Georgia Tech is a team in transition.
Gone are the days of longtime head coach Paul Johnson’s triple-option offense. In comes new head coach Geoff Collins, who brought his offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude with him from Temple. In the past two seasons, the duo helped the Owls post two of their three highest single-season passing totals in program history.
Patenaude’s pro-style spread passing attack and Johnson’s option are schemes on opposite ends of the spectrum. That means a whole lot of tweaking and adjusting the roster to fit.
It begins with a quarterback who can stand tall in the pocket and deliver a pass, and continues with a complete overhaul of the receiving corps. This spring, as many as 20 players have seen time on offense and defense, and several offensive linemen are finding their way to the defensive side of the trenches.
Our 2019 Virginia football opponent preview series continues with a home game on Nov. 9 against the Yellow Jackets, which, even this late in the season, may still be the midst of some pretty severe growing pains.
Offense in flux
The biggest question plaguing Georgia Tech right now is how quickly can a roster full of players recruited to run the option adjust to the spread? Everything is changing, from blocking assignments to running styles and the use of this crazy thing called the forward pass.
Patenaude’s offense requires an entirely different style of quarterback than Johnson’s. Last year’s starter, Tobias Oliver, is still on the roster, but he only attempted 16 passes. The favorite to win the job is redshirt junior Lucas Johnson, who missed last season with a leg injury but is the most polished passer of the group. Dual-threat redshirt freshman James Graham and four-star true freshman Jordan Yates aren’t far behind.
Whoever does win the job will throw to a group of receivers used to doing more blocking than catching. Tight end Tyler Davis, a graduate transfer from UConn, will be a safety blanket. Senior Jalen Camp is the leading returning receiver with 11 catches a year ago, and Miami transfer Marquez Ezzard is a deep threat.
The Yellow Jackets have almost as many questions on defense. They’re rebuilding the majority of the defensive line and last season’s top three tacklers are gone. The silver lining may be the secondary, where cornerback Tre Swilling showed some chops last fall as a freshman, and 6-2, 225-pound safety Tariq Carpenter is the top returning tackler after posting 55 stops last season. He may be one of the hardest hitters in the ACC.
There’s some experience at linebacker. Sophomore Charlie Thomas is an undersized outside linebacker who saw time in 10 games last season. He’s joined by 230-pound inside linebacker David Curry, who started 12 games a year ago and posted 47 tackles.
Antwan Owens (6-4, 275) is the most experienced member of the defensive line back after seeing time at end in all 13 games last year and finishing with 21 tackles.
The crucial matchup
This is not breaking news, but while the rest of the offense struggles to ingest Patenaude’s system, the Yellow Jackets will be fine at running back. That’s not to say there won’t be a significant transition in running style alone, but 6-foot-1, 219-pound redshirt junior Jordan Mason was third on the team last season with 659 yards and seven touchdowns. Six-foot, 217-pound junior Jerry Howard was right behind him with 564 yards and five touchdowns.
Both are back, they know how to run and they’re not easy to bring down. Don’t be surprised if Oliver gets a few carries, too. He was second on the team last fall with 876 yards and led Georgia Tech with 12 rushing touchdowns, and he’s simply too good an athlete to keep on the sideline. Virginia’s front seven is going to be very busy containing this backfield.
Virginia trails Georgia Tech 19-21-1. They split the past four meetings, but the Cavaliers have won the last two at Scott Stadium.
At this point in the season, Virginia’s offense should be humming along, with its additions settling into their roles, and the defense may be one of the top 20 in the country.
Georgia Tech, on the other hand, may be a team still struggling to figure out its new identity. The Cavaliers should be favored, but they’re going to have to stop the run to avoid losing to the Yellow Jackets for a second straight year.
With two regular-season games remaining — one being the season finale at home on Nov. 29 against Virginia Tech — a win over Georgia Tech could conceivably clinch the Coastal Division for the Cavaliers. At the very least, it would make it come down to the showdown with the Hokies.