By Gabriel Stovall
Almost five months to the day after the end of a promising 2015 season went “thump” to the tune of a 3-9 campaign (1-7 in the ACC), we’re turning the key to unlock Historic Bobby Dodd Stadium for a one-day preview of the 2016 version of Georgia Tech football.
That’s right. It’s Georgia Tech’s Spring game, also known as “T-Day.” And a portion of the Southern Crescent Buzz staff will be on hand to catch and chronicle the action that begins today at 12 noon.
For all you hardcore Tech fans who have been perusing various sites, no doubt you see the abundance of story lines. We’ll track a few of them here.
After soundly thumping two overmatched programs last season during Tech’s first two games, we were all getting our ACC Championship Game and Playoff Appearance reservations ready.
Then came Notre Dame.
Then came Duke.
Then North Carolina, Clemson, Pittsburgh….you get the picture. By the time we’d come to the October 24 miracle finish against Florida State, the Yellowjackets had already played themselves out of any meaningful postseason opportunities.
And then to lose the rest of their four games after that just sealed the deal on one of the most underachieving seasons in recent Georgia Tech memory. But anyone with a shred of football intelligence understood that the Jackets weren’t as bad last season as they were hurt.
At some point, pretty much all of the anticipated playmakers at A and B-back went down to injury, and the ones who were left were dutiful, but dutiful alone isn’t enough to beat the linebacker to the corner after catching an option pitch.
A very intriguing group of offensive playmakers return, including sophomore B-Back Marcus Marshall who was, at times, electrifying. Marcus Allen is also back, along with talented hopefuls in Quaide Weimerskirch and KirVonte Benson.
On the A-side, Clinton Lynch was a monster surprise last season, and he will return, along with Qua Searcy, who looked uber-skilled before going down with injury. Perhaps the most interesting thing to watch Saturday, however, will be the appearance of Georgia transfer J.J. Green. Green played safety at Georgia, but will move back to offense for Tech.
Again, game-breaking ability seems to be present. The question is, can its health be preserved?
PASSING THE TEST
Hard to believe quarterback Justin Thomas is going to be a senior next season. It seems like just yesterday we were welcoming him into the lineup with open arms after the weird Vad Lee saga.
But Thomas, indeed, is entering his last season on the flats, which means he’s got experience — which for some is a rival quality to have at the quarterback position, next to just flat out skill.
Thomas wasn’t bad throwing the ball last year, with 1,345 yards on 75-of-180 passing. But the absence of healthy ball carriers and inconsistent offensive line play put way too much of the offensive onus on the 5-foot-11, 185-pound signal caller’s shoulders.
Thomas and the Tech passing game should decidedly have at least two things going for it, other than the experience of Thomas himself: That’s Ricky Jeune and Search, who made some pretty nice plays with the ball, the few times it was thrown to him before injury.
Jeune is the leader of a rather thin and young receiving corps, and coach Paul Johnson will need to see the emergence of guys like redshirt freshman Christian Philpott and junior Antonio Messick, whom Johnson referred to as perhaps, “the most athletic” receiver of the bunch.
As earlier state, pass protection — albeit for a team that doesn’t do it a lot — will have to improve markedly from last season. With such a youthful group, that will remain to be seen.
Of particular concern here is the defensive backfield. It’s going to be a completely new unit in 2016 with the departure of D.J. White, Jamal Golden, Demond Smith and Chris Milton — all starters.
White, a Southern Crescent product out of Union Grove High School, was arguably the leader of the group. But another South Metro Atlanta product should get his chance to make some headway in 2016.
Sandy Creek product Corey Griffin will have a shot to start at safety this season as a junior. After a redshirt year, Griffin got plenty of playing time in 2014 and 2015, playing in a combined 25 games with two starts, 36 total tackles and a pick.
The 6-foot-2, 195 pounder is rangy and has a chance to become a leader. But with all four starting spots up for grabs, the position battles ought to be fun. Elsewhere, defensive end KeShun Freeman is the stud, both experience wise and productivity speaking. We’ll see who can grow up around him as a complement.
WEATHERING THE STORM
As a pleasant aside, the weather forecast for a Georgia Tech Spring Game will finally feel like, well, Spring.
After three consecutive chilly, rainy spring outings, Saturday’s forecast appears to offer relief — sunny skies with a high of 80 degrees. That should make for some good Spring Game tailgating weather on a campus that will be bustling with activity. s