Schedule Preview: Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech all but ended North Carolina's Coastal Division title aspirations well before the leaves turned colors last fall. The Tar Heels will be looking to return the favor when the Yellow Jackets arrive in Chapel Hill for a noon kickoff on Sept. 18.

Overview: There's no doubt that Paul Johnson gives off the "smartest man in the room" vibe whenever he's surrounded by the media, but his saturating disdain for critics is based in fact. All the man did at Georgia Southern and Navy was win big, and he's followed up those stops with a 20-7 (13-4 ACC) record, an ACC Championship and a pair of ACC Coach of the Year honors at Georgia Tech. But despite those statistics, Johnson found himself having to defend his multifaceted rushing attack for the third straight year at the 2010 ACC Football Kickoff media event last weekend.

The facts don't lie. In '09, Georgia Tech finished second nationally in rushing yardage, churning out 295.4 yards per outing. The Yellow Jackets led the ACC in total offense (422.1 ypg) and scoring offense (33.8 ppg), while also ranking 22nd nationally in turnover margin (plus-.57). The media likely picked the defending Coastal Division champs third in the '10 preseason poll due to the loss of several high-profile players – running back Jonathan Dwyer, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, ACC Defensive Player of the Year Derrick Morgan and safety Morgan Burnett. But Georgia Tech returns 14 starters, led by first-team All-ACC quarterback Josh Nesbitt (75-of-162 passing, 1,701 yards, 10 TD, 5 INT, 1,037 rushing yards, 18 TD).

Johnson's fingerprints are all over this run-oriented offense that features the triple option, so it only makes sense that he serves dual roles as head coach and offensive coordinator, just as he did at his previous stop at Navy. The Yellow Jackets return six starters on that side of the ball, including A-back Roddy Jones (345 yards, 3 TD), B-back Anthony Allen (618 yards, 9.7 ypc) and first-team All-ACC center Sean Bedford. The most pressing issue for Johnson will not be in replacing Dwyer, but in finding a legitimate wide receiver option to fill Thomas's role. Sophomore Stephen Hill was second in catches and yardage at receiver last season, pulling in six catches for 137 yards. Thomas's production (46 catches, 1,154 yards, 8 TD) was critical in that teams were not able to cheat up in the secondary.

Georgia Tech's defense was adequate in '09, ranking 54th nationally (7th ACC) in allowing 360.3 yards per game. But the Yellow Jackets also allowed six opponents to eclipse the 30-point barrier and two others to post 27 on the scoreboard. Johnson jumped at the opportunity to bring in fired Virginia head coach Al Groh as defensive coordinator, along with his 3-4 defense. It's never easy to replace an All-American like Morgan, but the Yellow Jackets return eight starters on defense, including what will be the entire starting defensive line in the new scheme. Inside linebacker Brad Jefferson (95 tackles, 8 TFL) returns as the squad's top tackler, while cornerback Jerrard Tarrant (58 tkl, 2 INT) provides playmaking ability in the secondary. The three open positions are expected to be manned by veteran seniors with starting experience, which should help stabilize the entire unit.

Quotable: "It's extremely tough. There's a lot of good teams. In my mind, there is not a weak link in the division. You have to be ready to play every Saturday. It's a tough schedule on the road for us in the league." – Johnson on the Coastal Division

Matchup to Watch: North Carolina's run defense allowed just 95.6 yards per game in '09, good for 10th nationally. That ranking would have been even higher if the Yellow Jackets hadn't churned out 317 yards on 69 rushes (4.6 ypc) against the Tar Heels last September. Georgia Tech also gained 326 rushing yards against UNC in '08, but 120 of those yards came after North Carolina had built a 21-0 lead late in the contest. The Tar Heels were able to knock the Yellow Jackets' quirky ground game out of rhythm in '08 by capitalizing on 3rd-and-medium situations – Georgia Tech was 2-of-9 when facing 3rd-and-4 or longer. UNC failed to take advantage of those instances last season, however, as the Yellow Jackets were 8-of-16 on 3rd-and-4 or longer.

Georgia Tech only returns two starters and 37 career starts along the offensive line, while North Carolina also suffered significant losses up front, as DT Cam Thomas, DT Al Mullins and DE E.J. Wilson are all currently playing in the NFL. The Yellow Jackets will undoubtedly miss 2008 ACC Offensive Player of the Year in Jonathan Dwyer in the A-back position, but Nesbitt is a savvy veteran of this offense, and Jones and Allen possess enough firepower to keep this offense plugging along.

Remember Me? Learning that Al Groh is Georgia Tech's new defensive coordinator is likely to send shivers down Tar Heel fans' spines. The former New York Jets and Virginia head coach owned a 3-0 record against Butch Davis before being fired after the '09 season, thanks in large part to his 3-4 defensive scheme. In those three losses, UNC averaged just 12 points and 88.3 rushing yards (2.82 ypc, TD). And while T.J. Yates delivered an impressive performance (25-of-38, 339 yards, 3 TD, INT) as a red-shirt freshman against Virginia in '07, the Marietta, Ga. native teamed with former Tar Heel quarterback Cam Sexton to throw four interceptions without a touchdown over the past two seasons, averaging a mere 150.5 passing yards per outing.


 
2010 Schedule
 
Sept. 4  South Carolina State
Sept. 11 @ Kansas
Sept. 18 @ North Carolina
Sept. 25 N.C. State
Oct. 2   @ Wake Forest
Oct. 9   Virginia
Oct. 16  Middle Tennessee
Oct. 23  @ Clemson
Oct. 30  OPEN DATE
Nov. 4   @ Virginia Tech (Thurs.)
Nov. 13  Miami
Nov. 20  Duke
Nov. 27  @ Georgia
 


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