It might be an understatement to say that Georgia Tech opens the 2016 football season in unique fashion.
Not only will the Yellow Jackets kick off the season with a conference game against Boston College, they’ll do so in Dublin, Ireland. Fans watching back home will need to set alarms to make sure they don’t miss the 7:30 a.m. start on Saturday, September 3.
“Definitely it will be a different experience,” said senior quarterback Justin Thomas during Thursday’s ACC Kickoff media session in Charlotte. “I've never been anywhere out of the country, so it will be different, just seeing how people live, how they do things over there. But our main goal is to go there to win. Everything outside of that, it will be great to see and great to do, but without winning, it won't be the same.”
Head coach Paul Johnson wants his team to treat the game as a normal season opener, but he knows that might be asking the next to impossible.
“I think we've got 80 guys out of the 110 or so that will travel that have never been out of the country,” Johnson said. “It's going to be an experience for them to do that. But the bottom line is, it's a conference game, conference opener. We're going over there with a mindset to try to win the football game. That's number one.”
And Georgia Tech’s time away from home won’t be extensive.
“Right now, we plan to leave on Wednesday night after practice,” Johnson said. “We'll get in there Thursday morning. Maybe we'll get to tour a little bit on Friday, let them see some things. Then we're right back after the game because we play the next Saturday.
“It's going to be a really quick trip.”
The Yellow Jackets hope the trip to Dublin will be the first step in a turnaround from 2015, which saw Georgia Tech struggle through a 3-9 season after being chosen to win the ACC Coastal Division in preseason. Injuries and inexperience played a big part in that, but Johnson offered no excuses on Thursday.
“I think we have to get back to the level of play that we've become accustomed to over the last few years,” Johnson said. “We weren't near as good offensively a year ago as we had been. We weren't good enough in other areas to carry the team. Offensively we've kind of been in a spot for most of the last eight years that we could kind of push through and control the ball, stay on the field, do those things.
“I think there's a lot of reasons why (Tech struggled last season), but nobody wants to hear the labor pains, they just want to see the baby. We've just got to do better.”
2015 In Review
Georgia Tech discovered that sometimes the difference from an 11-3 campaign in 2014 and a 3-9 mark isn’t very much...Bereft of experience in the offensive backfield, save for QB Justin Thomas, and consistency elsewhere on offense, Paul Johnson’s Jackets dropped six contests by eight or fewer points, or an average of just 6.3 points per game...Still, Tech managed to upset one of the three Top 10 teams it faced in ninth-ranked Florida State, and led the ACC in rushing offense for the eighth straight year (256.2) and finished 8th nationally, though with the lowest rushing total in the Johnson Era on the Flats...The single biggest difference for Tech in 2015 was turnovers — both lost and gained — as its turnover margin fell 89 spots to 105th nationally....Freshman B-Back Marcus Marshall impressed, averaging 7.4 yards a carry, as did freshman A-Back Clinton Lynch, who averaged 9.5 yards per carry and 24.8 yards per catch...WR Rick Jeune developed into a dependable deep threat receiver (22.9 yds per catch)...Marshall earned Honorable Mention Freshman All-American honors while DT Adam Gotsis was a third-team All-ACC honoree...T Bryan Chamberlain, G Trey Braun and C Freddie Burden were all Honorable Mention All-ACC.
Tech loses nine starters overall, six on defense and just three on offense...Defensively, the losses include Gotsis, LB Tyler Marcordes and four members of the secondary in CBs Chris Milton and D.J. White and Ss Jamal Golden and Demond Smith...On offense, the Jackets will look to replace Braun, BB Patrick Skov and T Errin Joe.
The Jackets faced the nation’s 17th toughest schedule (NCAA) last fall and this year’s slate will be much the same...A season opener in Dublin, Ireland, against Boston College highlights a schedule that includes eight foes that went to bowl games...The Jackets have home games with Clemson, Vanderbilt, Georgia Southern, Duke, Virginia and Miami and difficult road tests at Pitt, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Georgia.
Improved consistency on offense and defense will be a necessity for Georgia Tech to get back among the leaders in the ACC...Offensively, that starts with QB Thomas, who completed only 41% of his passes a year ago, but led the NCAA in yards per completion (17.93), almost two yards farther than the runnerup, and ran for an additional 488 yards and 6 TDs...Backup QB Matthew Jordan looks to get some quality playing time as well, and both will also have more weapons around them with C.J. Leggett and Quaide Weimerskirch joining Marshall at B-Back, and Lynch joined by Qua Searcy, Isiah Willis and Georgia transfer J.J. Green at A-Back...The WR corps includes Jeune, Brad Stewart, Antonio Messick and Mikell Lands-Davis, all of whom got valuable playing time last fall...One area which is ticketed for improvement is the offensive line that returns four starters in C Freddie Burden, G Shamire Devine and Ts Trey Klock and Will Bryan..Defensively, Tech showed some improvement statistically, but did not create the all-important turnovers it had the year before...A pair of quality DEs return in KeShun Freeman and Rod Rook-Chungong, as does Patrick Gamble at NT...Francis Kallon and Kyle Cerge-Henderson are competing for the other DT position along with Brentavious Glanton...P.J. Davis returns to one LB spot, where he led Tech in tackling (77 hits)...He is joined by Brant Mitchell (36 hits) and Terrell Lewis...In the secondary, only S A.J. Gray appears set as a starter, with Lance Austin, Step Durham, Dorian Walker, Meiko Dotson and Lamont Simmons competing for time at CB and Lawrence Austin, Corey Griffin, Shaun Kagawa, Jalen Johnson and Christian Campbell competing at safety.
Numbers & Notes
First - Georgia Tech’s first-ever opponent in football
returns to its schedule this year after a 78-year absence. Tech played its first football game in Central Park in Macon, Ga., against Mercer on Nov. 5, 1892, with the Bears claiming a 12-6 win. The Jackets host the Bears on Sept. 10. Coincidentally this year, Tech’s second-ever opponent also appears on the schedule as later that year, on November 19, Tech hosted Vanderbilt at Piedmont Park. This year, the Jackets host the Commodores one week later on Sept. 17.
17.93 - The number of yards per completion that Tech QB Justin Thomas averaged last fall, which led the nation. Thomas completed 75 passes for 1,345 yards. The next closest player to Thomas was Vernon Adams of Oregon at 15.73.
77 - The number of total tackles for Georgia Tech LB P.J. Davis. Davis has led the Yellow Jackets in tackles in each of the past two seasons, and with 237 career tackles, ranks fourth among returning ACC players.
168 - The number of career wins for Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson, which places him fifth on the FBS career active list and first among coaches in the ACC.
329 - Georgia Tech led all FBS schools in fewest yards penalized in 2015. The Yellow Jackets were assessed just 329 yards in penalties or just 27.2 yards per game.