Last year, Paul Johnson’s Georgia Tech team burst onto the scene, nearly wrestling the ACC championship away from Florida State in a primetime showdown. While the Yellow Jackets didn’t pull out the victory, they sprinted away from Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl and won by double-digits, capping off an 11-win season.
The year came at a perfect time for Johnson, and a long term contract extension followed. The momentum came at the worst time for Notre Dame, with the option maestro ready to take on his former Navy enemy, adding a showcase game to the September slate and another test to see how Brian Kelly, Brian VanGorder and the Irish defense do against an option attack.
To get us up to speed on Tech’s offseason, Tyler Duke of From the Rumble Seat joins us. With Johnson’s mad scientist offense and a defense that could be really stout coming to South Bend, the third week of the season looks like a crossroads for both program’s College Football Playoff Hopes.
Let’s dig into a juicy September matchup.
After averaging seven wins a season since 2010, last year Georgia Tech won 11 games, including a one-sided victory over Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl. With 13 starters coming back on both sides of the ball, just how excited are Yellow Jacket fans for the 2015 season?
I’d say the optimism is much, much higher than it was at this time a year ago. Last year, fans were very uneasy about the state of the program and even the future of Paul Johnson. After the surprisingly fantastic season of 2014, fans once again believe in what Johnson does and especially what he can do with this unit. There have been plenty of talented departures, but with Justin Thomas under center, the general belief is this team can play with anyone.
At the helm of the program is Paul Johnson, a coach Notre Dame fans know well from his time at Navy. His option offense also puts fear into the hearts of Irish fans—and I’m guessing Notre Dame’s coaching staff as well.
Georgia Tech hiring Johnson in the first place was an interesting move. And with a contract extension that takes him through 2020, Johnson will likely retire after his time at The Flats. How is Johnson viewed by GT faithful, and has that opinion been reshaped after last season?
Johnson’s support has shifted much like the optimism of the team, but some are still hesitant to believe he can keep it up. The fans that were on the fence definitely had their opinions reshaped because of the success last year.
His detractors still think that Johnson’s success is dependent upon having a star quarterback, and these fans would probably always find something to criticize Johnson for. Typically, their main reasoning is they just don’t like the style of the offense.
We’ll get back to the offense in a minute. But it looks like Georgia Tech’s defense could be one of the better units Notre Dame will face next season. After being the weak link in 2014, how tough will the Irish have it against Ted Roof’s defense?
The defense should be much improved in 2015 which is a huge relief for Jackets’ fans. Some improvement was already evident towards the end of last season when they became one of the most opportunistic defenses in the nation at forcing turnovers.
Nine starters are returning, and Jabari Hunt-Days will be back on the roster after being ineligible in 2014. The former linebacker will be moving to the defensive line and should be an impact player right away. I’m reluctant to say the defense will be the strength of Georgia Tech this year, but I do believe they’ll be much more consistent and dependable because of the experience returning.
Is it safe to say that Georgia Tech’s offense is all about Justin Thomas? In Thomas, does Johnson have his perfect trigger man? It looks like graduation — and some spring injuries — put a dent in the skill players but the OL returns four starters.
Irish fans are anticipating terrifying productivity from their more talented option opponent. Do you see things the same way?
The offense absolutely looks like it should be the Justin Thomas show in 2015. There’s a problem with that though. As we know, defenses can typically choose a part of the option they want to take away to force another unit to do the damage. Defenses will likely use this approach as much as possible to force the ball out of Thomas’ hands when possible.
I’m sure Johnson will come up with strategies to make this harder for defenses, but the inexperienced skill position players for the Jackets have to step up if the offense want to be anywhere close to as productive as they were last season. Irish fans shouldn’t expect the Tech offense to be quite as scary and efficient as they were in 2014.
The subplots of this game are fairly mesmerizing. Johnson is still under the collective skin of Irish fans. Johnson also has a bone to pick with Brian VanGorder, Notre Dame’s second-year defensive coordinator who took over the Georgia Southern program and removed the option offense, a decision that short-circuited.
Brian Kelly has struggled against the option, spending the offseason deploying one of his former assistants to find solutions for stopping it. With some really interesting games on Notre Dame’s schedule, this one might be the most intriguing. It’s only early June. But are Yellow Jacket fans just as excited?
The anticipation for this game is definitely returned from Georgia Tech fans. Notre Dame is always an intriguing game no matter the talent level on either side, but this game should really be a huge contest for both sides in trying to throw their name into playoff contention.
Going into a hostile environment in South Bend and getting a win would be huge for a Tech team that will be 2-0 in all likelihood. If the Irish come out victorious against Texas and Virginia to start out, this should be one of the premiere matchups early on in the season. Notre Dame will have the edge on getting into gear with two much tougher games to start out, so Tech will have to get out of cupcake mode and get ready quick to be competitive. It should be fun.