A new era has begun for the Georgia Tech football program.
Paul Johnson, who coached the Yellow Jackets for the past 11 seasons, retired after the 2018 campaign. And Johnson’s run-heavy option offense left campus along with him.
Johnson’s successor, former Temple coach Geoff Collins, has brought a spread attack to Atlanta.
“He’s unlocking our potential to actually just go and make plays,” Georgia Tech linebacker David Curry said this month at ACC football media days in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“With the triple option, that is a scheme-based offense. So if you look at our offensive line the past few years, they’ve been smaller, more agile, very fast, very athletic. You don’t really see a lot of offensive lines like that around. We had to recruit guys based on that scheme.
“But now we’re a player-based scheme. So we want to recruit the five-stars, … we want to recruit the best players now. … We don’t have to recruit for a scheme now.”
Georgia Tech led the FBS in rushing offense (325.0 ypg) last season but averaged just 83.8 yards through the air. The Yellow Jackets, who went 7-6 overall and 5-3 in ACC play, ran the ball 745 times and attempted only 126 passes.
Collins’ Temple squad averaged 155.9 yards rushing and 253.6 yards passing last year. The Owls ran the ball 494 times and attempted 443 passes.
Of course, Collins has inherited Georgia Tech players who were recruited for a run-oriented attack. Georgia Tech did not even start a tight end last season, so Collins has added former Connecticut tight end Tyler Davis as a graduate transfer.
It will likely take a few years for Georgia Tech to flourish in this new offense, as Collins recruits players that fit his approach.
So it’s no surprise that Georgia Tech has been picked to finish last in the Coastal Division in the ACC’s preseason media poll, as well as in the Street & Smith’s, Athlon Sports and Lindy’s Sports preview magazines.
The Yellow Jackets had seven winning seasons and claimed three Coastal titles with Johnson and his option offense.
So how does Collins sell the current players on the fact that the program might have to take a step back in hopes of eventually moving forward?
By promising them he will get them ready for the NFL.
“The scheme that we’re in now prepares our guys to play at the next level,” Collins said. “The formations, the reads, the running plays, the pass schemes that we use prepare our guys to play on the next level. So Jalen Camp, one of our receivers who’s going to be a senior, now he gets to show what he can do for the next level.
“We inherited a system where offensive linemen, 80 percent of their weight was on their front hand for 11 years. There’s nothing wrong with that, but now we’re developing into a system where 60 percent of their weight’s on their instep, just like they do on the next level.”
Collins has installed a blitz-heavy, 4-2-5 defense.
“Our defense is an NFL-based scheme, … so we’re preparing our guys every single day to develop to play at the next level,” he said. “We play press coverage every single play, just like they do at the next level.”
Collins had a winning record in each of his two seasons as Temple’s head coach. He will face his former team on Sept. 28 for the start of a home-and-home series that was arranged two years ago.
Georgia Tech players have warmed to the 48-year-old Collins.
“Once you see how much energy he has, you have no choice but to kind of feed off of that,” Camp said. “It helped a lot of guys buy in.”
Curry expects recruits will like Collins as well. Johnson sought out players who fit his option system, but Collins hopes to attract elite recruits.
“Everybody’s going to be so shocked at how good Georgia Tech’s recruiting classes are these next few years,” said Curry, who made 47 tackles last fall. “I know a lot of people … that have wanted to come to Georgia Tech but haven’t for certain reasons. And now that there’s a new show in town, there’s a lot of people that are very excited to come to Georgia Tech.”
Georgia Tech, which opens the season against defending national champion Clemson, returns five starters on offense and three on defense.
Quarterback TaQuon Marshall, who threw for 900 yards and who ran for 971 yards as a senior, must be replaced.
Tobias Oliver is one of the contenders to succeed him. He started in place of an injured Marshall in the team’s win at Virginia Tech last October.
Oliver ran for 876 yards as a redshirt freshman last year but completed just seven of his 16 passes.
So Collins might crown fourth-year junior Lucas Johnson the starting quarterback instead. Johnson, who missed last year with a foot injury, completed 12 of 16 passes in the spring game this year.
The Yellow Jackets will visit Virginia on Nov. 9 and host Virginia Tech on Nov. 16.