Georgia Tech’s offense slipped last year.
After ranking either first or second in the country in rushing offense every year since 2009, the Yellow Jackets were sixth— the worst rushing ranking in coach Paul Johnson's six-season tenure — averaging 299.3 yards per game. It was the first time since 2010 that Georgia Tech had rushed for an average lower than 300 yards.
While a drop of a few yards might seem insignificant to most, it was a clear sign that Georgia Tech had gotten away from the offense that had made it one of the most difficult teams in the ACC for which to prepare.
So, when fall camp opened on Thursday, veterans saw Georgia Tech return to its old ways.
"I think we're going to just go back to basics, smash-mouth football," senior fullback Zack Laskey said. "I think we have the guys to do the things we have to do and as far as I can tell . . . there's going to be a lot more option offense."
Georgia Tech had gotten away from the option offense a bit last season in order to play to the strengths of quarterback Vad Lee. Lee passed for 1,561 yards and rushed for 513 yards. Lee’s 180 passing attempts were the most by any Tech quarterback in Johnson’s six seasons. Lee also was the first quarterback in Johnson’s tenure not to finish either first or second on the team in rushing.
But with Lee transferring to James Madison after last season, the Yellow Jackets are going back to the speed option behind new quarterback Justin Thomas, a 5-foot-11 track champion, who was originally committed to Alabama as a defensive back.
Thomas rushed for 234 yards on 33 carries last season. He also completed 9-of-17 passes for 131 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
“I think that Justin Thomas brings a great skill set to what we want to do offensively,” Johnson said during ACC media days. “He's a guy with great quickness who was the 100 meter dash champ in the state of Alabama at Prattville High School when he played quarterback there his senior year, won a state championship, and he probably has the quickest release of any quarterback that we've had at Georgia Tech as far as throwing the ball. He's not a big guy, but I think he's very talented.”
The Yellow Jackets also lose their top two rushers from a year ago, which puts the focus on Laskey, who was second on the team in rushing in 2012 and had 485 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago.
Georgia Tech finished last season 7-6 and finished second in the ACC’s Coastal Division. During Johnson’s tenure, the Yellow Jackets have finished first in the division three times and second twice. It finished third in 2010, the team’s only losing season under Johnson’s watch.
But Johnson sees his team continuing its ACC success, especially with a favorable schedule this season.
“For the past couple years, we've had a brutal conference schedule,” Johnson said. “We played most of our division games in the first six weeks of the season, so you either got way ahead or you put yourself way behind the 8‑ball. I like our schedule this year. Three of our four non‑conference games are up front for the first time in a while, and we've got a little space between the division games. I mean, last year we went Duke, North Carolina, Miami, Virginia Tech, all in a row, all division games. So they're spaced out a little better this time, and I like our schedule. I think it's as good as it's been in a while.”
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