Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets — 2020 Syracuse Football preview

Georgia Tech Geoff Collins
Georgia Tech head coach Geoff Collins during the Yellow Jackets' 2019 spring game. Photo Credit: Thomson M.

As we countdown to kickoff in September, we’re going to be doing a team-by-team preview each week over the summer. SU will continue its 2020 ACC schedule on October 31 against Georgia Tech.

COLLINS STRUGGLES IN YEAR 1

It was a rough transition for head coach Geoff Collins in his first year at Georgia Tech.

Collins was tasked with fitting the proverbial square peg into a round hole, using players that were recruited for Paul Johnson’s triple-option wishbone offense with a more traditional modern spread option.

The results were predictably not good, with the Yellow Jackets staggering to a 3-9 record (2-6 ACC Coastal), including a brutal late season 45-0 home loss to Virginia Tech. It was the first time Georgia Tech had been shut out at home since 1957.

The Yellow Jackets ranked at the bottom of FBS football in nearly every category, finishing 127th in total offense (286 ypg) and 124th in points (16.7 ppg).

Still, there was positive signs to take away from the transition year. For starters, in the second half of the season, the Yellow Jackets upset Miami on the road in overtime, and also clipped NC State in its penultimate regular season game. Georgia Tech also was competitive against eventual ACC Coastal Champion Virginia, losing by five on the road.

Collins and his staff were active on the recruiting trail, pulling in the No. 27 overall class (fifth in the ACC) in 2020 according to 247 Sports as he tailors his recruits to his rapid style of play.

THE OFFENSE SHOULD IMPROVE

The title is a pretty obvious one. The Yellow Jackets should improve because from the bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up.

The offense struggled in part due to the quarterback position. James Graham was a highly-touted four-star recruit in the class of 2017, but he was recruited for the option offense, and struggled as a redshirt freshman. He completed just 45 percent of his passes for 1,164 yards.

The other quarterbacks he was competing with around this time last year are no longer factors. Tobias Oliver was transitioned to wide receiver in 2019, and is now drawing rave reviews from the coaching staff as a defensive back. Lucas Johnson announced in March that he’s transferring to San Diego State.

» Related: Previewing Syracuse’s matchup against Clemson in October

If Graham continues his accuracy woes from 2019, Collins could turn to true freshman Jeff Sims, a four-star recruit that had offers from traditional blue bloods such as Georgia, Florida State and LSU. After all, Collins recruited Sims (and fellow freshman Tucker Gleason) for this system, and may want to get his guy out there earlier.

The wide receiver corps has also undergone a makeover in the offseason, with eight receivers having committed in the last two cycles. That should help improve a group that caught just 124 passes for 1,607 yards and 14 touchdowns combined last year.

And Collins is also going to get immediate help on his offensive line from a pair of transfers. The Yellow Jackets added but 6-7, 320 pound tackle Devin Cochran (Vanderbilt) and 6-6, 310 pound guard Ryan Johnson (Tennessee) to beef up a line that was lacking in size. Both are immediately eligible.

The two will be big additions to a unit that only lost tackle Jared Southers, and is hoping to get back a fully healthy Kenny Cooper (center).

THE DEFENSE NEEDS IMPROVEMENT, TOO

While everyone expected Georgia Tech to struggle on offense because of a wholesale change in scheme, the defense was expected to stay closer to the status quo. Instead, the Yellow Jackets were a disaster on that side of the ball, finishing dead last in the ACC in sacks and tackles for loss. They surrendered 432 yards per contest, and gave up 38 or more points in five separate games.

A large majority of that defense is expected to return this season, including some All-ACC talent in the back end of the 4-2-5 scheme. Tre Swilling emerged as one of the best cover-corners in the conference, with 11 passes defended, and was an All-ACC Honorable Mention. He was aided by safety Tariq Carpenter, who finished third on the team with 62 tackles.

Linebackers Charlie Thomas (65 tackles) and All-ACC Honorable Mention David Curry (team-high 97 tackles) were solid, but it’s really the front four that needs the most improvement. Florida transfer Antonneous Clayton is hoping to stay healthy at the defensive end position to provide some more pressure up front.

TOUGH SCHEDULE AHEAD

For a team looking to claw back to bowl eligibility, the schedule-makers did Georgia Tech zero favors. There’s a guaranteed win over FCS Gardner-Webb, but its other three non-conference games? UCF, Notre Dame and at Georgia.

Aside from the normal competitive Coastal schedule, the Yellow Jackets Atlantic crossover schedule includes a road game at Syracuse and an opener against ACC powerhouse Clemson.

Will Georgia Tech be a better team? With one year of experience working in the new offense and two full recruiting cycles, the play on the field should improve.

But will the win/loss columns show it? That’s not entirely clear.

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Wes Cheng
About Wes Cheng 2581 Articles
Wes has worked for Rivals.com covering the New York Knicks, as well as for Scout.com covering Syracuse athletics. Wes has also worked for the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) and reported on the NBA and MLB for the New York Sportscene. A native of Long Island, New York, Wes graduated from Syracuse University in 2005. Follow him on Twitter @ChengWes.