Overview: Paul Johnson enters his sixth season (40-26 overall) in Atlanta following a 7-7 2012 campaign that led to an ACC Championship appearance against Florida State and a 21-7 victory over USC in the Hyundai Sun Bowl. The Yellow Jackets struggled mightily during their first six games a year ago, suffering through a three-game skid highlighted by their opponents scoring 42 points or more. Johnson’s team rallied to go 4-1 over their next five contests, including a 68-50 win at North Carolina. Postseason bans for both UNC and Miami allowed the Yellow Jackets to claim the Coastal Division crown.
Offensive experience returns in the form of senior running backs David Sims and Robbie Godhigh. The Yellow Jackets were first in the ACC a season ago and ranked fourth nationally in rushing offense, averaging 311 yards per game. With the graduation of quarterback Tevin Washington, Durham, N.C. native Vad Lee will take over the reigns. Overall, seven offensive starters return for Georgia Tech in 2013.
Defensively, the Yellow Jackets ranked 43rd nationally last season, allowing 374 yards per game. Eight defensive starters return to offset the key losses that include defensive end Izaan Cross and cornerback Rod Sweeting. Despite a wealth of returning talent, a number of coaching changes have left some uncertainty looming within the program. After Al Groh’s firing and interim defensive coordinator Charles Kelly jumping to take a job at Florida State, the defense will be under a new regime in the fall. The talk for the Coastal Division title has surrounded Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Miami, as well as Georgia Tech, setting the table for what should be a wild regular season.
Historic Breakdown: North Carolina trails Georgia Tech, 18-27, in the overall series. Since 2000, the Ramblin’ Wreck has dominated the Tar Heels with an 11-2 mark with their last loss coming in 2008 in Chapel Hill. Last season, North Carolina allowed the most points in Kenan Stadium history (68) as Johnson’s multi-faceted ground game churned out 380 yards and seven touchdowns.
“I don’t really worry so much about the bye weeks before anyone plays us. I think if you go back and look that’s just another one of those myths that kind of gets perpetuated. I just didn’t like playing four straight division games. They have to do what they have to do with the schedule sometimes and this was our turn to have that so hopefully next year we won’t have it.” – Johnson
“I hope Vad will take a step forward from last year where he gained some valuable experience. I think he’s a gifted young man. He’s got some tools and he’s a hard worker but my big thing is let’s not build him up so much that he’s going to fail. If you’re not careful the expectations become so high that Superman couldn’t reach them.” – Johnson
“I have high expectations for Jay Finch, Will Jackson and Jeremiah Attaochu, so I don’t coach Vad any different than I do those players.” – Johnson
The Yellow Jackets experience a brutal start to their schedule, yet if they can start out hot, then they set themselves up for a great chance to contend for the Coastal Division title. Johnson’s team faces four straight Coastal Division opponents after opening the season against Elon. The first contest is on the road in Durham against Duke, followed by back-to-back home outings against North Carolina and Virginia Tech. The ACC schedulers did the Yellow Jackets no favors by separating the Tar Heels and Hokies by just five days. That divisional stretch ends with a trip to Miami on Oct. 5.
Player to Watch: Vad Lee
Lee was a highly recruited quarterback out of Durham, NC due to his mobility and his throwing ability. Although the Yellow Jackets ranked last in the ACC in passing in 2012, it doesn’t necessarily show the full spectrum of the passing threat they possess. Lee threw for 169 yards through the air in 2012 and also rushed for 124 yards and two touchdowns in the win over the Tar Heels. Georgia Tech was able to take advantage of UNC cheating up to defend the run to hit big pass plays down the field last season, and Lee would appear to amplify that threat in 2013.