After a whirlwind start to the Paul Johnson era at Georgia Tech, momentum has screeched to a halt on the Flats. The Jackets have lost three consecutive games to Georgia (which is almost all that matters at times), and the team needed a Sun Bowl victory over the disaster that was USC in order to achieve a 7-7 mark in 2012. In part one, we examined Paul Johnson’s offense for 2013, but the defensive side of the ball is the more predictable and talented unit this season. Let’s take a look.
Every year, Scout.com releases a listing of the “ten best players” at every major college team. This season, 7 of the 10 players are on defense (including the entire top 5) and their choice for #1 is defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu. I couldn’t agree more with this selection as Attaochu showed his upside with a 10-sack season in 2012. As a senior, he has a legitimate shot at the all-time sacks record at Georgia Tech, and he’s the leader and sparkplug of a potentially potent defense. At the other defensive end spot, there is a battle between Chris Crenshaw and Emmanuel Dieke for playing time. Both guys will likely see significant snaps, but it is basically a war between experience (Dieke started 12 games last year) and upside (Crenshaw is the better physical specimen).
On the interior, Euclid Cummings moves in from defensive end, but he’s a monster at 280 pounds, and he’s expected to be the anchor in the middle as a senior. However, the literal “anchor” of the defense will come from 300-pounder Adam Gotsis at the nose tackle spot. He’ll be critical to everything the Jackets (and new DC Ted Roof) want to do defensively, as that position is critical to free up Tech’s ball-hawking linebackers.
Speaking of those linebackers, this is a talented group. 3 of the top 7 players on the aforementioned Scout.com list come from this unit, and they are led by senior Brandon Watts. Watts was an honorable mention All-ACC player in 2012, and he made 68 tackles on the campaign. Quayshawn Nealy is set to deploy at the other outside LB position, and he actually exceeded Watts’ tackle total with 79 of his own. He’s probably the higher upside player as a junior, and it will be nice for Paul Johnson to have two reliable options on the outside.
The inside linebacker spot is theoretically up for grabs, but I would like to see Jabari Hunt-Days with the job. Hunt-Days was a freshman All-American last season where he started every game, and if it wasn’t for an offseason injury, this likely wouldn’t be a battle. He led the entire linebacking corps in tackles last season with 84, and he’s a physical beast at 250+ pounds with high-end speed. However, he’ll have competition from senior Daniel Drummond, who the coaches raved about in the Spring. Frankly, Ted Roof can’t go wrong here, but Hunt-Days is the future at the position.
Does it seem like I’m high on the Tech defense this year? Well, I am, and the secondary is also a good unit. They were less-than-stellar last year in allowing 23 touchdown passes, but this is a group that returns a lot of field time, and Isaiah Johnson is the best of the bunch. He led the entire team in tackles last year, and as a senior, he’ll have a shot at All-ACC honors. The other big-time player on the back-end is cornerback Jemea Thomas, and he’s the ball-hawk. Thomas has played both corner and safety while at Tech, but he’s the full-time starter at CB this year, and he’ll look to improve on his 4-interception campaign from last year.
The other two starters should be solid, as Chris Milton emerges as a 1st-time starter at safety, and senior Louis Young will once again start at the other CB spot. Young had a “down” year last year by all accounts, but he’s experienced, and the pressure will be lessened thanks to the talent around him.
Tech returns both specialists from 2012, and that is always a positive thing. Senior David Scully returns as the place-kicker, and while he wasn’t the full-time guy last year, he’s the last remaining guy in line. Scully was only 4-for-8 on field goals last year, but he converted a 47-yarder among those, so the leg is there.
At punter, senior Sean Poole is back along with his backup in sophomore Ryan Rodwell. These two shared time last year, but Poole is the presumptive starter after 33 punts in 2012 with a 39.7-yard average.
The return game is in the capable hands of junior Jamal Golden and he is electric. Golden returned two kicks for touchdowns in 2012 (including a 100-yarder) and he will handle both the punt and kick-off responsibilities. Look for field position to swing in the favor of the Jackets throughout the year.
Prediction for 2013
It may be fairly obvious by the tone of both the offensive and defensive previews, but I’m high on Georgia Tech this season. The schedule is favorable, with only two high-profile road games (Miami and Clemson) on the slate, as well as getting the infamous Georgia Bulldogs at home to end the season. I would go on record in picking Tech to finish with a 9-3 mark this year, and the only blemishes I would predict would be against Miami, Clemson, and Georgia.
After a 7-7 season and a loss of much of the offensive experience, this may seem a bit high, but this defense is legitimately impressive, and if Vad Lee and company can spark the run game, 9 wins (and a quality bowl bid) is certainly within reach.