ATLANTA — Paul Johnson’s first two years at Georgia Tech are looking better and better – and increasingly distant in the past.
Since winning a combined 20 games in 2008 and 2009, Georgia Tech has averaged seven wins the ast four years.
The Yellow Jackets, looking for their first Top 25 finish since 2009, are trying to end an ugly streak of five consecutive losses to state rival Georgia.
Johnson points to recent high finishes in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division as evidence criticism of his program is unwarranted.
Georgia Tech has never finished lower than third in the division in Johnson’s six years.
The league’s media picked Georgia Tech to finish only fifth in the division this year.
The Yellow Jackets finished 7-6 overall and 5-3 in the ACC last year. Georgia Tech lost three of its past four games, including a Music City Bowl loss to Mississippi.
Justin Thomas is expected to replace quarterback Vad Lee, who transferred to James Madison. The running game should be strong as usual in Johnson’s spread-option attack.
There are questions on both lines.
“We’ve got replace a lot of experience on the offensive line,” Johnson said. “So there are question marks. I can see why people would question (the team’s potential).
“Are we going to be the most talented team that we’ve had here individually? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean you’re not going to be the best team. You just have to see.”
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR GEORGIA TECH THIS SEASON
A STRONG START: Georgia Tech opens with nonconference games against Wofford, at Tulane and against Georgia Southern. There is potential to establish momentum before an ACC opener at Virginia Tech.
NEW NAMES ON D-LINE: Junior tackle Adam Gotsis is the lone returning starter. Gotsis had 14.4 tackles for losses, including 5.5 sacks, as a sophomore in 2013. Among the players who must be replaced are ends Jeremiah Attaochu, a second-round pick by the Chargers, and Emmanuel Dieke, who was invited to the Giants’ camp. Tackle Euclid Cummings moved on as well.
THOMAS TAKES OVER: Paul Johnson expeimented with the shotgun, including a diamond formation, with Vad Lee last year. He said it will be back to basics with Thomas under center. Johnson said he is determined his offense again will be one of the nation’s top rushing teams.Thomas (5-11, 185) is small but could pile up big gains with his speed. Tim Byerly, a physical runner, is the top backup.
DEPTH AT RUNNING BACK: Senior Zach Laskey looks to be the leader of a deep corps of running backs. Laskey, who lines up behind Thomas in the B-back position, has almost 1,200 career yards rushing. Synjyn Days (left), a converted quarterback, can play as a B-back or one of the two A-backs.
CONTINUITY ON DEFENSE: The defense should enefit from a second year with coordinator Ted Roof and his 4-3 scheme. Georgia Tech shut out Elon and Syracuse last year but gave up more than 30 points in losses to Miami, Brigham Young, Clemson and Georgia.
Aug. 30 Wofford 12:30 p.m.
Sept. 6 at Tulane 4 p.m.
Sept. 13 Ga. Southern Noon
Sept. 20 at Virginia Tech TBA
Oct. 4 Miami TBA
Oct. 11 Duke TBA
Oct. 18 at N. Carolina TBA
Oct. 25 at Pittsburgh TBA
Nov. 1 Virginia TBA
Nov. 8 at N.C. State TBA
Nov. 15 Clemson TBA
Nov. 29 at Georgia TBA