ATLANTA – Paul Johnson is living up to his pledge of signing day 2013 to cast a wider recruiting net geographically going forward.
Georgia Tech had 17 verbal commitments for 2014 as of the Duke game on Sept. 14, and 11 of those recruits were from outside Georgia. Johnson’s staff’s concentration remains in neighboring states South Carolina, Alabama and Florida, but coaches also are active in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states and have commitments from recruits in Pennsylvania and the Washington, D.C.-area.
The prowess of Southeastern Conference schools in recruiting Georgia in recent years prompted Johnson’s push to reach North. He specifically mentioned private and parochial schools as targets. The D.C. recruit, safety Miles Taylor, attends a Jesuit school.
Georgia Tech continues to recruit hard at home. Yet the diminishing returns are hard to ignore: the Yellow Jackets signed 14 Georgians in a recruiting class of 18 in 2010 only to fail to sign more than 10 in each of the three classes since.
Three of the six Georgia recruits verbally committed to Georgia Tech next year are from the same school, Lamar County.
The Yellow Jackets’ slip as an in-state recruiting draw corresponded with the departure of recruiting coordinator Giff Smith, who had strong ties throughout the state, and a run of mediocre seasons following the 2009 ACC championship run.
Johnson bulked up his recruiting resources earlier this year and that staff is utilizing social media networks to reach into new markets.
More Wrinkles For Johnson’s Offense
Ask any coach in the ACC the name of the toughest opponent to prepare for over the last five years, and the answer is the same: Georgia Tech.
Prepping for the Yellow Jackets this season is harder than ever.
Johnson, the Jackets’ offensive mastermind, has demonstrated a more multiple offense in 2013’s early games. Playing to first-year starting quarterback Vad Lee’s strengths as a passer, Georgia Tech is throwing the ball regularly, not just as a change of pace to the potent option running attack.
Lee threw the ball 16 times against Duke, the most passes by a Yellow Jacket quarterback in a win in almost two seasons. And half those passes came on first down, which has been unheard of throughout Johnson’s tenure.
The approach has some fans grumbling. The Jackets are a run-first team, and incompletions and no yardage on first down makes converting on second and third downs more complicated. But a developing passing game gives Georgia Tech the ability to exploit coverages on first down and is one more wrinkle to confound defenses.
“They came out in new sets, things that we hadn’t practiced against, things we hadn’t seen,” Duke defender Kenny Anunike said.
The Yellow Jackets’ passing potential was on display in the ACC opener against Duke. Lee missed on his first five attempts (although two were dropped) but rebounded to hit on eight of his last 11. All eight of those completions either went for first downs or touchdowns.
“I think Vad, he brings just a completely new dynamic to the offense this year,” offensive lineman Will Jackson said after the 38-14 win. “He can sit back and he can throw the 5-yard out, but he can also hit a guy 60 yards downfield running a wheel route.”
Compounding the prep work for future opponents is the emergence of rookie wide receivers DeAndre Smelter and Micheal Summers. The receiver many expected to be Lee’s top target, Darren Waller, didn’t catch a pass through the first two games.
Smelter is new to the team after spending three years playing baseball for the Yellow Jackets. He caught three passes against Duke, two for touchdowns, and gives Lee a sure-handed receiver. Summers had three catches for 79 yards in the season-opening win against Elon.
Slotback Robbie Godhigh caught five passes for 83 yards and two touchdowns in the first two games. He’s often matched up against safeties and linebackers, and chemistry with Lee should result in many big plays this season.
The running game, meanwhile, continues to grind out yards. Ten different ball-carriers rushed for yardage in each of the first two games. Lee averaged almost 5 yards a carry.
Johnson has added formations to better utilize Lee – one more preparation issue. Lee operated out of the shotgun on close to half the snaps against Duke. The formation is a variation on the pistol, with the fullback behind the quarterback and the slotbacks flanking Lee rather than lining up just outside the tackles near the line of scrimmage.
While the shotgun formation takes away much of the defense-confusing pre-snap movement Johnson favors, Lee can more easily survey the defense and read the option when out from under center. Look for more wrinkles, such as shovel passes, as the season progresses.
Johnson’s immediate focus is on better execution. With a three-week run against the ACC Coastal’s top contenders ahead, the coach wants an efficient offense.
“Offensively, we’re too hit and miss,” said Johnson, whose team plays North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Miami in a 14-day span.
The Coastal gauntlet will provide a test of Georgia Tech’s defense. The unit has looked stout under first-year defensive coordinator Ted Roof, albeit in games against a lousy FCS team and a Duke team playing its backup quarterback.
The Yellow Jackets did clean up their third-down efficiency between the opener against Elon and versus Duke in the second game. The Blue Devils converted just three of 14 third downs and finished with six three-and-outs.
More encouraging to Tech fans was the defense’s response to adversity. Duke mounted long drives on two of its first three possessions, scoring a touchdown on one of those. Roof made adjustments, though, and the defense limited Duke to just two more 20-plus yard drives the rest of the game. Duke’s longest drive over the last three quarters measured only 31 yards.
Much of that success came in Tech’s ability to limit big plays. Duke’s longest run measured 16 yards. The Devils’ longest pass? 21 yards.