FSU 2015 Season Preview Series: Georgia Tech

We continue our season preview series with the defending ACC Coastal and Orange Bowl champion Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

We continue our season preview series with the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech finished the season with an 11-3 record, but lost all three games by six points or less. The Ramblin’ Wreck defeated Mississippi State 49-34 in the Orange Bowl to end the season.

Florida State played Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship game last season, and the Yellow Jackets gave the Seminoles all they could handle. Florida State trailed 14-7 at the end of the first quarter, but scored 21 points in the second to take a 28-21 lead. The Seminoles held a 37-28 lead with 4:28 left to go in the game, but Georgia Tech marched down the field and scored with just over a minute remaining. Florida State recovered the onside kick to ice the game and the Seminoles came away with their third straight ACC Championship.


Schedule


Win Probability

Sep. 3 Alcorn St.

1

Sep. 12 Tulane

.99

Sep. 19 At Notre Dame

.55

Sep. 26 At Duke

.7

Oct. 3 UNC

.7

Oct. 10 At Clemson

.5

Oct. 17 Pitt

.85

Oct. 24 Florida State

.5

Oct. 31 At UVA

.85

Nov. 12 Virginia Tech

.65

Nov. 21 At Miami

.65

Nov. 28 Georgia

.5

Overall

8.44

Georgia Tech is coming off their best season in over two decades and looks to have the tools to make a similar run this year. However, their schedule will not make it easy. The Yellow Jackets have to play Notre Dame, Clemson, and Miami on the road while they host Florida State, Georgia, and Virginia Tech. It’s not far fetched to think that they will win the Coastal for the third time in the last four years, but it won’t be easy.

Offense


Projected Starters

Quarterback

Justin Thomas

A Back

Broderick Snoddy

B Back

Patrick Skov

A Back

Qua Searcy

Wide Receiver

Antonio Messick

Wide Receiver

Michael Summers

Left Tackle

Bryan Chamberlain

Left Guard

Trey Braun

Center

Freddie Burden

Right Guard

Shamire DeVine

Right Tackle

Chris Griffin

Key Players

QB Justin Thomas: Thomas is arguably the best returning offensive player in the ACC. A good passer and an excellent runner, Thomas is the closest thing to a perfect quarterback for Paul Johnson’s offensive system since Johnson has been at Georgia Tech. His combination of skills and outstanding speed in this type of offense is deadly.


Question Marks


The Wide Receivers: The receiver position took a big hit with the losses of Darren Waller and DeAndre Smelter. Georgia Tech returns just two receivers that caught a pass last season, but only four of them actually caught passes last year. Messick and Summers combined for just 8 catches last season for 61 yards. This is a bigger deal for Tech than most realize, as Johnson’s offense has been most successful when he has had gigantic, big-play receivers on the outside who can take advantage of all the single coverage teams have to play against Tech’s option attack. It’s not clear that Tech will have the same kind of explosiveness in the passing game they had last season now that Waller and Smelter have moved on. The young receivers will really need to step up if Georgia Tech is going to have success comparable to last year.


The Running Backs: Georgia Tech lost their top five running backs (yardage) from last season but do return the player with the highest yards per carry average in Snoddy. One of the fastest players in the country, Snoddy rushed 28 times last season for 283 yards and 3 touchdowns. At most programs, losing the top five backs would be a huge deal, but Tech always seems to be able to plug and play at this position. Johnson will need to find someone to step into those roles, but given his track record, the Yellow Jackets will find players who can make an impact at those positions.


Overall

Georgia Tech’s 2015 offense was the top offense in the country by a very wide margin according to the FEI rankings, and with the return of Thomas and four starters on the offensive line they will look to be right in that position again. Young players will need to step up at wide receiver and in the backfield, but that seems to be said at Georgia Tech every year. Their system is difficult to stop, especially with a dual-threat QB like Thomas at the helm, and the uniqueness of Johnson’s system at the major college football level makes it a special challenge in preparation. The Yellow Jackets will lean on their offense once again this season, and there is little reason to expect the offense to be anything less than excellent. Jason’s note: I do expect a drop-off from 2014, however, as the loss of those receivers will have an impact on the offense’s explosiveness. It’s still likely to be a really good offense, but I don’t think it’s going to be far and away the nation’s best like last season’s was.

Defense


Projected Starters


Defensive End

KeShun Freeman

Defensive Tackle

Jabari Hunt-Days

Defensive end

Roderick Rook-Chungong

Will Linebacker

P.J. Davis

Mike Linebacker

Anthony Harrell

Inside Linebacker

Beau Hankins

Sam Linebacker

Tyler Macordes

Corner

D.J. White

Strong Safety

Demond Smith

Free Safety

Jamal Golden

Corner

Chris Milton

Key Players


DT Jabari Hunt-Days: Hunt-Days is the Yellow Jackets’ bell cow up front and will require most teams to double team him. He’s a run stuffer with enough explosiveness to penetrate and get pressure on the quarterback.

DE Keshun Freeman: Freeman was Tech’s top pass rusher last season recording 9.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks as a true freshman. He is a bit undersized at 6-foot-1, 235-pounds, but his quickness off the edge makes him very dangerous.

LB P.J. Davis: Davis was all over the field last season and led the team with 100.5 tackles. He also added 8 tackles for loss, and 4 sacks as well. He’s a guy that isn’t exactly flashy, but just has a nose for the football.


Potential Weakness


Size: It’s hard for Georgia Tech to recruit blue chip athletes on defense which means that most of the players they get are undersized. They get pushed around in the trenches and have trouble stopping the run at times.



Overall

The defense should take a step forward from last year as they only lost two starters from 2014. That said, last season’s defense wasn’t very good, so they’ll need to be better. They are undersized almost across the board, which is likely to add up over the course of the season against a very difficult schedule. The good news for the Jackets is that their defense usually isn’t on the field all that much. With the type of offense Georgia Tech runs, they usually dominate the time of possession, meaning a well rested defense later in games where they can use their speed to their advantage. They were 51st in the FEI defensive rankings last year, but we expect that number to improve, maybe even into the 30s.


Special Teams


Projected Starters


Kicker

Harrison Butker

Punter

Ryan Rodwell

Punt Returner

Jamal Golden

Kickoff Returners

Jamal Golden

Broderick Snoddy


How They Match Up With FSU


Last year’s game between the Seminoles and the Yellow Jackets was a dandy, and we expect to see the same this year. Florida State has major questions on both sides of the ball heading into the season, but they should have at least some of them straightened out by the time this game rolls around in mid-October. The game will be played in Atlanta where the Seminoles lost in their last trip on a last-second fumble at the goalline.

Wayne’s Prediction: Florida State will be looking for a different result than their last time in Atlanta, but I’m not so sure they get one. The Florida State defense will have to play with much better discipline than they did in the ACC Championship game with the Seminole offense likely taking a step back this season. In the end, I think this game will come down to the wire and be extremely close, with Georgia Tech getting the better of Florida State in the first game they play against each other this season. 31-30 Georgia Tech (Win Probability: 50%)


Jason’s Prediction: I think FSU’s defense will be better equipped to face GT’s offense in 2015 than they were in 2014, particularly since that FSU defense was so banged up at that point in the season. To defend Tech’s offense, you have to be able to single cover on the outside and defend the run from the inside out. Last year’s Seminoles were soft up the middle after Nile Lawrence-Stample’s injury, but this year’s defensive tackle group should be deeper and stronger overall. FSU should also be better on the edge with a rejuvenated Demarcus Walker aided by rising sophomores Jacob Pugh, Lorenzo Featherston, and Ricky Leonard, all of whom bring the kind of length and athleticism on the edge a defense needs against the option. Tech’s receiving corps is also much less frightening than last season’s group (though Smelter missed the ACCCG), which should also help. One thing that gives me pause in this game is its placement right after the Miami and Louisville games, so it will be difficult for the Noles to maintain focus a third game in a row. I think Tech gives FSU trouble in this game, but I do think FSU should be favored. I’ve got FSU winning 37-31 (Win Probability: 60%)

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