In preparation for the North Carolina football team's season opener on Sept. 3, we've broken down everything you need to know about each team in the ACC. Check out the rest of our previews here.
Paul Johnson (ninth year with Georgia Tech)
Record last year:
3-9 (1-7 ACC)
When do they play UNC?
Nov. 5 in Chapel Hill
Where are they projected?
6th in Coastal Division
How do they play?
Georgia Tech runs Johnson’s notorious under center spread option offense that flourishes with misdirection runs, quick tosses, and primarily short passes. The ability to protect all of the moving parts in the backfield, and communication between the quarterback, A-back, and B-back is key to the success of the offense.
Who stands out?
Sophomore safety A.J. Gray — brother of former UNC women's basketball player Allisha Gray — has received high praise from Johnson coming out of spring practice, who said Gray has the opportunity to be one of the greatest Georgia Tech players of all time.
Gray started in 10 games last year as a true first-year and picked up 21 tackles, an interception, and a fumble recovery. But after much of the starting secondary graduated last season, expect him to take on bigger role transitioning from first-year phenom to a foundational player out in open space this season.
Redshirt senior quarterback Justin Thomas will be the key factor for the offense this year as he is in charge of making sure the ball gets where it needs to go.
After regressing in his junior campaign, more experienced running backs surrounding the duel threat quarterback should allow him to get back on track.
Last year, Thomas threw for just 1,345 yards and rushed for only 488. Last year was a lesson for the offense's point man, and he should be a better player because of it.
What is their biggest weakness?
The offensive line struggled to protect the quarterback last season, a contributing factor to Thomas’ low numbers.
After graduating three starters at the end of last season, it remains to be seen if underclassmen can step up and protect the backfield so the triple option can run its course. If the men in the trenches aren’t able to give enough to Thomas and the crew behind the line, the offense will not be able to develop and get to the outside like it needs to.
Why could they win the ACC?
The injuries that plagued Georgia Tech last year and forced inexperienced underclassmen onto the field a season ago will allow those same players to be in better game-ready shape this season.
And with a year under their belt, many parts of the offense — particularly the skilled positions — should be better this season. Johnson’s Georgia Tech teams have historically won a lot of games from the quick triple option offense.
In six of Johnson’s eight seasons his teams have finished first or second in the coastal division.
With consistency during his tenure, it’s safe to say that the offense will rebound to a level closer to what they are used to in Atlanta. If the team can stay healthy and take care of the football, then it will have a chance to outplay its rankings.
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