In 2011, the Georgia Tech football team squandered a 6-0 start to the season, stumbling to a 2-5 record in its final seven games.
But, despite the dismal finish, there were certainly positives to be drawn from the campaign.
During its hot start, the Yellow Jacket offense was among the most potent in the entire country. It averaged 46.5 points per game in the six wins to open the season before stumbling to 21-point and seven-point efforts in two losses to Virginia and Miami, respectively.
And, despite a couple of key losses on the offensive side of the ball, more success is expected out of the dangerous triple-option in 2012. The team will need to get off to an equally fast start in the fall as its first game will be at night at Virginia Tech. Three of the next five come against Virginia, Miami and Clemson.
The main questions to consider going into the season: How will the Jackets replace the production of wide receiver Stephen Hill? How will Al Groh’s defense, playing with a few fresh faces up front, perform in his third year at the helm? And will the team be ready out of the gate to face such a difficult early-season slate?
Who’s catching the ball?
It’s understood that the Yellow Jackets throw the ball only a handful of times each game. Running the triple-option, the majority of yardage comes on the ground. In fact, nearly 70 percent of the yards gained by the Yellow Jackets a year ago were on rushing attempts.
Quarterback Tevin Washington and running backs David Sims and Orwin Smith made names for themselves for their impressive rushing totals.
But all of this is not to say that the passing game won’t be important.
For Georgia Tech, it is a change of pace, a way to strike quick when the opposing defense is loading the box.
It was a winning formula in 2011. Wide receiver Hill caught just 29 passes, but totaled 820 yards (29.3 per catch) and five touchdowns. But Hill has moved on. He awaits a call on NFL Draft Day.
A lot of the passing attempts, like a year ago, can be expected to go to running backs in the flats where they can find space to maneuver. But will there be a guy that can step up and fill Hill’s void as an athletic deep-ball threat?
The main player to watch in today’s game will be sophomore Jeff Greene, who was labeled as a potential starter by Paul Johnson a year ago. Greene spent plenty of time on the field for the Yellow Jackets, but did not record a catch.
His lanky 6-4, 200-pound frame, however, gives Washington the kind of player he needs to make the occasional big-yardage pass.
He should get a long look to be that guy. Expect a couple of balls thrown his way today.
Needing a strong defense
The switch to defensive coordinator Al Groh’s preferred 3-4 defense, perhaps, is complete. The transition from a four-man front to a three is one which usually takes a couple of years to perfect.
But in year three, Georgia Tech should be ready to take the next step on that side of the ball.
Unfortunately, it will do so without a number of key contributors from a year ago, including top defensive end Jason Peters.
What it does have coming back, however, is defensive end Izaan Cross, a graduate of Flowery Branch. A big, athletic presence on the end, Cross figures to be the leader up front for the defense.
Also, someone must step up to fill the void left by Julian Burnett, expected to be a star among the team’s linebackers, who suffered a career-ending injury during the offseason. That could be Jeremiah Attaochu or Daniel Drummond, also a Flowery Branch graduate. Drummond will not play in the spring game, however, after pleading guilty to boating under the influence on Wednesday.
Eyes on the stars
Of course, if the Yellow Jackets are to make it through their difficult early-season schedule, the stars must come out in full force.
That means strong performances from Washington, Smith and Sims, among others.
Worth watching in the spring game, as mentioned earlier, is Washington’s progression as a passer. While it won’t be common, the ability to put the ball in the air down the field could play a role in advancing the offense to a legitimate force.
Washington showed that ability at times, but lacked consistency in the biggest moments. During the team’s 2-5 finish, he completed just 48 percent of his passes for 600 yards, compared to 51 percent and 1,052 in the first six (all wins). Ten of his 11 touchdown passes also came in the first five games, while six of his eight interceptions came in the final seven.