Georgia Tech Preview

Coach Chan Gailey enters his fifth season as head coach of Georgia Tech. For Tech fans, it's time for Gailey to break out of his slump. Four straight seasons of seven wins have the Yellow Jacket faithful wanting and expecting more. You can bet Coach Gailey is right there with them.

Even before the first official practice for the 2006 season had begun, Tech made headlines for what they have and whom they will face this season. What they have is returning All-America wide receiver Calvin Johnson, with senior quarterback Reggie Ball throwing downfield to the talented junior. In addition, Tech has 13 other returning starters, including six on offense (besides the duo of Johnson and Ball), and five very solid returning starters on defense. No other team in the ACC has more returning starters on offense than the Yellow Jackets.

Whom they will face is Notre Dame and Georgia, with the ND game having sold out in June and slated for a national television, prime time audience on the evening of September 2. Like the covers of a book, these two games may very well contain the story for Tech in 2006.

For a team boasting two skill position players like Ball and Johnson, how is it that the 2005 offense averaged only 18.5 points per game? For the statistically inclined, this mark is less than the average points per game allowed by the Tech defense. Yes, you read correctly.

Even All-American wide out Johnson averaged a meager 74 yards receiving per game, and only caught six touchdown passes (he has 13 career TD receptions)…..hardly numbers worthy of such post-season (2005) and preseason (2006) accolades.

For 2006, Coach Gailey has elected to turn the play calling over to offensive coordinator Patrick Nix. Maybe this is the solution to find more offensive production this season. The talent is surely there and the pressure will be on the coaching staff to increase offensive output.

Reggie Ball, the returning four-year starter at quarterback, completed a meager 48 percent of his passes in 2005, for nearly 2,200 yards and 11 touchdowns. Ball's scrambling ability is what defensive coordinators in the ACC have been wary of the past three years, as Reggie has rushed for nearly 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns during his career. His passing accuracy will need to improve drastically for Tech to be explosive.

For Tech's offense to improve its production in 2006, Gailey and Nix are going to have to find more ways to get the ball in the hands of both Johnson and Ball. In addition, another threat on offense must be developed as opposing defenses will no doubt scheme to minimize the production of Johnson and contain the scrambling of Reggie Ball. The most likely beneficiary of this strategy should be running back Tashard Choice ( 117 attempts, 513 yards, 6 TDs). The talented transfer from Oklahoma has the skills.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Yellow Jackets may have even more talent, particularly along the defensive front. Bolstering Tech's defense are five solid returning starters, including four of the front seven. Missing from that group is Mansfield Wrotto, who is expected to move to offensive tackle. The weakest area for the Yellow Jackets is their secondary, where only returning starter, Kenny Scott, suits up for his final season.

Led by senior defensive tackle Joe Anoai, the Tech defensive line has been tabbed by Athlon as the best in the ACC. That's a pretty lofty rating when you consider the defensive talent produced by Virginia Tech, Miami and Florida State each year. Senior linebacker KaMichael Hall is a first-team all-ACC choice and the ninth-rated outside linebacker according to the The Sporting News. Lindy's and Athlon thought highly enough of him to select him to the all-ACC second team.

Expected to fill the other three remaining defensive backfield slots are juniors Jamal Lewis and Djay Jones taking over at both safety positions. The remaining cornerback starter is expected to emerge from the battle between Avery Robertson (the starter in spring practice), converted receiver Pat Clark and sophomore Tony Clark.

If the Tech pass rush doesn't live up to its billing, the secondary will spend the 2006 season becoming proficient back-peddlers.

Georgia Tech's special teams under-performed in 2005, prompting a coaching change, as Gailey hired former Nicholls State defensive coordinator Charles Kelly. A quick look at the production from this unit and you can see why the change was necessary. Opponents averaged over 42 yards per punt and nearly nine yards per punt return. Meanwhile Tech averaged 39 yards per punt and a meager 5.3 yards per punt return. Kick off returns didn't fair much better as opponents averaged 24 yards per return, while the Yellow Jackets would have been better served by downing the ball in the end zone each time.

Finally, the schedule looks like a multi-layered sandwich with powerhouses Notre Dame and Georgia at the beginning and end respectively. The spacing in the middle is favorable with a couple of turkeys after ND (Samford and Troy, or is that And Son) followed by a selection of Virginia hams (the Wahoos and Tech). Maryland, Clemson and Miami follow, with the Carolina schools next (North and NC State), completed by the conference turkey, Duke. This stacks up as another season of old 75, seven wins and five losses.

Five Questions:
1. Gailey has a new offensive coordinator. Will Coach Nix find enough plays and playmakers to take the heat off of Johnson and Ball?
2. Special teams talent is needed. Who will show up to improve both the kicking game and the return game to provide great field position?
3. The defense has some outstanding performers (Anoia, Hall and Scott), but who will step up to support them?
4. Reggie Ball needs to improve his completion percentage (48 percent in 2005) if Tech expects to move the ball consistently. Is he up to the task?
5. How much patience will Tech fans, alumni and athletic administrators have if Gailey rolls another 75? Of course the athletic director did Gailey no favors in predicting a Tech upset of Notre Dame in the season opener. Maybe they'll leave together. Top Stories