We are all familiar with the deficiencies of the 2015 Yellow Jackets and the ultimate result they produced. Tech finished 3-9, missing a bowl game for the first time since 1996.
While I have a hard time calling Justin Thomas's season a "deficiency" for that team, especially considering what he had happening around him, there is no doubt his performance was drastically different from his 2014 season. And if the 2016 Jackets are going to be successful, we have to see a resurgence of the 2014 version of Thomas and a departure from what we saw of him last fall.
Even the abysmal 2015 season we all suffered through cannot so quickly erase 2014 and all its glory from our minds. Tech exercised many demons - defeating Clemson, Miami, Virginia Tech and Georgia in the same season - on the way to defeating Mississippi State for its first Orange Bowl victory since 1951.
Virtually every position group was critical to the Jackets' success that year, but the importance of Justin Thomas can not be overstated. That season, Thomas completed 51.7% of his passes for 1,719 yards, 18 touchdowns and six interceptions. Additionally, Thomas rushed for 1,086 yards and eight touchdowns on 190 attempts. Thomas also went on to win MVP of the Orange Bowl. Justin Thomas put up one of the best seasons by a quarterback in the Paul Johnson era and was even mentioned as a potential dark horse Heisman candidate going into 2015.
Unfortunately, none of the hopes we had for Georgia Tech would come to fruition in 2015, Justin Thomas included. Thomas completed a mere 41.7% of his passes for 1,339 yards, 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He also rushed for only 485 yards on 144 attempts and scored six touchdowns.
While the numbers were obviously down for Thomas, it was evident to anyone watching that he was simply not the same player. The dynamic playmaker we saw in 2014 was simply not there a year later. Many of the scrambles we were used to seeing turn into 15-yard gains became 10-yard losses. His passing was nowhere near as good as a year before.
However, there were flashes. Thomas changed the Jackets' lone ACC win against undefeated Florida State with an electrifying 60-yard touchdown run and later with a fourth down completion to Brad Stewart late in the game to set up Harrison Butker's game-tying field goal. It's clear that Thomas still has that electric playmaking ability, at least from a physical standpoint. At the same time, when his teammates were less effective in 2015, Thomas's play followed suit.
So, hope is not lost. We have seen the good, the bad and the ugly from JT in the past two years. And one must figure, knowing the competitor Thomas is, that he will do his best to not experience another season like the one we saw from him last year. One of the crucial elements to the correction of Thomas's downfall last year will be better play from his teammates around him in 2016. With more experience at the skill positions and (hopefully) an improved offensive line, the obligation will be Thomas's to show us more of what we saw in 2014 and less of what we saw in 2015.
The bottom line is clear - Georgia Tech simply must have a re-emergence of what we saw from Justin Thomas in 2014. This team is still going to be relatively inexperienced and unknown in several positions on the field. It's going to be up to their quarterback to lead them to an improvement over their results from 2015.