Depending on your point of view, Georgia Tech football is either a return to the Cro-Magnon era or football the way it's meant to be played. Independent of your point of view, Georgia Tech football has been damn effective against Virginia, handing the Hoos a 35-10 loss in Atlanta last year.
From The Rumble Seat's Joey Weaver breaks down the 2015 Yellow Jackets, who come to Charlottesville for a Halloween matchup.
STL: Paul Johnson isn't going to win any popularity contests but his teams seem to win plenty of ballgames. Are Tech fans fully on board with Coach Grumpycat? Do they share the divide that national commenters express about the wisdom of the triple-option offense?
FTRS: A year ago, this answer would have been entirely different. The fans were very restless with the 7-win rut the team had seemingly fallen into, and Coach Johnson was being questioned more than ever. After 11 wins, including a state championship and an Orange Bowl victory, fans are pretty squarely back in his corner. As far as the offense goes, we've gotten used to hearing some of the standard commentary related to it, and I think the biggest frustration is how the issue is much more complicated than some of the talking heads seem to want to make it. When the team was struggling more, it was because "the offense isn't build for third downs/to play from behind/to make big plays/etc". The offense itself hasn't been a problem under Johnson -- if anything, it's the players themselves, but more often than not the team's issues have been on defense. Only twice under Johnson has the team failed to average at least 33 points per game -- and when they put up 33+ points, I'm not blaming the offense for any losses.
Also, as far as Coach Johnson's demeanor, I've found that he actually has quite a few fans on the national stage. Yes, he's very blunt and doesn't smile much in press conferences, but he also says what a lot of us are thinking and doesn't shy away from stating his opinions. I think people look at him as a little bit of a breath of fresh air in that regard. Personally, I love the guy and believe in him wholeheartedly.
STL: Who are the most important players to watch who return from last season?
FTRS: The obvious one here is the only one being talked about nationally, and that's QB Justin Thomas. He's got a very good understanding of the offense, executes it well, and has a ton of physical talent to go along with it. There's a lot of guys being replaced on offense, but with him there, a lot of Georgia Tech fans feel good about our chances. It's also worth mentioning that the Jackets return 4 starters from last year's offensive line, which is a comforting thought.
On defense, there are a few to keep an eye on. DE KeShun Freeman had 4.5 sacks last year and was a freshman All-American. He's up to around 245 pounds after putting on 10 pounds of muscle in the off-season and should be in line for a strong season. At linebacker, there's Paul "P.J." Davis, who was 5th in the conference in tackles last year. He's a very high-energy and aggressive player that could be the best linebacker in the ACC. In the secondary, there's two to keep an eye on -- CB D.J. White, and S Jamal Golden. White is the best cornerback on the roster and the closest thing Georgia Tech has to a "shut down" corner. Meanwhile, Golden is very experienced, athletic, and a film room junkie who tied White for the team lead in interceptions last year. He's by far the most likely person on the field to recognize what an offense is doing before they do it, and it resulted in multiple interceptions last year. (Yes, the two guys on the Georgia Tech defense to watch for are named "Golden" & "White". The headlines write themselves.)
One last guy to watch that doesn't return from last year, but rather from 2013, is Jabari Hunt-Days. He missed all of 2014 on academic suspension, but will be playing his fifth-year senior season this fall. The last time we saw him, Hunt-Days was a middle linebacker listed at 247 pounds. He's now a defensive tackle who's reportedly upwards up 290 pounds. All reports coming out of camp, too, are that he's a menace on the defensive line. Hopefully he helps to bolster what was a pretty weak pass rush last year.
STL: Which newcomers are you most excited about?
FTRS: After all of Georgia Tech's starters at offensive skill positions graduated last year, there's a void to fill in a few of those places. One newcomer will be filling in at B-Back, and that's a graduate transfer from Stanford named Patrick Skov. You may remember his brother, Shayne, as a prominent linebacker for the Cardinal in recent years. Skov comes in as a total monster at 6'1", 235 pounds, and seems to be an absolute battering ram. He won't start at the B-Back spot in all likelihood, but he'll get some carries, especially in short-yardage situations.
On defense, Georgia Tech signed three linebackers that all very well could see playing time. Brant Mitchell was a two-time Mr. Football in Tennessee, Victor Alexander flipped late from UCLA and is similar to Davis in energy and aggression, and Tyler Cooksey is a Georgia Tech legacy who was very heavily recruited coming out of high school. The linebacker group is likely the least established group on defense and should allow for at least one true freshman to earn some playing time.
STL: What are the biggest strength and the biggest weakness of the 2015 Yellow Jackets?
FTRS: As weird as it feels to say this, the strength of this team (as of mid-August) looks to be the defense. They bring back 8 starters and add Hunt-Days up front, and there's lots of reason for confidence. As much as the offense has carried the team in recent seasons, it's weird but exciting to think that the defense might carry this team.
The biggest weakness to this team (again, as of mid-August) is the skill positions on offense, other than quarterback. The team lost its top 2 B-Backs, 5 of its top 6 A-Backs, and its top 2 wide receivers are now set to play on Sundays. Any one of those would be somewhat tough to replace by themselves, but altogether is a pretty daunting challenge going into this season. Prior to 2014, they had all of those spots settled and were simply missing a quarterback. Prior to 2015, they have a quarterback, but need to answer questions at all of those spots.
STL: What does this team need to do to count this season as a success?
FTRS: As much as the fan base would love to pick up right where we left off in 2014 and build on that momentum, with a pretty daunting schedule ahead, most Georgia Tech fans aren't talking about a return to the New Year's Six bowls. The Jackets have games against the Coastal Division, as well as games at Notre Dame & Clemson, to go with home games against Florida State and UGA. As of now, winning two of those four would probably be an indicator of a successful season. As far as I'm concerned, Vegas has the win total over/under set at 7.5 for Georgia Tech. As long as they win 8 or more games (and I expect them to), this season will be a success and will set them up very nicely for 2016.