I'd like to preface this article by saying that it's not meant for the hardcore fan who spends hours upon hours each week researching and studying Georgia Tech football. It's not meant for the folks who are "film junkies" and love studying the X's and O's part of football. It's certainly not meant for the type of person that could talk about football at parties on levels so deep that it stops being cool. (Yes, I'm occasionally guilty of this. Don't judge.)
Instead, this article is for the more casual fans, or maybe for some newer fans of Georgia Tech. There's no secret that Georgia Tech's football strategies are a little unconventional (especially when the Yellow Jackets have the ball), so let's go over some of the basics of what you'll see this fall.
You may be aware that Georgia Tech runs a less "modern" style of offense than a lot of their opponents will. Head Coach Paul Johnson has long been known for running a "spread option" system, although it's frequently referred to as the "triple option". (Refer to it that way around him, and he always makes a point to remind you that the "triple option" is just one play that can be run in this system.) Part of what makes his system different is the formation that he runs the system out of, and as such there is a difference in terminologies for a couple of players on the field. See the diagram below for the formation and position labels.
In more common schemes, the B-Back is what would be referred to as a "fullback". He lines up very closely behind the quarterback, and takes handoffs very quickly before attempting to run through the defensive line. Additionally, on passing plays, the B-Back is primarily a blocker while the quarterback looks to pass, although sometimes they can be used as receivers as well. Given the nature of his duties, the B-Back is often pretty stout as running backs go. They frequently fall between 5'10"-6'2", and weigh in between 210-235 pounds. This position group is usually referred to as the "feature back", in the sense that they're the position group getting the most touches.
Where the B-Back is more of a traditional "fullback", the A-Back is more of a traditional "running back". The A-Backs line up a few yards to the left or right of the quarterback, and are the ones who start moving backwards (around the B-Back) before the ball is snapped. On running plays, they will typically have one of two jobs:
1) When they're the one in motion before the play, their job is usually to be ready for the quarterback to pitch the ball to them, based on what the defense does on the play. Where the B-Back would typically run through the line, an A-Back would usually get the ball on the outside where they can utilize speed and agility instead of power.
2) When they're the one who remains still until the snap, their job is typically to be a lead blocker on the play -- a noticeable departure from a normal running back's duties. They will typically be assigned to block a linebacker or safety.
On passing plays, A-Backs usually supplement wide receivers as primary targets for the quarterback. Some quarterbacks have their preferences and throw mainly to wide receivers, but A-Backs are another option too. Where B-Backs are more focused on power, A-Backs focus more on speed. As such, they typically are a little smaller than B-Backs, although their size can vary greatly. Under Coach Johnson, A-Backs have usually ranged from 5'7" to 6'1", and between 165-215 pounds. These players tend to rotate in and out of the game the most, and are the players who usually bring the play call to the huddle from Coach Johnson.
People to Know
Let's talk about some of the players and coaches you should know about this season.
Head Coach Paul Johnson
Coach Johnson primarily coaches the offense, which he knows like the back of his hand. (Most coaches carry a sheet on the sideline to remember all of their plays -- Johnson can recite them all from memory.) He began at Georgia Tech for the 2008 season after an extensive and successful tenure with Georgia Southern and Navy. In his first season, the Yellow Jackets tied for the ACC Coastal Division Championship and famously defeated UGA in Athens. The following season, his Yellow Jackets won the ACC Championship (since vacated) and went to the Orange Bowl. After two highly successful seasons, the team began to struggle more for a few seasons, winning between 6-8 games every season from 2010-2013. The trend was broken in last year's 2014 season, when the Jackets went 11-3, including another win over UGA in Athens (the team's first since 2008) and a win over Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl.
Coach Johnson is known for his dry, matter-of-fact style in interviews, often producing unexpectedly funny results. He's not shy about sharing his opinions on how the media views and treats his team (especially compared to other teams locally and nationally), or about how he would run the world of college sports if he were president for a day. Keep an eye out this season for some of his quotes -- you might find them to be pretty funny.
Defensive Coordinator Ted Roof
Coach Roof is responsible for the team's defense. He is currently on his third individual stint at Georgia Tech, although only two have been as a coach -- Coach Roof actually played football at Georgia Tech as a linebacker in the mid-1980's. He previously coached in Atlanta in the late-1990's and early-2000's under a different head coach, and after stops with a few other schools (including Auburn, where his defense won the 2010 National Championship) he returned home to Georgia Tech beginning with the 2013 season. His defenses struggled a bit in 2013 and the first half of 2014, but were very impressive for the second half of 2014 and figure to continue that trend this fall.
Quarterback Justin Thomas
Chances are that if you know any of Georgia Tech's football players, Justin Thomas is one of them. 2014 was his first full season as a starter after the previous QB transferred out in the offseason. Thomas quickly established himself as potentially the best quarterback to have played at Georgia Tech under Coach Johnson, and certainly the best in a number of years. As a sophomore, his leadership showed as he was voted to be a team captain alongside a pair of seniors. His nickname is "Smoov" because of how calm, cool, and collected he is under pressure. Thomas is an excellent athlete with incredible speed -- he won the Alabama state championship in the 100-meter dash as a senior in high school. He was the team's leading rusher in 2014 and will be a very important part of the team's success as a junior in 2015.
B-Back Patrick Skov
Very much a newcomer to Georgia Tech, Skov is in his final season of eligibility after completing his undergraduate degree and transferring to Atlanta from Stanford. He's in Georgia Tech's Scheller College of Business working towards an MBA, but will be playing football at the same time. At 6'1" and 235 pounds, Skov will play B-Back at Georgia Tech and may start. He's a very physical player who has learned the system quickly since arriving on campus in June.
Defensive Tackle Adam Gotsis
A native of Australia, Gotsis will be a big-time player on Georgia Tech's defense. Coach Johnson recruited Gotsis out of Melbourne when Gotsis's "gridiron" coach (and a former player of Johnson's) called up Georgia Tech to let them know of his abilities. He's around 6'4" and 295 pounds, but has a great combination of speed and strength that makes him very difficult to block. He's also a leader on defense and in the locker room as one of the most respected seniors on the team.
Defensive End KeShun Freeman
Though only entering his sophomore year at Georgia Tech, Freeman is already recognized as a player for opposing teams to pay attention to. As a true freshman in 2014, Freeman recorded 4.5 sacks and was named a Freshman All-American. After an offseason of workouts where he put on around 10 pounds of muscle (now weighing about 245 pounds), he should be even better in 2015. He's a hometown boy, coming from Callaway High School in Hoganville, GA.
Linebacker Paul "P.J." Davis
Though he only had the opportunity to come to Georgia Tech on a last-minute scholarship offer (after another player backed off his commitment and opened up a spot), Davis has been arguably the best player from his recruitment class and may be the best linebacker in the ACC. Known for his high-energy style, you'll see Davis making plays all over the field. He's a little undersized at 5'11" and 215 pounds, but Davis is another very physical and athletic player on Georgia Tech's defense. Expect to see a lot of big plays from the Cairo, GA native this fall during his junior season.
Defensive Back D.J. White
Likely best-known for his interception which sealed the win against UGA last year, White is one of the best cornerbacks in the ACC. He's a very athletic and smart player with a knack for pulling down interceptions -- he finished 2014 tied for the team lead with 4 of them. The McDonough, GA product will be tasked with covering some of the best receivers that Georgia Tech will face all year. After joining Justin Thomas as Georgia Tech's representatives at the ACC Kickoff back in July, this senior is one of the leaders of the defense as well as the entire team.
Defensive Back/Kick Returner Jamal Golden
Perhaps the team's most versatile player returns to Georgia Tech for his senior season in 2015, hoping to improve on a strong 2014 campaign. Golden is a very smart player who spends a lot of time watching film and getting to know his opponents' habits. That work pays off, as he's able to anticipate what they'll do and create lots of turnovers. Golden is also known as one of the best kick and punt returners in the ACC. In 2012, he scored the first kickoff return touchdown for Georgia Tech in 14 years, and added a second kickoff return touchdown against North Carolina two weeks later.
The season starts this Thursday, September 3rd, at 7:30pm EST! The Yellow Jackets will be hosting the Alcorn State Braves at Bobby Dodd Stadium under the lights to kick off the 2015 season.
Hopefully you found this guide helpful! If you're looking for more, check out some of the articles from our 100 Days to Kickoff series!