State of the Program: Recharged Georgia Tech focused on engineering pressure

Discussion in 'Football' started by GTFLETCH, Jun 12, 2018.

  1. GTFLETCH

    GTFLETCH Flats Noob

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    A forgotten footnote of UCF’s self-proclaimed national championship season of 2017 is that the Knights’ mid-September date vs. Georgia Tech was canceled because of Hurricane Irma. UCF avoided the Yellow Jackets’ problematic option offense and produced a gilded 13-0 season. Tech, which lost two of its first five games — to Tennessee and Miami — by a total of two points, finished 5-6 and spent the holidays at home.

    “When you lose games like that, it’s frustrating,” said Brant Mitchell, Tech’s inside linebacker and team co-captain along with quarterback TaQuon Marshall. “It changes your entire season.”

    The Yellow Jackets lost their opener in double overtime to Tennessee when a two-point conversion attempt failed. In mid-October, they lost by one at Miami, a team that would play in the Orange Bowl, after a remarkable fourth-down catch by the Hurricanes in the final minute. In the 90 minutes that comprised Tech’s first six fourth quarters of 2017, the Rambling Wreck led for 88 minutes and 27 seconds — and went 4-2 in those games.

    “I tell our younger players that you have to try and make your best play every snap,” Mitchell said, “because it is one or two plays that make all the difference.”

    The Yellow Jackets were stung in 2017, but they are resilient. And renewed. In April, head coach Paul Johnson, who is entering his 11th season at the school, signed a two-year contract extension that will keep him on The Flats through 2022. That would make Johnson the longest-tenured coach (15 seasons) at Tech since Bobby Dodd (1945-1966), after whom the school’s stadium is named.

    Speaking of infrastructure, Georgia Tech began a $4.5 million renovation of its locker room (via the largesse of an anonymous donor) in January that will be completed by August. The revamped digs will include charging stations for mobile phones or laptops at each individual locker, because it is 2018, after all. The devices will be recharged this season. Will the Yellow Jackets?

    Biggest on-field question
    Pressure, as every last Georgia Tech engineering major can tell you, is directly proportional to temperature. For the Yellow Jackets, who in each of the past three seasons have finished last in the Atlantic Coast Conference in tackles for loss and no better than next-to-last in sacks, pressure has been the missing variable. It is way past time to turn up the heat.

    Deleted from the equation was defensive coordinator Ted Roof, a former All-America linebacker who once made 25 tackles in one game (his son, T.D. Roof, a freshman linebacker who had two sacks in 2017, has transferred to Indiana). Added to the equation? Nate Woody, who in five seasons as defensive coordinator at Appalachian State transformed the Mountaineers’ defense from a moribund FCS unit to a top-30 FBS defense for the past four years.

    “When Coach Johnson introduced Coach Woody, he told us some stats on his defense at App State, and it was outrageous,” Mitchell said. “His defenses get a lot of penetration up front.”

    When Johnson hired Woody, he also acquiesced to the coordinator’s plan to switch from a 4-3 defensive alignment to a 3-4. That maneuver was massively popular among Tech defenders, who are being urged to think less and play faster. “(Coach Woody) told me, ‘I’d like you to rush for me,’ ” outside linebacker Victor Alexander told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “ ‘I’d like for you to come off the edge and don’t think about anything else. Just go. Go make plays.’ ”

    Alexander’s reaction to Woody’s request? “I just smiled at him,” the 5-foot-10, 235-pound linebacker said. “I didn’t say anything. I almost cried.”

    A residual effect of being a program that averages only about 10 passes per game is that Georgia Tech’s defense is not well-schooled in pass rushing or defending. “We have to create our own look with our scout team,” Mitchell said. “We go all spring going live against the triple-option.”

    It’s a fair criticism, then, that Georgia Tech’s defense devotes entirely too much time preparing against an offense that it never sees on Saturdays. Woody’s mandate has been to change the philosophy of the defense by changing the base formation (4-3 to 3-4) and the philosophy. “He’s kept it simple,” said Mitchell, a finance major from Knoxville, Tenn. “Guys are flying around, and it fits our personnel better.”

    Woody has kept it simple, but Mitchell is still acclimating. During one spring practice, he called the wrong formation and the defensive line stunted in the wrong direction off the snap. On the next play, Mitchell scooped up a fumble and returned it for a touchdown. Returning to the sideline, he apologized to his new defensive coordinator for messing up the call on the previous play. “That’s OK,” Woody replied. “If you can keep making plays like that, we’ll be all right.”

    Offensively, quarterback TaQuon Marshall will need to make more plays through the air. A high school dual-threat quarterback who attended summer camps playing slot receiver or defensive back, Marshall started out at Tech as an A-back. Last year was his first season since high school as a quarterback and his first year taking snaps directly under center. “It was just a different position,” said Marshall, who nevertheless rushed for an ACC-record (for a quarterback) 249 yards and five touchdowns in his first collegiate start, the 42-41 double-overtime loss to Tennessee.

    Though Johnson would like to see Marshall’s completion rate rise closer to 50 percent, as opposed to 37.1 percent in 2017, he is not overly perplexed. “I’ve been running this offense since 1985,” Johnson said. “The biggest misnomer I hear is, ‘We want to be balanced.’ I don’t care about that. The premise of this offense is that it spreads people out and gives you a lot of one-on-one situations.”

    Johnson’s offense is predicated on exerting pressure. Now he hopes that his defense can follow suit.
     
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  2. GTFLETCH

    GTFLETCH Flats Noob

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    Depth chart analysis
    Quarterbacks: Incumbent TaQuon Marshall might not be able to throw a ball the metaphorical distance between himself and his backup. The 5-10 senior attempted all but three of Tech’s passes last season while setting a school single-season record for rushing yards (1,146) by a quarterback. Redshirt sophomore Lucas Johnson, a 6-3 San Diego-area product, waits in the wings.

    Running backs: The Yellow Jackets’ top five leading rushers from 2017 after Marshall all return, and at any one time three of them will join him in the backfield. KirVonte Benson, Tech’s other 1,000-yard rusher from a year ago, will line up behind Marshall at B-back. Qua Searcy and Clinton Lynch are the likely starters at A-back, each positioned just outside the tackles.

    Expect to see Nathan Cottrell get plenty of time at A-back (all three A-backs had between 28 and 36 carries a year ago), and Jerry Howard, who averaged 7.6 yards per carry last autumn, will spell Benson.

    Wide receivers: Granted, being the leading receiver at Georgia Tech is not unlike being the world’s loudest mime, but the loss of Ricky Jeune (25 receptions in 2017) to graduation weighs on Johnson. “We lost our most valuable and experienced receiver,” Johnson said of Jeune, who had seven more receptions than the rest of the team combined.

    Sophomore Jalen Camp stands 6-2 and presents a good target at one split end, and 6-5 redshirt sophomore Stephen Dolphus is an even more inviting target. Dolphus did not have a catch last season. Expect Camp and 6-1 senior Brad Stewart to start. You don’t play wideout at Tech unless you are a deft downfield blocker.

    Offensive line: A rival coach once described junior left guard Parker Braun, a former freshman All-American, as “a rolling ball of butcher knives.” Braun will anchor an experienced line that also features senior left tackle Will Bryan, who has started since his freshman year.

    Two position battles still being tightly contested heading into fall camp are center and right tackle. Junior Kenny Cooper is the returning starter in the middle, but classmate Jahaziel Lee finished spring camp slightly ahead in the coaches’ eyes. At right tackle, Jake Stickler, who had 10 starts there in 2017, was forced to retire because of an undisclosed medical issue. Battling neck-and-neck for his spot are Andrew Marshall, who returns after missing 2017 with a foot injury, and former walk-on Bailey Ivemeyer, one of a handful of second-generation Yellow Jackets football players.

    Brad Morgan, who missed the final seven games of 2017 with a back injury, is the penciled-in starter at right guard.

    The wild card here is Mississippi transfer Jack DeFoor, a 6-5, 305-pound Georgia native who was granted an immediate eligibility waiver by the NCAA. DeFoor played in four games as a freshman at Ole Miss last season and participated in spring ball.

    Defensive line: Anree Saint-Amour is the team’s returning leader in sacks and tackles for loss and will anchor one defensive end position. Fellow senior Desmond Branch, a junior college transfer and the only New Mexico native in the modern era to play at Tech, will start opposite Branch. The nose tackle in Tech’s new 3-4 alignment is 6-1, 298-pound Kyle Cerge-Henderson, who appeared in 10 games last season.

    The unit lacks depth overall. Presumed backups Brandon Adams, Tyler Merriweather and Antwan Owens combined for 15 tackles and one sack a year ago.

    Linebackers: It’s easy to see why the new defensive coordinator switched to a 3-4: Linebacker is where the Yellow Jackets have a surplus of talent and, because of recruiting realities, are likely to maintain it there as opposed to the line for years to come. Victor Alexander, the squad’s leading returning tackler, will start at Jack linebacker, which will make him an edge rusher on passing downs. Jalen Johnson moves from his previous position at defensive back to play the other outside linebacker spot, the Stinger, where he will primarily act as a nickel back on passes.

    Team captain Brant Mitchell, formerly the Mike linebacker, will continue to call the defensive fronts from one interior linebacker position. Playing next to him? It’s still unresolved, as senior David Curry spent the spring pushing Bruce Jordan-Swilling, who had a sensational season as a true freshman in 2017. Both are the sons of former NFL linebackers (Buddy Curry and Pat Swilling).

    Defensive backs: “Our secondary is the biggest question mark,” Johnson said. “We have to replace all four starters.”

    There are zero interceptions returning among this unit as well as zero starters, so consider all four positions fluid. The most difficult loss is A.J. Gray, a two-year starter at free safety who had to retire because of a heart condition. Christian Campbell, a redshirt junior, is slotted to replace Gray, and Tariq Carpenter, a true sophomore, will be given the first shot at strong safety. Both players have adequate size at 6-2. The Yellow Jackets also added graduate transfer Malik Rivera, who started 17 games at Wofford.

    Cornerback remains a competition, with four players — Jaytlin Askew, Ajani Kerr, Lamont Simmons and Tre Swilling, Jordan-Swilling’s brother — vying for those spots. Expect all to see the field early in the season.

    Special teams: Johnson says that punter Pressley Harvin III, who was named a true freshman All-American last season by ESPN, has “next-level” talent. The Jackets are in good position on fourth downs with Harvin, who averaged 44.1 yards per punt a year ago.

    In Johnson’s offense, fourth down is often a rushing down — the Yellow Jackets only attempted 10 field goals last season. At place-kicker, Brenton King who made five of his six tries in 2017 and was perfect from inside 40 yards, has the upper foot against Shawn Davis heading into August practice. Both players kicked off in 2017 and had near-identical averages (59.2 and 59.8, respectively).

    How the Jackets have recruited from 2015-2018
    According to 247Sports’ Composite Rankings, here is how Georgia Tech’s recruiting classes have fared nationally and within the ACC over the last four years:

    Between 2014 and 2017, Georgia Tech signed one four-star recruit, according to 247Sports. That lone gem was linebacker Bruce Jordan-Swilling, the adopted son of Yellow Jackets legend Pat Swilling. Johnson and his staff must do better than simply luring legacies — they also landed Pat’s biological son, Tre, in the same 2017 class as Bruce — to The Flats.

    The Yellow Jackets are both blessed and cursed. Geographically, they are located in the heart of one of the nation’s most fertile recruiting grounds and are at the epicenter of college football in many ways — the annual SEC championship game, the College Football Hall of Fame, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which hosted January’s national championship contest.

    On the other hand, elite programs such as Alabama, Clemson and Georgia are located within a three-hour drive and are foraging for the region’s top-tier talent. The Yellow Jackets might not be able to beat them for the region’s premier talent, but they need to keep a few closer to home as opposed to losing them to schools ranked roughly between 20th and 50th.

    Impact of coaching changes
    In each of the past three seasons, Georgia Tech has finished last in the ACC in tackles for loss and last or next-to-last in sacks. Enter defensive coordinator Nate Woody, who held the same job at Appalachian State for the past five seasons and had the Mountaineers at or near the top in those categories in the Sun Belt Conference.

    Johnson also plucked two defensive coaches from the staff at Wofford in the wake of Mike Ayers’ retirement as head coach after 30 seasons at the FCS school. Defensive coordinator Shiel Wood comes to Tech to coach the safeties, and defensive line coach Jerome Riase will work in the same capacity in Atlanta as he did in Spartanburg, S.C.

    Craig Candeto, who was Johnson’s quarterback in his first two seasons at Navy and is a retired fighter pilot, was hired as a graduate assistant quarterbacks coach and unofficially as a TaQuon Marshall whisperer. Candeto used to fly a $57 million F/A-18E Super Hornet, so Johnson feels comfortable putting his quarterback in the hands of Candeto, whose career completion rate hovered just below 50 percent. If Marshall, a converted running back and a career 37.6 percent thrower, can improve to that level, Candeto will have done his job.

    Schedule analysis
    Georgia Tech is one of two non-SEC schools (Louisville is the other) that will face two opponents from last year’s College Football Playoff — in its case, Clemson and Georgia. Louisville and Tech will meet up on the banks of the Ohio River in a Friday night matchup in early October.

    The schedule gods did Paul Johnson no favors as the Tigers and Cardinals represent the Jackets’ out-of-division ACC opponents. Moreover, Georgia Tech travels to Virginia Tech for a Thursday night ESPN game in late October. The Hokies are 13-4 at Lane Stadium on Thursday nights.

    A 4-1 start is possible if the Yellow Jackets can win on back-to-back weekend treks to South Florida and Pittsburgh. From there, bowl eligibility might hinge on taking two of three from Duke, North Carolina and Virginia.

    Final assessment

    It’s Johnson’s 11th season in Atlanta, and he’s not about to change. The Yellow Jackets will lead the ACC in rushing, finish last or near to it in passing and hope to play defense well enough to achieve double-digit wins. An upset at home against Clemson or Miami could swing the season.
     
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  3. Architorture23

    Architorture23 In it for the likes.

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    PGL
     
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  4. whenyousaybud

    whenyousaybud Bill Donaldson IRL @ me and taste steel Ban Hammer'd

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    When Coach Johnson introduced Coach Woody, he told us he gets a lot of penetration up.”
     
  5. JJacket

    JJacket 1st to pass for 2500 and rush for 1000 Ban Hammer'd

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    Lee finished slightly ahead of Cooper at the end of spring practice? Since Cooper was wheeling around in a cast, I would hope so.

    Cooper will start of he recovers nicely.
     
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  6. JoeCakeEater

    JoeCakeEater Dodd-Like

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    tl;dr...even in the off season.
     
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  7. swampsting

    swampsting Dodd-Like

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    The Athletic has put together a pretty strong group of writers. They got Seth Emerson to leave the AJC to cover the Mutts for them. But I wonder if they will set up shop in Atlanta like they have in some other major cities.
     
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  8. Dirty Jacket

    Dirty Jacket Something Extraordinairre

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    Good read. Not reassuring.
     
  9. ThisIsAtlanta

    ThisIsAtlanta Actually Nicolas Cage Staff Member

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    Sounds like the defense gonna be rough, but I have to offer a correction. We could start the first five games 5-0.
     
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  10. 00Burdell

    00Burdell Dodd-Like

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    While the secondary will be shaky, it won't be quite a noticeable because Woody, unlike Roof, is not going to sit back and let the other QB take a five step drop, make a sandwich, take a nap, check email then fling it downfield. Opposing quarterbacks will not have as much time to get rid of it which will take some pressure off our inexperienced DBs.
     
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  11. RamblinWreck92

    RamblinWreck92 Dodd-Like

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    "It’s a fair criticism, then, that Georgia Tech’s defense devotes entirely too much time preparing against an offense that it never sees on Saturdays. "

    interesting. plenty of people here claim this isn't true.
     
  12. 18in32

    18in32 Puritan Wannabe

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    I didn’t say anything. I almost cried.
     
  13. coit

    coit God-Like

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    We have two choices. Practice against our best offensive players, which means facing the TO, or practice against scrubs running a scout team offense that we've cobbled together.

    Every football team faces this same challenge. However, while Bama practicing against their offense might not fully prepare them to play against a top QB, our challenge is much greater. Our scout team will pale in comparison to what Bama can put together.
     
  14. Architorture23

    Architorture23 In it for the likes.

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    Everybody knows we practice against the 3O in the spring and some in fall. Everybody should by now also know that we practice against the scout team running our opponents' offense during the season.
     
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  15. coit

    coit God-Like

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    Only for an ideal gas.
     
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  16. RamblinWreck92

    RamblinWreck92 Dodd-Like

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    Bama practicing against Bama's offense prepares them for at least half their schedule's opponents, if not more. Us practicing against our TO prepares us for approximately zero of our opponents.

    Practicing against plays we won't face is stupid. Our Team D stats under CPJ appear to back this up. Defending the TO doesn't help our pass defense at all. Actually, that explains a lot. Might as well throw a ton of bubble screens and passes to TEs. Doesn't sound like we get much practice against those types of formations. I guess we'll be good and ready for a bowl matchup against a service academy though!
     
  17. Yukonwreck

    Yukonwreck Dodd-Like

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    I've heard that a lot. I can't conceive that it is not fixable. But apparently it isn't.
     
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  18. Yukonwreck

    Yukonwreck Dodd-Like

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    B-back, B-back, quarterback keeper. B-back, b-back, quarterback keeper. B-back, B-back, long pass incomplete, punt.
     
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  19. Killick

    Killick “The past is never dead. It's not even past.”

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    Three of last year's losses were by a total of 6 points, and we led each game late in the 4th. I think we had double digit leads in the second half in all but two of our losses. That, to me, screams depth and inexperience. Our least experienced group is DB, where arguably we have recruited the best in the last few years. Our depth issues seem to be a function of injuries. I'm sure the change in defense will mean more celebrating by our opponents in our end zone, but I hope that will be far surpassed by how much celebrating we do in their backfield. We have hope again.
     
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  20. aeromech

    aeromech Dodd-Like

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    No, not really; there aren't that many teams running Bama style offense. The bigger difference between Bama and us (and almost everyone else) is the quality of players on the scout team AND the quality of coaches on the scout team. When they simulate another teams offense on scout team it is closer to the real deal than most other scout teams can replicate. Then there is quality of players on the starting team.
     
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