Georgia Tech junior and former Deerfield-Windsor star Tony Zenon will be one of several rushers to get playing time at A-back this season for the Yellow Jackets, who open the season Saturday against Elon. (Herald file photo)
ATLANTA — Georgia Tech has become synonymous with running the football under coach Paul Johnson. Running their spread option offense, the Yellow Jackets have become one of the nation’s most productive running teams. Last year they averaged 311 yards rushing per game, fourth-best in the nation.
But the problem was defense. The Yellow Jackets had gotten to the point where they had to try and outscore the opposition. Take the 68-50 win at North Carolina, for example.
Johnson addressed the issue in midseason when he dismissed defensive coordinator Al Groh, whose 3-4 scheme never really took hold. During the offseason he hired Ted Roof to be the program’s fourth defensive coordinator in Johnson’s tenure.
The Roof hiring played well among Tech fans. He has deep roots at Tech, where he was an all-conference linebacker for Bill Curry. He also has a proven track record as defensive coordinator. He held that position when Auburn won the national championship in 2010 and last year helped Penn State become the No. 2-ranked scoring defense in the Big Ten.
Roof has made the popular change back to the 4-3 defense and has brought the fight back to the defensive side. The Yellow Jackets have eight starters back, including three athletic, play-making linebackers.
“Ted brings a lot of enthusiasm and excitement,” Johnson said. “He was a great player here and he knows what these guys have to go through. He’s been a big hit with our players.”
If the Tech defense can be improved, the offense should again be prolific. They averaged 441 yards and scored 470 points a year ago while going 7-7 and beating Southern Cal in the Sun Bowl.
Among the team’s rushers returning is former Deerfield-Windsor star Tony Zenon, who last year as a sophomore played in all 14 games and rushed the ball 31 times for 193 yards and a TD.
Robbie Godhigh and Deon Hill will start at A-back, but Zenon, along with a handful of other rushers, could also see significant time.
“And then if a couple of them start to distinguish themselves as they get to play, then they’ll end up playing way more than the others,” Johnson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The Jackets will have Vad Lee as its full-time quarterback to start the season and he’ll have the benefit of an experienced, senior-dominated offensive line. Don’t expect to see Tech get away from what they do best: run the ball.
Georgia Tech was picked to finish fourth in the ACC’s Coastal Division.
Not surprisingly, Johnson’s goals are unchanged.
“Our goals don’t change a great deal: to win the Coastal Division and get to Charlotte for the ACC Championship,” he said.
SPOTLIGHT ON SEPTEMBER: Georgia Tech will know quickly whether it will be playing in the ACC Championship Game again this year. After the opener Saturday against Elon, the Yellow Jackets play at Duke, North Carolina, Virginia Tech (a Thursday ESPN game) and at Miami in consecutive weeks. Success will put Tech in position to potentially play for another championship. “If we come out and win those division games early, you could put yourself in the driver’s seat,” Johnson said.
KEYS TO SUCCESS: The defense must get better. It was horrible at times last year, allowing 28.3 points, 144 yards rushing and 229 yards passing per game. The defense allowed 49 in the embarrassing home loss to Middle Tennessee, 47 at Clemson (the game that cost coordinator Al Groh his job), 50 against North Carolina (a game Tech won) and 42 against Georgia.
AREAS OF CONCERN: There is almost no experience at wide receiver. Darren Waller (eight catches) is the most proven wide receiver who returns. DeAndre Smelter moved over from the baseball team and could earn significant playing time, even though he hasn’t played football since high school. Freshmen Micheal Summers and Travin Henry will also get a good look. Tech doesn’t throw it much, but they need dependable receivers who are also capable of perimeter blocking.