The least you should know about the 2011 Yellow Jackets. Part of ACC Week.
• Winning makes everyone feel better. Georgia Tech isn't moving into the 2011 season on the best note. Last week, the Yellow Jackets were slapped with NCAA sanctions, including the vacation of their 2009 ACC title, because of a two-year-old improper benefits case. The entire situation has irked fans, players and even coach Paul Johnson, who lashed out at the NCAA during an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
But in just a few weeks, Georgia Tech is going to have to leave all of that behind and somehow focus on this season and earning another championship. Winning is always the surefire cure for a program that falls on hard times, but that won't be easy especially since Johnson's "unique" option system no longer has the new car smell it did in his first few seasons. That was evident in the second half of the 2010 season when the Yellow Jackets dropped five of their final six games, including the bowl game against Air Force, and finished with the first losing season since Johnson arrived.
Brighter days don't appear to be on the horizon with just 11 returning starters and several new faces in the backfield and the secondary.
• The downfield threat. The biggest difference for the Jackets from 2009 to 2010 was the absence of a downfield threat. While nobody would claim GT's passing offense to be dynamic, receiver Demaryius Thomas was. All quarterback Josh Nesbitt had to do was get it in Thomas' vicinity and no one could cover him. Thomas finished 2009 with 46 catches for 1,154 yards and eight touchdowns and while that might not seem like a lot, he was the only receiver to have double-digit receptions in the Yellow Jackets' run-happy offense.
Last year, Stephen Hill was GT's receiving threat, but he had just 15 catches for 291 and three scores. The GT passing offense ranked 119th nationally with a little more than 82 yards per game. With no true passing or receiving g threat, it was easy for defenses to focus on loading up the box and stopping the option.
Unfortunately for the Yellow Jackets, it doesn't look like the passing game will improve much this year. Hill and Tyler Melton (six catches, 99 yards, one score) are back, but neither has the consistency or the ability to break away from defenders to make the Yellow Jackets even a minor passing threat. And quarterback Tevin Washington managed to complete just 40 percent of his passes a year ago. However, there's no guarantee Washington will ultimately run the offense. Synjyn Days had a nice spring and is on pace to compete for playing time.
• An omen or an oddity? No one expected Georgia Tech to struggle as much as it did, so it begs the question, does 2010 show the Yellow Jackets are starting to reveal their true colors in a power league or was it an aberration?
The Yellow Jackets scoring fell from 33.8 points per game in 2009 to 26.0 in 2010. In the final six games of last season, Georgia Tech averaged 17.5 points per game while opponents racked up 29.3 points per game. If there's a positive, the Yellow Jackets still managed to average more than 400 yards per game, but it didn't help as they allowed 371.62 yards per game.
• We'll always have the option. The one constant under Johnson has been the Jackets' running game. Last season, Anthony Allen filled in for Jon Dwyer and carried rushing load. But with him gone, there's little experience waiting in the wings especially at B-back, which is the Jackets' primary running back position. But there is some strength at A-back with seniors Roddy Jones and Embry Peeples and junior Orwin Smith all returning. Those three combined for 43 carries for 1,156 yards and nine scores. Still, Johnson needs one of his new B-backs to show some promise to keep the Jackets' in their comfort zone.
• A good offense comes from a good defense. The 3-4 defense was hit and miss a lot last year -- literally. The returning starters on the defensive line -- Jason Peters, Izaan Cross and Logan Walls -- averaged just 11.5 tackles for loss, which breaks down to less than one a game. That's not good. Even though the line's main goal was to clear lanes for linebackers, there still needed to be more production from the guys up front. Two of the three starting linebackers from a year ago -- Steven Sylvester and Julian Burnett -- are back, but they'll miss Brad Jefferson, who led the team in tackles and sacks. Also, the Jackets' have to replace their entire secondary, which was surprisingly decent allowing 201.92 yards per game, good for fourth in the conference.