Georgia Tech exploring options to replace leading rusher
ATLANTA (AP) Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense has a group of fresh faces in the backfield.
After the school dismissed leading running back Dedrick Mills last week for violation of unidentified athletic department rules, and has little game experience behind him, it may turn to running back by committee.
The Yellow Jackets must replace the 771 yards Mills rushed for and his 12 touchdowns he amassed as a freshman last season – and they have to make the adjustment less than a month before Georgia Tech’s opener against No. 25 Tennessee on Sept. 4.
Mills has enrolled at Garden City Community College in Kansas (which won the 2016 junior college national championship) and will be immediately eligible to play. He could be eligible to play for an FBS school in January 2018.
The Yellow Jackets haven’t said definitively what direction they’re taking.
Mills’ breakout season prompted backup Marcus Marshall to transfer to James Madison for more playing time.
The Yellow Jackets ranked in the top 10 in rushing yards last season, averaging 258.1 yards per game. But they must replace their top three rushing leaders from last season.
The fourth and fifth best rushers last season, Clinton Lynch and Qua Searcy, return after rushing for 415 yards and 273 yards last season, respectively. Lynch, who also led the team in receiving with 490 yards and six touchdowns, has been kept out of preseason practice with an unspecified injury.
A bigger problem for Georgia Tech is having to choose from an unproven group of backs to replace Mills.
Head coach Paul Johnson indicated this week redshirt sophomore KirVonte Benson could be the starter at B-back (a fullback in Georgia Tech’s triple-option) ahead of sophomore Quaide Weimerskirch and true freshmen Jerry Howard and Jordan Ponchez-Mason.
Benson had been nursing an injury, but returned this week and had a strong practice, Johnson said. Benson’s two seasons in the program is more experience than his competition, which could give him a leg up.
”He knows more about where to go, he’s probably a little bit stronger, a little more explosive. He’s not a tall kid, but he’s put together,” Johnson said. ”He’s rocked up pretty good.”
Johnson said Weimerskirch, Howard and Ponchez-Mason will suit up for the opener as they vie for the No. 2 spot.
”I don’t know how many will play,” he said.
Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop has not dwelled on Mills’ dismissal as the Volunteers prepare for the season opener at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Georgia Tech will ”always have a fullback,” Shoop said. ”They’ve talked about a true freshman playing some fullback, and we’ve watched all the guys. Benson had a good spring game, and they’ve had some other guys at the fullback position who are very, very good players. Coach Johnson knows how to utilize his talent for sure.”
Benson played in the final seven games last season, both on special teams and at running back, but did not have any carries. Weimerskirch had one carry for zero yards.
AP Sports Writer Steve Megargee contributed to this report
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