NCAA Football Preview - Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

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Updated: 8/19/2013 9:20 am

Johnson rallied the squad from late October to late November, winning four of the next five games, with the lone loss during that span coming outside of the ACC in a loss to BYU (41-17). However, closing out ACC play with wins over Maryland (33-13), North Carolina (68-50) and Duke (42-24) helped propel the Yellow Jackets to the Coastal Division crown.

The team closed out the regular-season in disappointing fashion, losing badly to arch-rival Georgia in Athens (42-10), following that loss with a 21-15 setback to Florida State in Charlotte in the ACC title game.

With the BCS Bowl game off the docket, Georgia Tech headed to El Paso on New Year's Eve and beat USC in the Sun Bowl (21-7).

2013 ANALYSIS:

OFFENSE: If there is one thing that a Paul Johnson-led offense can do effectively, it's running the football. For the fifth straight season, Tech led the ACC in rushing, finishing fourth nationally last year (311.2 ypg).

Johnson needs a new orchestrator of his spread offense now that quarterback Tevin Washington has moved on. As a freshman in 2012, Vad Lee earned some valuable playing time, rushing for 544 yards and nine touchdowns.

Lee is confident in his ability to lead this team.

"It's exciting. This is why I chose Georgia Tech. This is why I play the quarterback position because I like the ball in my hands. I like to distribute the ball to people. I'm not selfish at all. I'm just the man that's distributing the ball I guess and trying to make plays for the team."

The backfield, as always, is chock-full of capable runners heading into 2013, highlighted by the return of junior Zach Laskey (697 yards, one TD) and senior David Sims (612 yards, four TDs).

The good news for the ground game is continuity up front, with four of last year's five starters returning, with a collective 105 career starts. The unit is anchored by senior center Jay Finch (6-3, 285), who earned All-ACC honorable mention in 2012.

It will once again be a one-dimensional offense in Atlanta, as the offense seems to be void of any game-changers in the receiving corps. Senior Robert Goodhigh (5-7, 188) returns with the most production, but he only caught 15 balls last season, for 227 yards and four scores.

DEFENSE: The Tech defense certainly lagged behind the offense in terms of productivity last year. Still, there were flashes of strong play, just not enough consistency. The team returns eight starters on that side of the football, including its top six tacklers, so there is some optimism heading into the season, especially with new coordinator Ted Roof returning to Atlanta and switching over to a 4-3 base.

The crown jewel of the unit is senior rush end Jeremiah Attaochu (6-3, 240), who has earned All-ACC honorable mention each of the last two seasons. Attaochu amassed 69 tackles in 2012 and led the Yellow Jackets with 10 sacks.

Play in the secondary is headlined by senior safety Isaiah Johnson (team-high 87 tackles, one INT) and senior cornerback Jemea Thomas (86 tackles, four INTs). Junior Quayshawn Nealy (79 tackles) and sophomore Jabari Hunt-Days (84 tackles) solidify the linebacking corps.

The veterans are embracing Roof's new philosophy.

"It's been great," said Nealy at the ACC media event in late July. "Ted Roof has simplified the defense tremendously to make it simple. It's just been a great fit for me. I'm an outside linebacker now. All I pretty much do is run everywhere so just being conditioned well and things like running to the ball and playing hard is pretty much what I do. I am looking forward to it."

SPECIAL TEAMS: The place kicking duties in Atlanta are still up in the air. Fifth-year senior David Scully has a strong leg, but hit just 4-of-8 field goal tries and was 37-of-39 in PATs. He could be pushed by freshman Harrison Butker (6-3, 190), who was a high school All-American last year. Senior Sean Poole will reprise his role as punter, after averaging 39.7 yards per attempt in 2012.

OUTLOOK: Georgia Tech usually has a puncher's chance against most opponents thanks to a lethal ground game that is hard to stop even though foes know what's coming.

The non-conference slate has a pair of FCS opponents in Elon and Alabama A&M and a pair of powerhouse FBS foes in BYU and arch-rival Georgia. At least a split is expected for the Yellow Jackets, who may find reaching another ACC Championship Game, a bit more daunting. The team does avoid Florida State altogether and gets North Carolina, Virginia Tech and newcomers Syracuse and Pittsburgh all in Atlanta. Road trips to Duke, Miami-Florida, Virginia and Clemson should tell the tale for Johnson and the Yellow Jackets.

With a heavy dose of conference play early on, Tech's season may be determined by mid-October.

"Yes, we can set ourselves up to be in good shape early on or we can dig ourselves a hole like what happened last year," said Johnson. "The start of the season is really important. I think also playing two Division I AA teams is something you'd rather not do. That makes the schedule even more important to get off to a good start for bowl eligibility and those kinds of things as well."

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