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Early Enrollee Joins Tech QB Battle

Thursday, January 2, 2014 11:54am
By: Georgia Tech Insider

Could a spring semester enrollee challenge for the Georgia Tech quarterback job this fall?

ATLANTA – Another offseason, another brewing quarterback controversy for Georgia Tech.

And a new contender is set to enter the spring fray.

Alabama prep star Matthew Jordan was among four Georgia Tech commitments to sign financial aid agreements with the program in December. Only recruits on pace to graduate high school at mid-year and enroll in colleges in January are eligible for the agreements, which (unlike letters of intent) are not binding for the recruits. Players can decline to enroll early and sign with a different program on national signing day if they choose.

Football coach Paul Johnson expects Jordan on The Flats when classes resume Jan. 6. He is a 4.0 student who completed his high school requirements in December.

That intelligence will propel him into an already heated quarterback competition between incumbent Vad Lee and backup Justin Thomas come spring practice this April.

Lee’s performance in his first year as the starter forces Johnson to look at other options. Heralded as the first true dual-threat quarterback to play at Georgia Tech during Johnson’s tenure, Lee was consistently inconsistent and finished the season with a 45.6 percent completion percentage and nearly as many interceptions (10) as touchdowns (11).

And his 2.8 yards per carry rushing average and 10 fumbles (five lost) were unbecoming of a triple-option quarterback. He also failed to show the ability to lift his team in the clutch: The Yellow Jackets were 1-3 in games decided by eight points or less.

Thomas, the understudy, played in six games but saw only 50 snaps. He’s a much more decisive runner than Lee and more comfortable reading and running Johnson’s base offense, the flexbone option. Many Georgia Tech observers expect Johnson to return to his roots this spring – abandoning the pistol formations he implemented for Lee in 2013 – in a move that should benefit Thomas and, by extension, the heady Jordan.

Jordan ran a wide-open spread offense in high school. And while it was more balanced than Johnson’s run-first scheme, the offense was driven by Jordan’s ability to read defenses and make quick decisions. He stands 6-2, weighs 205 pounds and runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash. Johnson told an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Jordan “can do everything we want to do with the offense.”

The fact Jordan is the only quarterback in this recruiting class is another testament to Johnson’s confidence in Jordan’s ability.

The other three recruits to sign financial aid agreements all play on the defensive side of the ball. KeShun Freeman played defensive end in high school but at 225 pounds is projected as a linebacker. He’ll likely focus on the weight room this winter, spring and summer. Another linebacker, Tre Jackson, is short at 5-10 but brings ferocity and leadership to the field. His grandfather nicknamed him “Stonewall” after the Confederate general Stonewall Jackson because of the way Jackson leads his teammates.

The fourth probable early enrollee is the one most likely to contribute to the 2014 season. Georgia Tech will see heavy turnover in the secondary – Jemea Thomas and Louis Young both exhausted their eligibility in 2013 – and Step Durham will get a jump on the other four corners in the recruiting class by participating in spring practice.

Inconsistency Mars Non-Conference Effort

Other than losing to vastly inferior opponents, nothing tempers expectations quite like blowing big leads to lose big games.

Such was the basketball team’s pattern in non-conference play. The Yellow Jackets returned five starters and added Tennessee transfer Trae Golden yet displayed disturbing inconsistency in losses to major-conference foes Dayton, Mississippi, St. John’s and Vanderbilt. The Jackets blew double-digit advantages against St. John’s and Vandy.

A narrow road win in the non-conference finale against Charlotte lifted Georgia Tech’s record to 9-4 heading into ACC play. But fan hopes that the Yellow Jackets would be a darkhorse contender in the league in Brian Gregory’s third season have faded.

Gregory chalks up the inconsistency as part of the turnaround “process” for a team unaccustomed to success.

The Yellow Jackets seem to have misplaced the shoulder chips they wore a year ago, when despite starting three true freshmen they went won six games down the stretch in ACC play and defeated league champion Miami. The group still shows flashes of what could be: They manhandled a good Illinois team in an ACC-Big Ten Challenge game and played like a Final Four team for much of the first half against Vanderbilt. But Georgia Tech seems to lack the thing Gregory made a priority of developing in the offseason – toughness.

“When the ball isn’t going in the hoop, are you still able to do the thing that keep you in the game?” he said following the Vanderbilt game in mid-December. “If you’re competing, it shouldn’t be that hard.”

What proved impossible for Georgia Tech in November and December was to get great play out of Marcus Georges-Hunt and Robert Carter at the same time. The Yellow Jackets’ two best players as freshmen last season, Georges-Hunt and Carter have slumped as sophomores. They are still among the team’s leading scorers, but Golden and center Daniel Miller have been much more consistent this year, forcing Georges-Hunt and Carter almost into secondary roles.

Georgia Tech is also “missing some parts,” in Gregory’s words, specifically in the play of sophomore Chris Bolden and swingman Jason Morris, who is coming off a foot injury. Bolden, a scoring machine late last season, is shooting less than 25 percent from the floor and has yet to post a double-digit scoring game. Morris returned to the floor in late December and is still playing his way back into basketball shape.

As disappointing as Georgia Tech was at times during non-conference play, Gregory and his players remain upbeat. The Yellow Jackets play five games in a 14-day stretch to start ACC play, which should offer a significant hint at the potential for this season.

“You always fix the roof when the sun is shining,” Gregory said, “and the sun is shining on us right now.”