ATLANTA (AP) - Georgia Tech begins its second season under coach Geoff Collins with the same big question that was hanging over the Yellow Jackets in Year 1.
Who’s the starting quarterback?
Collins faced an enormous challenge in 2019, switching to a conventional offense at a school that used the run-oriented triple option for more than a decade.
Not surprisingly, it didn’t go very well.
Georgia Tech finished 3-9 (2-6 Atlantic Coach Conference) and ranked last in the league in scoring, total yards and passing yards.
Collins grew a bit testy with the constant barrage of questions about the four-man battle for the starting job.
“We don’t worry about who the starter is,” said Collins, whose team opens the season Sept. 12 at Florida State. “We just worry about who’s going to contribute and how we can package things for their success and our team’s success.”
The Yellow Jackets started three quarterbacks in 2019, finally settling on James Graham. But, after completing just 45 percent of his passes, there’s no guarantee he’ll keep the job.
Graham is being challenged by Jordan Yates, who played three games last year, and a pair of touted freshmen, Tucker Gleason and Jeff Sims.
No matter the starter, the Yellow Jackets must get more production out of a passing game that averaged only 145.8 yards per game in 2019 - roughly half the number put up by conference champion Clemson.
“I’m trying to learn from all my mistakes,” Graham said. “I think my biggest downfall was my footwork. I’ve been working on that all summer.”
Other things to watch for from the Yellow Jackets in 2020:
WHO’S GOING TO CATCH THE BALL?
While much of the attention is on developing the quarterback position, the Yellow Jackets must come up with more options on the receiving end as well.
Ahmarean Brown showed big-play potential as a freshman, averaging 18.9 yards on a team-high 21 receptions with seven touchdowns. No one else had more than 19 catches.
The recruiting class was heavy on receivers. They’ve been thrown right into the mix.
“The more competition we have, the better off we’ll be,” receivers coach Kerry Dixon said.
Collins talks constantly about getting bigger, stronger and faster, both through an improved conditioning program and by landing higher-ranked recruits.
That effort appears to be paying off.
“It definitely shows,” athletic director Todd Stansbury said after watching practice. “Some of these young men do not look like freshmen, which is a good thing for us.”
Keep an eye on running back Jahmyr Gibbs, one of the highest-ranked signees in school history. He should get plenty of carries, even though Jordan Mason is locked in as the No. 1 back after rushing for 899 yards and seven touchdowns.
“Jahmyr is an animal,” running back coach Tashard Choice said. “He’s going to play.”
While the putrid offense was somewhat understandable given the drastic system change, the Yellow Jackets also had major issues on the defensive side.
After surrendering 420 yards and 32 points per game, Georgia Tech must put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks (the Jackets ranked last in the ACC with 18 sacks) and get more turnovers out of the secondary.
Defensive end Antonneous Clayton, a former Florida recruit who didn’t make much of an impact in two-plus seasons with the Gators, should give a boost to the pass rush. He sat out last season after transferring and is eager to go out with a bang in his final college season.
Georgia Tech got through the preseason without any reports of lost practices or positive tests during the coronavirus pandemic.
Collins and his staff implemented several changes to cut down on the rick of infection, including circles drawn on the sideline to ensure players maintained social distancing at practice, extra locker rooms to give everyone room to spread out, and two-a-day sessions to reduce the number of players on the field.
Collins even got an electronic whistle to make sure he got his point across while wearing a mask.
Under the ACC’s revamped schedule, Georgia Tech picked up Florida State, Louisville, Boston College and N.C. State as new conference opponents, while North Carolina, Virginia and Virginia Tech were dropped.
Central Florida is now the lone non-conference game. The Oct. 31 contest against Notre Dame will count in the league standings.
But the biggest news concerning Georgia Tech’s schedule is who’s not on it because of the pandemic.
For the first time since 1924, the Yellow Jackets will not face rival Georgia. The traditional regular-season finale had to be scrapped when the SEC went to a conference-only schedule, which really stung at Georgia Tech after last year’s 52-7 loss to the Bulldogs.
“It was upsetting not being able to play your rival,” senior linebacker David Curry said. “I wanted to get one last shot at ‘em.”
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