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12 Up, 12 Down: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

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USF gets its biggest test of the early season as Georgia Tech makes its way to Tampa.

NCAA Football: Alcorn State at Georgia Tech Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

When week one finished, most USF fans were relieved that Blake Barnett could be a suitable piece in the USF offense.

But the waters get choppier as Georgia Tech comes into town for a noon kickoff on Saturday, giving USF a good litmus test for how good this team can be this year.

Tech is coming off a down year, but with Paul Johnson’s Flexbone style offense, anything can happen.

Let’s meet the Ramblin’ Wreck...

Opponent: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

2017 Record: 5-6, 4-4 Atlantic Coastal Conference, Coastal Division

Head Coach: Paul Johnson (10th season)

Date/Time/Location: Saturday, Sept. 8 at 12 p.m. Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL

Series History: This will be the first ever meeting between Georgia Tech and USF.

Depth Chart

Background

Georgia Tech can be considered one of the most historical programs in FBS history with names like John Heisman, whom the Heisman trophy is named after, Bobby Dodd, whom the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year award is named for, and producing the most lopsided victory in American football history, 222-0 over Cumberland. The school has the historical prowess to compete with the big boys.

Since Paul Johnson has taken over, Tech has won the ACC Coastal three times and the outright conference once in 2009, but more consistently finishes in the middle of the pack. His winning percentage of .593 keeps him just about even with Georgia Tech’s program historically.

Last year, Tech dropped its opener against Tennessee in overtime before rattling off wins over Jacksonville State (FCS), Pittsburgh, and UNC. The Yellow Jackets gave Miami all they could handle in a 25-24 loss but bounced back with a victory over Wake Forest.

Lopsided loses against Clemson and Virginia left GT with a 4-4 record and three games left in the season after their game against C. was cancelled and not made up.

They pulled off the upset against Virginia Tech to bring the record to 5-4, needing a victory over either Duke or rival Georgia to go to a bowl game. Unfortunately they dropped both, losing horribly to the Bulldogs to round out the season.

Most have predicted GT to have another mediocre season this year and the ACC Media Poll had the Ramblin’ Wreck finishing third in the division behind Miami and Virginia Tech.

Last week, they opened the season against HBCU Alcorn State, defeating the Braves 41-0 in front their home faithful in Bobby Dodd Stadium.

Offense

Paul Johnson brings an extremely unique style of offense to the table, touting a Flexbone option system that keeps defensive coordinators up all night.

The Flexbone option is rarely seen outside of the service academies, but teams like Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern have revitalized the old school style. The flexbone takes all the modern antics of football and throws it out the window. Half backs and running backs are referred to as A Backs and B Backs, and the splits between offensive linemen are larger than normal.

Flexbone Base

Paul Johnson’s variation relies on two major components, cut-blocking and speed.

Cut-blocking is a controversial way that Johnson teaches his players to block, where the players will cut towards the legs of the opponent to knock them back or off their feet entirely. This can sometimes result in devastating injuries but the only rule against it is that you cannot cut block while the opposing player in engaged already.

The speed aspect relies on the strength of the recruiting hotbed in Georgia. All the skill players involved on offense have devastating speed to get to the outside and turn the corner, or blow right past you up the gut. They’re taught to keep their legs churning and to get at least three yards a play, and will commonly go for it on 4th down in medium yardage situations.

The receiving core is extremely important for the flexbone offense. Once their numbers are called for a pass play, it’s critical they sell the run and catch the balls thrown to them. Pass plays are few and far, so they need to capitalize when they do have to call those plays.

Last year, Georgia Tech produced 4,308 yards of total offense, with 3,381 of those yards coming on the ground. This averaged to around 5.7 yards per play and 391 yards a game.

TaQuon Marshall returns to lead the flexbone offense with a whole host of backs to accompany him this season. The QB threw for 927 yards and 10 touchdowns last year while adding 1,146 yards and 16 more rushing touchdowns.

TaQuon is one of the most athletic QBs that Tech has had in recent memory but he struggles in the passing and option game, which results in missed pitches and underthrown passes. He looked improved in both aspects in their opener against Alcorn State as he had some well thrown balls and seemed to be more willing to pitch the ball instead of keeping it himself.

The B Back (Full back behind the QB) is one of the key players in this offense and KirVonte Benson is looking to build off a strong year last year by continuing pouring the rock between the tackles for the Yellow Jackets. Last year’s second leading rusher accumulated 1,053 yards on the ground and six touchdowns, while also adding two catches for 16 yards. Against Alcorn State, he rushed for 75 yards and two touchdowns, dragging a few defenders in the end zone ala Tyre McCants style.

Two A Backs (the running backs lined up next to the tackles, commonly in motion before the snap) to watch for are Clinton Lynch and Qua Searcy. You won’t hear their name often if USF can’t stop the dive or contain Marshall, but both of these players are capable of breaking off big runs. Searcy found himself a 56 yard run after Marshall went through his reads on a triple option play.

The wide receivers, or sometimes referred to as “outside tackles” provide key downfield blocking for the offense and are crucial to breaking off big plays. They are always chasing plays and trying to put their backs in the best spot available for more yards.

Brad Stewart and Jalen Camp lead the group and are looking to replace TaQuon’s favorite target from last year. Both receivers had receptions of at least 50 yards in 2017, with Stewart averaging 25 yards a reception.

Coach Johnson is traditional in the sense that his playbook is in his head, so he doesn’t use fancy picture boards or hand signs. He subs in a player from the sideline and gives them the play call in their ear. That player goes to the huddle, calls the play, and the offense goes and executes from there.

Along the offensive line, Center Kenny Cooper and Guard Parker Braun were on preseason awards list for their respective positions, although Cooper did not play against Alcorn and is questionable for Saturday. Redshirt freshman Zack Quinney got the nod at left tackle, and is the youngest member of the line.

Tech is changing their starting five for USF, going with Zack Quinney at left tackle, junior Parker Braun at left guard, junior Jahaziel Lee at center, senior Will Bryan moves back to right guard, and redshirt senior Senior Andrew Marshall at right tackle.

Defense

Georgia Tech is transitioning from running a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 defense this year with new defensive coordinator Nate Woody coming over from Appalachian State.

The buzzword around this new defense is adding a new position called the Jack linebacker, who is a DE/LB hybrid. This Jack linebacker is primarily used for pass rushing, but will occasionally drop back in coverage like a traditional linebacker. This position can be extremely dynamic for a defensive coordinator in that because of their versatility, the other three linebackers work the same as if the defense was in a 4-3, with a Sam, Mike, and Will linebacker.

For those that aren’t as football savvy as the rest, Sam is the strong side linebacker (lines up to the side where a tight end is), Mike is the middle linebacker, and Will is the weak side. This Jack Linebacker can accompany any of those three linebackers for an added blitz, or drop back in coverage to cover the blitzer.

Base defense vs USF

Last year, the Yellow Jackets gave up 354.4 yards a game but only yielded 26.5 points per contest, which put them right in the average of college football at 64th out of 130 teams.

The defense struggled to create havoc last year, accumulating only six interceptions and five forced fumbles. They also struggled to get sacks, getting only 17 on the year. In comparison, USF’s defense had 35.5 sacks, 20 interceptions, and four forced fumbles. The lack of havoc created on the defense led to some close wins and loses, with four of their games being decided by one score or less.

Along the defensive front, Tech is going with an experienced group with all three members being seniors. Redshirt senior Desmond Branch and senior Anree Saint-Amour will be starting at defensive end, and Tampa Plant alum Kyle Cerge Henderson makes a return trip to his hometown as the starting nose tackle.

Behind them at Jack linebacker will be senior Vic Alexander, who was an undersized inside linebacker before being converted to the Jack position. The other three linebackers are senior Brant Mitchell, redshirt junior David Curry, and redshirt senior Jalen Johnson. This week also sees the return of sophomore Bruce Jordan-Swilling, who is coming off an undisclosed injury.

The secondary didn’t see a lot of action against Alcorn, and the group is relatively young compared to the rest of the defense. The unit consists of sophomore Tariq Carpenter, redshirt senior Malik Rivera, sophomore Jaitlyn Askew, and redshirt freshmen Tre’ Swilling.

This group has by far the least amount of experience, with Carpenter the only player who recorded a tackle for the Yellow Jacket defense last year. The secondary could be in for a long day if Blake Barnett gets enough time in the pocket.

Special Teams

Georgia Tech utilized two kickers last year with sophomore Brenton King and redshirt junior Shawn Davis both kicking for the Jackets. It looks like they are going to go with King for the game against USF. Davis missed an extra point against Alcorn State, which was enough for Paul Johnson to bring in the back up.

Punting the ball is sophomore Pressley Harvin III, who might be the most impressive looking punter in the nation. At 6’0”, 245 pounds, he is bigger than the starting Jack linebacker for the Ramblin’ Wreck while also having the leg to show for it, averaging 44.1 yards per punt last year as a freshman.

His lone punt against Alcorn went for 48 yards. True freshman Juanyeh Thomas will handle both kick return and punt return for the Yellow Jackets against USF.

Prediction

It’s always difficult playing against a Paul Johnson flexbone offense. One game they could struggle to move the ball consistently, the next they could break off 500 yards rushing.

The key for USF will be getting a few red zone stops that either lead to zero or three points. Defensive Coordinator Brian Jean-Mary spent two years on Paul Johnson’s staff at Tech, so Paul is going to have to dig deep into his playbook to try to get past this defense.

With the amount of freshmen playing for USF and Barnett’s inexperience in this offense, I think the veteran and experience at Tech prevails in a close game.

Georgia Tech 48, USF 42