Georgia Tech put any doubts to rest early in 2011 as the Yellow Jackets ran out to a 6-0 start, including a 35-28 victory over North Carolina, and rose as high as No. 12 in the polls. However, the team struggled down the stretch, losing four of their final six games of the regular season. The Yellow Jackets received a bid to the Sun Bowl, but fell to Utah 30-27 in overtime. It was the fourth consecutive bowl loss for Georgia Tech under Johnson and their seventh straight bowl defeat overall, dating back to 2005.
Despite the fact the quarterback rarely throws the ball in Georgia Tech's flexbone offense, the man under center is without a doubt the most important player on the field for the offense. He makes the calls at line and decides when to hand-off, pitch or hold the ball on the numerous option plays Georgia Tech likes to run.
After starting four games in 2010, junior quarterback Tevin Washington took over the reins full time in 2011. Washington (74-of-150 passing, 1,652 yards, 11 TD, 8 INT) did exactly what was asked of him in Johnson's scheme.
For the third consecutive season, Georgia Tech fielded one of the top two rushing attacks in the country. The Yellow Jackets (316.46 ypg) ranked behind only Army on the ground. Five players rushed for over 450 yards in 2011, led by Washington (243 car, 987 yards, 14 TD) and running back David Sims (135 car, 698 yards, 7 TD). Both Orwin Smith (61 car, 632 yards, 11 TD) and Embry Peebles (47 car, 493 yards, 2 TD) averaged over 10 yards per carry.
Georgia Tech's offensive style is conducive to holding the ball for a majority of the game. That certainly held true in 2011 as the Yellow Jackets ranked eighth in the country in time of possession (33:28 mpg). Even with more rest than most defenses, Georgia Tech struggled to keep opponents off the scoreboard in 2011, ranking 60th in scoring defense (26.08 ppg). The defense simply did not make enough big plays, ranking 10th in the ACC in tackles for loss (4.77 per game) and eighth in sacks (1.69 per game).
Washington returns for his senior season this fall, as do Sims and Smith, last year's second- and third-leading rushers. The threat of a capable receiver adds a wrinkle to the Yellow Jackets offense that makes it nearly impossible to defend. Georgia Tech must find a replacement for wide receiver Stephen Hill (28 rec, 820 yards, 5 TD), who was drafted by the New York Jets. However, there is not a receiver on the roster who has recorded a catch in their career. Overall, the offense returns eight starters, including all five offensive line, assuming All-ACC guard Omoregie Uzzi returns from surgery that held him out of spring practice.
The Georgia Tech defense was dealt a tough blow when All-ACC linebacker Julian Burnett (120 tackles, 1 sack) suffered a neck injury against Utah in the Sun Bowl. Burnett will not play this season and his career may be over as well. Look for the secondary to continue their strong play as three starters return from 2011's 28th ranked pass defense (197.85 ypg). In total, the defense returns six starters with no recorded sacks among the group.
Quotable: "It wasn't a situation where I was going to let somebody go to do that, but as the situation unfolded, we had a chance to do it… There's very few people that do it. There's only five or six in the country. It's new for me, so we'll see how it goes. Hopefully, it'll be productive." – Johnson on the hiring of David Walkosky as special teams coach. Georgia Tech made 11-of-18 on field goals in 2011, averaged less than 40 yards per punt and ranked 108th in kickoff returns (19.21 yards).
Matchup to Watch: Under Johnson, Georgia Tech always seemd to get out to a good start, but fade to end the year. In Johnson's four years in Atlanta, the Yellow Jackets are 20-4 in the first six weeks of the season, but just 13-11 in the final six. Boston College travels to Bobby Dodd Stadium on Oct. 20 for what appears to be an easy win for the Yellow Jackets. However, it is the seventh game of the season for Georgia Tech and marks the time when they usually begin to struggle. Georgia Tech needs to find a way to defeat the Eagles and maintain the momentum they will likely build up over the first half of the season.
Preparation Time: In the past four seasons, opponents are 11-6 against Georgia Tech when they have more than a week to prepare for the option offense. Last season, both Virginia and Virginia Tech defeated the Yellow Jackets following a weekend off. This fall, North Carolina gets a week off before playing Georgia Tech. Since Johnson arrived in Atlanta, the Tar Heels are 1-1 against the Yellow Jackets with an extra week of preparation.
Sept. 3 @ Virginia Tech
Sept. 8 Presbyterian
Sept. 15 Virginia
Sept. 22 Miami
Sept. 29 Middle Tennessee
Oct. 6 @ Clemson
Oct. 13 OPEN DATE
Oct. 20 Boston College
Oct. 27 BYU
Nov. 3 @ Maryland
Nov. 10 @ North Carolina
Nov. 17 Duke
Nov. 24 @ Georgia