Georgia Tech boasted one of the nation’s most exciting offenses
last season. Despite losing its leading rusher and top receiver to
the NFL, quarterback Joshua Nesbitt believes the unit could be just
as potent this year.
Nesbitt and the reloaded No. 16 Yellow Jackets look to showcase
their new offense against South Carolina State of the Football
Championship Subdivision in the programs’ first meeting
Georgia Tech earned its first outright ACC title since 1990 with
a win over Clemson in the conference championship game last season
before losing to Iowa in the Orange Bowl. The Yellow Jackets, who
finished 11-3, ranked first in the league with 33.8 points and
422.1 yards per game with Nesbitt leading the way.
Running the option, Nesbitt finished fifth in the conference in
rushing with 1,037 yards and tied for seventh in the Football Bowl
Subdivision with 18 rushing touchdowns. The first-team All-ACC
selection, who announced in April that he wanted to be called by
his full first name during his senior season instead of just Josh,
also passed for 1,701 yards while throwing for 10 more TDs.
“If he’ll play as well as he did last year,” coach Paul Johnson
said, “I’ll call him whatever he wants.”
Nesbitt will be the team’s unmistaken leader following the
departures of running back Jonathan Dwyer, the ACC’s third-leading
rusher with 1,395 yards, and receiver Demaryius Thomas, who had a
league-best 1,154 receiving yards. Both gave up their senior
seasons to enter the NFL draft.
Although the Yellow Jackets are without those key playmakers,
they might not miss a beat.
“It’s going to be tough,” Nesbitt said. “But I think the guys we
have will fill their shoes.”
Anthony Allen will take over in the backfield after having just
64 carries last season but gaining 618 yards for an average of 9.7
“I think Anthony will have a really good year,” said Johnson,
the two-time ACC Coach of the Year. “He’s a very talented guy and I
think he’s excited about moving in there.”
Thomas’ replacement isn’t as proven but has the physical tools
to excel. The 6-foot-5 Stephen Hill had six catches for 137 yards
and one touchdown as a freshman last year and has impressed his
teammates and coaches with his speed and leaping ability.
“He’s a good deep threat and we’re counting on him this year,”
Georgia Tech is also counting on a revamped defense to come up
with more stops after the unit allowed at least 27 points eight
times last season.
Johnson hired former Virginia coach Al Groh as defensive
coordinator in January, and he switched to a 3-4 alignment. The
defense needs to replace first-round pick Derrick Morgan, who led
the ACC with 12 1/2 sacks, and hard-hitting safety Morgan Burnett,
who also left early for the NFL.
“Honestly, we didn’t play up to our level on defense a year
ago,” Johnson said. “I’m excited to see how we do this year. If we
can force a few more punts and get a few more turnovers, it will
certainly help us win more games.”
Stingy defense was South Carolina State’s recipe for success a
year ago, as it allowed 13 points or fewer in eight games and
forced 33 turnovers. The Bulldogs finished 10-2 and went 8-0 in
conference play to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference for the
second straight year.
South Carolina State’s offense was led by a strong running game,
but it needs to replace Will Ford, the MEAC’s all-time leading
rusher with 4,688 yards. Senior Chris Massey, who had just four
carries last year, heads up the depth chart.
“We need to lean on the guys we have returning with (offensive)
experience to hold the fort until we get those other guys up to
speed,” coach Buddy Pough said.
Pough will turn to senior quarterback Malcolm Long, who passed
for 2,488 yards with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last
This will be South Carolina State’s first game against a ranked
opponent since losing 54-0 to then-No. 23 Clemson in 2008.