CFN Preview 2013 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Georgia Tech LB Jeremiah Attaochu
Georgia Tech LB Jeremiah Attaochu
Posted Jun 30, 2013 2013 Preview - Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Preview 2013

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By Richard Cirminiello

Sixth year: 40-26
Returning Lettermen
Off. 23, Def. 27, ST 5
Lettermen Lost: 15
Ten Best GT Players
1. DE Jeremiah Attaochu, Sr.
2. CB Jemea Thomas, Sr.
3. S Isaiah Johnson, Sr.
4. LB Brandon Watts, Sr.
5. LB Quayshawn Nealy, Jr.
6. RB David Sims, Sr.
7. LB Jabari Hunt-Days, Soph.
8. QB Vad Lee, Soph.
9. OG Will Jackson, Sr.
10. S/ST Jamal Golden, Jr.
2013 Schedule
8/31 Elon
9/14 at Duke
9/21 North Carolina
9/26 Virginia Tech
10/5 at Miami
10/12 at BYU
10/19 Syracuse
10/26 at Virginia
11/2 Pitt
11/14 at Clemson
11/23 Alabama A&M
11/30 Georgia
The buzz is dying down at Georgia Tech.

After getting out of the gate so quickly in 2008 and 2009, winning 20 games and an ACC crown, head coach Paul Johnson has reached a nagging plateau with the Yellow Jackets. Over the past three seasons, the program has sagged to 21-19, including 0-3 versus rival Georgia. Now, Tech has certainly been competitive in the ACC, darn near shocking Florida State in last December's league title game, and reaching .500 with a Sun Bowl upset of USC. But climbing back to break-even was never what Johnson envisioned.

Georgia Tech is looking to box its way out of a mediocre corner this fall. It wants to win an up-and-down Coastal Division, and not just because Virginia Tech is down and Miami and North Carolina are ineligible, as was the case in 2012. While it's easy to poke holes in Johnson's triple-option for the program's malaise, it would also be a mistake.

The Yellow Jackets' biggest problem a year ago was clearly defense. Coordinator Al Groh was fired in-season, and veteran Ted Roof was brought aboard in the postseason. He'll be installing a 4-3 look, which is going to require more production out of the down linemen. Roof's first move was to import outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu, easily Tech's best pass rusher. But others must rise up in the trenches, because the defense is an improved D-line away from being much sounder in 2013.

While there are changes in offensive personnel, the system remains very much the same. The Yellow Jackets are going to run the ball—a lot—mixing in play-action passes to catch defenses napping. In all likelihood, the attack will be in the precocious hands of sophomore Vad Lee, who has as much upside as any of Johnson's former pupils. Lee's supporting cast, though, is questionable. B-back David Sims is the best of a fair collection backs, and no returning receiver has the look of a cleanup hitter.

Georgia Tech is aiming to recapture what it had four years ago, rolling to a league championship and national respect. It's not an entirely unrealistic goal since so many starters return to both sides of the ball. While the Yellow Jackets should be improved from a year ago, the emergence of Lee under center and the growth of the D will dictate just how high the team can ascend in 2013.

What to look for on offense: Vad Lee is the starter, but redshirt freshman backup Justin Thomas is also going to play. Lee has a star's ceiling, which he'll begin to approach this fall. But Georgia Tech needs more playmakers on offense, especially now that big-play A-back Orwin Smith is gone. Thomas has that kind of dangerous potential from behind center that needs to get on the field. Just 5-11 and 169 pounds, he's lethal in the open field, turning on the jets and the sudden moves that make opposing defenders look silly.

What to look for on defense: Jemea Thomas is going to attract the attention of pro scouts, while being avoided by the other team's quarterback. The senior cornerback is a fast riser, both within ACC circles and the NFL community. He's versatile, highly instinctive and rarely too far from the flow of the play. Thomas just has a habit of making good things happen, and now he's brimming with confidence as well. The 5-11, 195-pounder is fresh off his best season in Atlanta, making 86 stops, four picks and six pass breakups.

The team will be much better if … the D-line finds a nasty streak. If there was a central theme that haunted the Yellow Jackets on defense last year, it was that the linemen weren't nearly disruptive enough. Set aside Jeremiah Attaochu, the linebacker-turned-end this offseason, for a moment. Who else left their fingerprints on the pocket in 2012? Tech has to start winning the line of scrimmage this fall, a change of course that would profoundly affect the run defense and the secondary's ability to defend the pass.

The Schedule: Georgia Tech is one of the few FBS schools that'll be playing two FCS opponents, Elon in the opener and Alabama A&M the Saturday leading up to the showdown with Georgia. The Yellow Jackets will need to have a strong summer, because league play gets going in earnest early on with a trip to Duke. Their two Thursday night games, hosting Virginia Tech and travelling to Clemson, will be some of the ACC's marquee events. In fact, Tech might know by midseason whether or not it's in the league title chase; the three-game stretch of North Carolina, the Hokies and Miami could make or break the season. Getting Clemson from the Atlantic is a miserable break, but playing Syracuse at home isn't that bad. Three of the four November games are in Atlanta.

Best Offensive Player: Senior B-back David Sims. Is Sims actually the program's top offensive weapon, or is there a little bit of wishful thinking involved? Could be a little bit of both. Tech needs Sims to become the catalyst for the ground troops, a role he's yet to assume, but is capable of handling this fall. The 6-0, 222-pound converted quarterback has played plenty over the last two seasons, flashing the toughness that the staff seeks at the position. In 2012, he went for 612 yards and four touchdowns on 135 carries in what could be a precursor to his first 1,000-yard campaign.

Best Defensive Player: Senior DE Jeremiah Attaochu. Different position. Same disruptive force coming off the edge. Attaochu has shifted from linebacker to defensive end for his finale, a natural move that meshes with the new 4-3 on the Flats. He plays with a certain ferocity and intensity that transcends pure physical ability. The 6-3, 240-pounder did it all for the defense a year ago, notching 69 stops, a dozen tackles for minus yards and 10 sacks. If he can properly channel his energy, Attaochu is on course to shatter the program record for all-time sacks.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore QB Vad Lee. The start of the Lee era behind center is being met with plenty of lofty expectations. Like it or not, he needs to start reaching them in 2013. Obviously, Tech employs the triple-option, which heaps responsibility on the quarterback to dish and distribute like a point guard. And when the quarterback isn't making sound decisions, offensive success is next to impossible to achieve. Lee has more potential and ability than last year's starter, Tevin Washington, and the Yellow Jackets are banking on seeing the tangible proof this fall.

The season will be a success if ... the Yellow Jackets win eight games. Tech has got to get over the .500 hump, especially since two of this year's contests will be against FCS teams. The rest of the schedule will be challenging, including BYU and Georgia outside of the ACC, but Paul Johnson's team has the right blend of seasoned players on offense and defense to overcome the hurdles. Although winning the Coastal Division looks to be a reach, going 8-5 would be just the kind of progress that the staff needs to show this year.

Key game: Sept. 26 vs. Virginia Tech. The battle of the Techs is always meaningful and often entertaining. The Yellow Jackets get the Hokies at Bobby Dodd Stadium for a Thursday night affair that's sure to have the student section rocking. This could go down as the coming-out party for Georgia Tech QB Vad Lee, who'll make more than a few national headlines if he can spearhead a win against one of the ACC's fastest and most experienced defenses.

2012 Fun Stats:
- Rushing yards per game: Georgia Tech 311.2 – Opponents 144.2
- Yards per catch: Georgia Tech 17.8 – Opponents 12.0
- Sacks: Georgia Tech 28 - Opponents 14

- 2013 Georgia Tech Preview | 2013 Georgia Tech Offense
- 2013 Georgia Tech Defense | 2013 Georgia Tech Depth Chart