Part of the Doc's ACC Week.
It's a testament to the killer depth of the Coastal Division that a defending conference champ returning the league's best quarterback from the league's best offense finds itself pegged as a likely also-ran in its own division. The pundits' reluctance to warm up to Georgia Tech is also a nod to the bevy of Tech talent that bailed a year early for the draft, which snapped up the Jackets' leading rusher, receiver, pass rusher and defensive ballhawk in April.
Surely it can't have anything to do at this point with any lingering skepticism over the viability of coach Paul Johnson's relentless triple-option attack, which has quickly established itself as the scourge of defensive coordinators across the East Coast. Of course, it was last seen being wrapped up in a burlap sack and thrown into a swamp by Iowa's defense in the Orange Bowl. But the Jackets ripped through the ACC with impunity, piling up at least 300 yards on the ground in all eight conference wins – including romps over both of the league's heavy-hitting, top-10 defenses, North Carolina and Virginia Tech.
If Johnson's offense has proven anything in the transition from Georgia Southern to Navy to Georgia Tech over the last decade, it's that the offense can take root and grow just about anywhere. And that the conditions at Tech are still ideal despite the absence of prolific masher Jonathan Dwyer in the backfield. Josh Nesbitt runs his offense as well as any quarterback in the country. Two different players, Roddy Jones in 2008 and Anthony Allen last year, have led all running backs nationally in yards per carry two years in a row. (As Navy fans will tell you, that's par for the course in Johnson's scheme.) With Allen moving down to fullback (aka "B-back") in place of Dwyer, there's no drop off in sight in the backfield.
If there are any unexpected issues on offense, they'll probably stem from the absence of Demaryius Thomas, who effectively was the Tech receiving corps last year. "Jump-ball to BeBe" was pretty much the only arrow in Nesbitt's quiver as a passer. Without the prospect of a future first-rounder loping through the secondary, defenses may have the opportunity to overwhelm the line of scrimmage with sheer numbers. The combined absences of edge-rushing terror Derrick Morgan and safety Morgan Burnett could have an equivalent effect for a defense that was already pretty sketchy against the pass with them on hand.
If you had to sum up the short shrift for the Jackets' hopes of repeating in one line, it would probably be "defense and attrition." They were the worst of the four obvious Coastal Division contenders last year on defense and lost more All-America-caliber talent in Dwyer, Thomas, Morgan and Burnett than the other three combined. That, and three of their four toughest games in the ACC (North Carolina, Clemson and Virginia Tech) come on the road.
But those are only marginal distinctions for outfits with marginal differences in overall quality. At 13-4, Georgia Tech has the best record in ACC games over Johnson's first two years. With Nesbitt pulling the trigger on the option, the Jackets will be in every game with an eye on taking full ownership of the conference until somebody figures out how to stop them.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.