Editor’s note: This is the eighth of a 12-part series previewing Virginia’s 2013 opponents.
Coming off the 2009 season, the Georgia Tech football program seemed to have more than a promising future.
In just his second year on the Flats, head coach Paul Johnson had the Yellow Jackets crowned as ACC champions and playing in their first BCS game. Georgia Tech was an option-heavy, offensive machine that led the league in total yards and total points.
The Jackets had the makings of emerging from middle-of-the-road ACC to consistently making it in the top tier.
"When we took the job, this is the reason we took it — to have a chance to compete and go to BCS bowl games," Johnson said after Georgia Tech beat Clemson to claim the ACC title on Dec. 5, 2009.
Johnson had all kinds of momentum. His career went from two Division I-AA national championships at Georgia Southern to five consecutive bowl appearances at Navy to surprising early success in Atlanta.
But, four years later, the consistency hasn’t come so easy.
Georgia Tech enters 2013 coming off a 7-7 campaign, its third straight season of at least five losses. Sure, there’s been bowl games. But they’ve been the Sun and the Independence. Not exactly the Orange and the Sugar.
Where will the path lead in ’13?
There’s a chance for steady improvement.
Defensively, Georgia Tech returns eight starters, including Jeremiah Attaochu, who moves to defensive end a year after making 10 sacks at linebacker. Of course, that move coincides with a switch in defensive philosophy.
Defensive coordinator, and former Virginia head coach, Al Groh was fired mid-season in 2012 after the Jacket D had yielded 40-plus points for the third consecutive game. Groh spent two and a half seasons at Georgia Tech, using a 3-4 system.
On Jan. 9 of this year, Johnson hired Ted Roof as Groh’s replacement. Roof is a former Yellow Jacket linebacker who’s spent five seasons as Duke’s head coach and has been an assistant for several programs, including a stint at Penn State last season.
Roof runs a 4-3 defense. His expected linebacker starters all made more than 40 tackles last season, including 84 (4.5 for loss) from sophomore Jabari Hunt-Days, a reigning Freshman All-American.
Tevin Washington, a two-year starter and the ACC’s all-time leader in career rushing touchdowns by a quarterback, is gone for the Yellow Jackets behind center. He’s likely to be replaced by Vad Lee, a redshirt sophomore who appeared in all 12 games last season. Lee, a four-star recruit, rushed 96 times for 544 yards, including 59 yards and two scores in the 56-20 rout of UVa on Sept. 15. In a wild 68-50 win over North Carolina on Nov. 10, Lee threw for 169 yards and ran for another 112.
Justin Thomas, a redshirt freshman and another four-star prospect, is also a quarterback option for Johnson.
Returning to help with the option attack are backs David Sims, a senior, and junior B.J. Bostic. Four offensive line starters are back. The Yellow Jackets averaged over 311 rushing yards a game last season.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Coach: Paul Johnson (40-26 in five seasons at Georgia Tech)
2012 Record: 7-7 (Won Sun Bowl)
Aug. 31 Elon
Sept. 14 at Duke
Sept. 21 North Carolina
Sept. 26 Virginia Tech
Oct. 5 at Miami
Oct. 12 at BYU
Oct. 19 Syracuse
Oct. 26 at Virginia
Nov. 2 Pittsburgh
Nov. 14 at Clemson
Nov. 23 Alabama A&M
Nov. 30 Georgia
Offensive players to watch (2012 stats): QB Vad Lee (596 yards, four touchdowns, three interceptions, 48 percent complete); FB David Sims (135 carries, 612 yards, four touchdowns); HB B.J. Bostic (34 carries, 212 yards)
Defensive players to watch: DE Jeremiah Attaochu (69 tackles, 12 for loss, 10 sacks); LB Jabari Hunt-Days (84 tackles, 4.5 for loss, interception); S Isaiah Johnson (87 tackles, 4.5 for loss, interception)