Following the much anticipated Friday night home opener versus Wisconsin on Labor Day weekend, Charlie Strong and his USF Bulls will head up I-75 for a Week 2 battle and another power five opponent in Georgia Tech.
Only this will be a drastically different Ramblin’ Wreck program than the one the Bulls defeated a year ago.
- Hosts USF on Saturday, Sep. 7 at 2 p.m. on the ACC Network
- Head Coach: Geoff Collins (1st season)
- 2018 record: 7-6 (ACC Coastal runner-up)
- 2019 Returning Production: 49% (119th)
- 2019 Projected S&P+: 89th
- SB Nation team site: From the Rumble Seat
After 11 seasons of zigging when everyone else zagged with his flexbone offense, Paul Johnson stepped down as the head man of Georgia Tech’s football program. The veteran master of the triple-option exited with 82 wins under his belt in midtown Atlanta, one conference championship and two Orange Bowl appearances.
While Johnson maintained a level of consistent success with the Yellow Jackets throughout his tenure, the nature of his program’s identity being tied to the option prevented them from truly tapping into the goldmine of talent within the ATL (which includes the seemingly endless number of counties and suburbs that encompass the area).
Enter new head coach Geoff Collins, who Tech snagged from USF division rival Temple in early December. From the moment his plane touched down at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Collins has gone all in on intertwining Tech’s brand with the city of Atlanta, doing things like bringing Waffle House trucks to practice and posing for recruiting pictures with Jeezy.
And the results seem to be working. As of right now, GT’s 2020 recruiting class is ranked 23rd in the nation per 247, already far ahead of Johnson’s last three classes that ranked 60th, 48th and 54th, respectively.
While the off-field branding/recruiting stuff is going swimmingly for Collins and his camp, the actual on-field product poses to be a full fledged tear down to the studs operation this fall as the program transitions out of the option.
Tech’s schedule doesn’t do them any favors in this transition either as right off the bat, they travel up I-85 to defending national champion Clemson’s house for a Thursday night season opener to launch the ACC Network.
Even with a modest Coastal division slate, the only game the Jackets are favored (per S&P+) is their Week 3 battle against the Citadel, with games against Collins’ former program Temple, Miami, Virginia and Georgia all presenting tough challenges.
It remains to be seen how much the new coaching staff gets out of this group as the season rolls on.
With a roster tailored to run Johnson’s flexbone, offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude will use what he has to try to emulate the balanced attacks he had at Temple to the best of his abilities
After missing last season with a foot injury, junior Lucas Johnson has seemingly emerged as the frontrunner to be Tech’s starting quarterback when opening the 2019 campaign at Clemson. Right behind him is Tobias Oliver, who USF fans may remember for finding the endzone three times in their early-season battle at Raymond James last year.
On the skill position front, it’ll be interesting to see how all of Tech’s returnees will be utilized in a new scheme. Combining for over 1,600 yards and 16 touchdowns last season, the running back triumvirate of Jerry Howard, Jordan Mason and Nate Cottrell return to wreck shop in the backfield. Meanwhile, wide receivers like Jalen Camp are chomping at the bit to get more looks both downfield and in the slot.
Oh, and they have tight ends now. That’s new. Hello UConn grad transfer Tyler Davis.
What will determine how far this Jackets offense goes is the success of the offensive line going from cut-blocking techniques to pass protection. Out the door is First-Team All-ACC guard Parker Braun, who transferred to Texas this offseason. Arriving to Atlanta to provide a veteran presence for Brent Key’s line is Vanderbilt grad transfer Jared Southers, who joins returnees like Jack DeFoor, Kenny Cooper, Scott Morgan and Brad Morgan.
On the other side of the line of scrimmage, GT’s defensive line stands to be the most overhauled unit of the team, transitioning from Nate Woody’s 3-4 to Andrew Thatcher’s 4-2-5. Suffering tragedy with the death of Brandon Adams in March, the line will be throwing relatively inexperienced guys into the fire like Jahaziel Lee/T.K. Chimedza on the interior and Jaquan Henderson/one-time USF commit Jordan Domineck off the edge.
In the middle of the field, David Curry and Bruce Jordan-Swilling return as the upperclassmen veterans of an otherwise young linebacker core. You may remember Curry for getting ejecting for targeting after recording six tackles in last year’s USF game.
Some experience returns to Tech’s secondary with safety Tariq Carpenter returning as a junior after logging in 13 starts last season. Converted linebacker Christian Campbell and kick return specialist Juanyeh Thomas join him in the group.
Leading the corners is Tre Swilling, who got a lot of run as a freshman last year with 24 tackles, seven passes defensed and an interception in 11 starts.
Both the Bulls and Yellow Jackets will enter this game will be coming off challenging Week 1 matchups against top-20 foes when meeting at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta.
Given Georgia Tech’s total roster and schematic overhaul, it will take a while for them to start showing proof of concept and I expect Collins and company to still be in the process of evaluation and making tweaks in just their second game.
Meanwhile on the other sideline, I anticipate this game would serve as a perfect opportunity for USF’s #ShowandGo offense to exploit their opponent’s deficiencies on defense and display the aggression Kerwin Bell mention on the Bulluminati Podcast earlier this week.