gameplan against Miami. He won’t be acting alone in the backfield, but there’s no telling what to expect from backups Dallas Crawford or Eduardo Clements either.

3. Syracuse Orange: SU’s offense was largely seen as a pass-first attack in 2012, but its success in the season’s second half was heavily reliant on the running game. The Orange bring back everybody this year, and arguably have one of the deepest backfields in the country. The group will be guided by Jerome Smith (1,171 yards last year), but this will be a multi-back, run-first system. Expect Prince-Tyson Gulley to approach the 200-carry mark as well, while the team gets additional contributions from short-yardage specialist Adonis Ameen-Moore and jack-of-all-trades Ashton Broyld in hybrid WR/RB slot role.

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ACC 2012 Season Preview: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Much of Georgia Tech’s Success in 2012 Will Rely on Tevin Washington’s Progress as a Passer

Team: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

2011 W-L: 8-5 (5-3)

Head Coach: Paul Johnson (33-19; four seasons)

Returning Starters: 13 (7 Offense, 6 Defense)

Through six games, the 2011 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets were an absolutely terrifying opponent. They won their first six, mostly in resounding fashion, and climbed all the way up to the number-13 ranking in the country. They throttled Kansas so badly that they even made a t-shirt just to commemorate the occasion. But by their fifth win to start the year, you knew something was up. On October 1, they only beat a then-mediocre NC State team by 10. The next week, they battled a terrible Maryland team to a 21-16 victory — a crime for a team that had come into that contest averaging about 48 points per game. And we’re all pretty familiar with what came next. Bye weeks started giving teams ample time to prepare for the triple-option, and Tech started losing. After starting so hot, they’d drop five of their final seven and that hot start and the t-shirts were just a distant memory.

On offense, everything for Paul Johnson’s team is simple: just run the triple-option. Every play. With little variation. Oh, they had a star receiver in Stephen Hill, but unfortunately, they rarely threw to him — which ended up becoming the team’s biggest issue. When looking back at Paul Johnson’s most successful Tech teams (specifically the ’09 ACC Championship squad), you see teams that are lethal running the ball, while competent passing when called upon. That element of surprise keeps defenses off-balance and it’s how the triple-option works most effectively. Unfortunately, that’s not how current starter Tevin Washington runs the triple-option.

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