TAKING A RUN AT GLORY
The Yellow Jackets won three of their final four games, all against Top 20 teams, including a 49--34 victory over Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl. This fall coach Paul Johnson wants to prove his team isn't a two-month wonder. Johnson's sneaky triple-option attack will again be led by junior Justin Thomas (5'11", 189 pounds), who set the school's quarterback rushing record with 1,086 yards last year and has four starters returning on the O-line.
The backfield has key pieces missing: Synjyn Days, Zach Laskey and Charles Perkins, who combined for 2,218 yards in 2014. Senior Broderick Snoddy and junior Isiah Willis will battle for the A-back spot, with junior Marcus Allen returning at B-back. Junior Micheal Summers leads the receiving corps—though with Tech's emphasis on rushing, he had just seven catches for 45 yards.
Coordinator Ted Roof's defense finished ninth or worse in the ACC in every major defensive category. He can only hope experience helps. All-ACC tackle Adam Gotsis, a 6'5", 282-pound senior who had 6½ TFLs and three sacks last year, will again spearhead the line, supported by sophomore end KeShun Freeman. Four senior starters return in the secondary, including safety Jamal Golden (61 tackles, four INTs).
The Jackets are ACC Coastal Division favorites, even with a tough schedule. They visit both Notre Dame (Sept. 19) and Duke (Sept. 26), then draw potential Atlantic Division champs Clemson (away) and Florida State (home) in October. The season ends with a visit from rival Georgia—a contender for the SEC crown—at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Nov. 28.
Jabari Hunt-Days sat out last season after being declared academically ineligible. The former linebacker, who has 129 tackles and 11½ TFLs in 21 career starts, is back at a new position. After beefing up from 252 to 295 pounds in his time away, the 6'3" Hunt-Days has shifted to DT for his senior year to bring some athleticism to the trenches.
OPPOSING COACH'S TAKE
Game-planning for their offense is totally different. Nothing you do during the course of your season is going to help you. Planning for them can actually put you behind with other teams.... The biggest thing for them last year was getting a quarterback, Justin Thomas, who could make some plays. Now you've got to be able to defend all three phases of the option.... The way they play, they don't have to have big guys on the offensive line. They just have to have guys who can position-block. That offense is going to have 12- to 14-play drives.... The Coastal side of the league isn't quite as good as the Atlantic, so that's helped them. They've taken advantage of the situation.
DANIEL SHIREY/GETTY IMAGES (THOMAS)
JOE ROBBINS/GETTY IMAGES (HUNT-DAYS)