ATLANTA — Even with 11 wins in 2014, Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson kept thinking his team was living on the edge.
He points to a 49-34 Orange Bowl win over Mississippi State as evidence.
“We won the Orange Bowl by two touchdowns and we set an Orange Bowl record for passing yards against us, so you can’t live like that forever,” Johnson said.
“I think we’ve just got to be better. You can talk about it until you’re blue in the face. You’ve got to see it. You’ve got to do it on the field.”
Georgia Tech, which gave up 605 total yards and 453 yards passing in the bowl game, finished 11-3 and No. 8 in the final Associated Press poll. The Yellow Jackets beat Virginia Tech, Clemson and Georgia and lost to Florida State by two points in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
Johnson isn’t letting his players bask in the afterglow of a successful season. There has been much talk from his players this summer of “flushing” the season.
Johnson’s spread-option offense led the nation in rushing. Quarterback Justin Thomas ran for 1,086 yards — a team record for quarterbacks. But Thomas defied the stereotype of one-dimensional quarterbacks under Johnson. He passed for 1,719 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Thomas may be asked to carry an unusually heavy load as the offense adjusts to replacing all its top running backs, including Synjyn Days, Zach Laskey and Charles Perkins. The Yellow Jackets also lost top receivers DeAndre Smelter and Darren Waller, but four starters return on the offensive line.
Some things to watch for in Georgia Tech’s 2015 season:
TALKING ABOUT THE DEFENSE: Defensive coordinator Ted Roof’s unit ranked 79th in the nation in total defense, allowing 411.3 yards per game. The defense was 87th against the pass but ranked 17th in takeaways. Georgia Tech allowed 31, 48 and 37 points in losses to Duke, North Carolina and Florida State, respectively. Even some of the wins, including a 42-38 decision over Georgia Southern, were scary. “I think we’ve just got to be better,” Johnson said. “You can talk about it till you’re blue in the face. You’ve got to see it. You’ve got to do it on the field.”
COMEBACK: Broderick Snoddy is Georgia Tech’s only current running back who ran for more than 18 yards last season. Snoddy ran for 283 yards and three touchdowns before his 2014 season ended when he broke the fibula and tibia in his left leg in a Nov. 15 victory over Clemson. It was a devastating injury, but Snoddy has a chance to open the season as one of the two A-backs who line up spread wide. Qua Searcy, who was held out last season as a redshirt, also will share the carries.
RECEIVERS TO WATCH: Thomas said junior Michael Summers and sophomore Ricky Jeune “know that they’re going to be the main two guys” at wide receiver. Summers had seven catches for 45 yards last year. Jeune did not have a catch.
CARDINAL ON BOARD: Patrick Skov, a transfer from Stanford who enrolled as a graduate student, is looking like a good fit at the B-back spot — the running back who lines up behind Thomas. Skov (6-1, 235) has impressed Johnson with his size and toughness.
“I think he’s going to be hard to tackle,” Johnson said. “I think he’ll be a physical blocker and certainly he’ll help us. He’s going to play.”
RESPECTING THOMAS: Thomas, who as a team captain as a sophomore last season, is the undisputed leader. “He has such an understanding of how the triple option works and coach Johnson’s scheme,” said senior offensive guard Trey Braun.
“He’s really been one to get in this book and study it and be able to execute it a lot of times flawlessly. … Also, just as a leader, he’s been really special in leading the team and instilling a culture of success and a culture that we need to be successful.”