For the life of me I cannot ever recall a defending BCS conference football champion receiving as little fanfare from the national media as Georgia Tech has for the upcoming season. The rational being used for this slight is that four juniors, who were very good football players, declared early for the NFL draft. You would have thought that they were the entire team from the reaction their departure has created for the upcoming season on the Flats. This is nothing new or novel in college football. Players leave every year; some with degrees, and some with eligibility still remaining as they simply move on in life. Yet for the Naysayers of Georgia Tech, it is as if everyone is waiting and hoping for the demise of Paul Johnson and his unique triple option offense; The “I told you so” mentality.
Now the chatter among the college football establishment is that Paul Johnson will be unable to achieve any further success with this arcane offense now that he no longer has the elite athletes from the prior administration to run his triple option system. What really makes me laugh is that all of these “experts” were predicting a “3″ win season in Paul Johnson’s first year on the Flats, and maybe “5 or 6″ wins in year number 2. You remember, nobody runs this offense at the BCS level for a reason. So after 2 very successful campaigns nothing has changed. Quite frankly, I’m sure Paul Johnson could care less and would prefer to be ignored and categorized as an accidental champion since the ACC was “down” last year. The same old stuff about Miami and Florida State not being what they once were, and of course Virginia Tech losing to the Yellow Jackets was just not expected.
What is really ironic is that the usual progression of a new coach is to purge out of the program the prior coach’s players, then start to win in year # 4 or 5 with his own folks. Given that Paul Johnson turned that traditional formula on its head, and won immediately with personnel not suited for this offense, apparently he is either one heck of a Coach or Merlin the magician. I vote for the former! Two time ACC Coach of the year, and ACC Conference Champion in his second season. So after moving past the year 1 excuse of; this offense won’t work in a BCS Conference, and the year 2 excuse; teams will be able to defend the option after seeing it the first time, the next excuse being put forth for year # 3 is; he can’t run this offense with his own recruits. Talk about moving the goalposts!
So with that backdrop, let’s move on to what can be expected in year # 3. Defensively we will actually see the other team punt the ball at least 4 or more times per game. Al Groh was hired by Paul Johnson to fix this unit immediately, and he will. Georgia Tech has plenty of athletes to run this defense and success will come early and often. The real concern for those opponents on the schedule for 2010 is; what will Paul Johnson do with an extra 4 or 5 offensive opportunities each game with this triple option offense? Score more points!
The biggest concern that is receiving little notice is the sudden depletion of the members of the offense line. Cord Howard graduated and signed as a free agent with the NFL Buffalo Bills, and I wish him the best. Brad Sellers graduated, and he played tremendous football as a 255 Lbs. offensive tackle. We also lost our back-up center Dan Voss to graduation. Dan started the prior year as a junior then lost his position to walk-on and All ACC First Team Center Sean “Rocket Scientist” Bedford in the spring prior to his senior season as he was out with a shoulder injury. What was probably not noticed by most people was that Dan Voss was able to step in at critical times last season when Sean Bedford had leg cramps and missed a few plays while he was on the sideline. Dan played just as well in those instances, but he too has graduated and moved on. But here is where I am concerned, and no doubt the 2 offensive line coaches; Todd Spencer and Mike Sewak are too.
Guard Joseph Gilbert, a 2 year starter, and backup offensive tackle Clyde Yandell, both graduated early and had to transfer to Georgia State for their respective Masters programs, further depleting the depth on the offensive line. Then 300 Lbs. redshirt freshman tackle Antonio Foster, who was expected to compete for playing time this season had to leave school for undisclosed reasons. These 3 unexpected departures have created a concern that we can have no injuries up front this season, and given that we only have 2 incoming freshman offensive linemen, they will have to report ready to play this season as I do not see the ability to redshirt them.
Paul Johnson has slowly been building up the size of the offensive linemen since he arrived on the Flats, which is the real reason we have not done as well in our 2 bowl games. Their big guys (LSU and Iowa) have taken advantage of our smaller guys in the trenches. However, this deficiency is beginning to change this year. Unfortunately, we lost 3 linemen that nobody could have predicted making it imperative that we stay healthy up front all season long. Depth will be critical!
Paul Johnson will continue his success despite the Naysayers predictions to the contrary, and once again have the Yellow Jacket nation proud of his team. I will have a pre-season analysis of the squad and a season evaluation coming out very shortly. In the meantime; Go Jackets!