For the first time since 1982, the Tulane Green Wave and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets will face each other on the gridiron as Tulane opens a new era at Yulman Stadium. The Yellow Jackets, who beat FCS member Wofford on Saturday 38-19, enter this game in New Orleans as 10-point favorites against Tulane, who fell short in their first game as members of the American to Tulsa 38-31 in double overtime.
Recently, I had a chance to talk with my longtime friend Adam Brand about this year's Yellow Jackets squad and year seven of the Paul Johnson era in Atlanta.
1. What should the offense look like for the Yellow Jackets in 2014?
The main thing to expect this year on offense is a return to Paul Johnson basics. After dabbling with various shotgun/pistol/diamond formations last year, expect the offense to be back under center in Johnson's traditional flex look.
Justin Thomas is the fastest player Johnson has had at QB in his time at Tech, and Thomas seems to have the right instincts for running the system. Passing efficiency should see an uptick as well, due to Thomas' quick release and a talented WR group led by DeAndre Smelter. The rushing attack should get back to form after last year's stumble, and Thomas and a senior laden group at A Back should break some big plays.
2. Who are some of the impact freshmen for this year's Yellow Jackets squad?
Impact freshmen are going to be on defense, mostly. KeShun Freeman figures to get a lot of playing time at defensive end, and the Austin twins, Lance and Lawrence, will see the field a lot at defensive back. Shawn Kagawa will contribute a lot on special teams. Trey Klock will get some playing time at offensive tackle, but he doesn't figure to play starters minutes.
3. On the defensive side of the ball, who are some of the players to watch for Georgia Tech?
Stalwarts on defense start with Adam Gotsis. The junior from Australia has picked up the game quickly, and has the perfect attitude for a nasty defensive tackle. Linebacker Quayshawn Nealy will be the anchor in the middle as the defense will base out of a 4-2-5 alignment this year. In the defensive backfield, Isaiah Johnson returns at safety after missing last year with an injury, as does Jamal Golden, who also missed most of last season. Golden will also be the primary kick and punt returner.
4. Going into his seventh season in Atlanta, what is the overall perception of Paul Johnson ?
As for Johnson's perception, it really depends who you ask. Some folks (especially media types) are turned off by his demeanor and his surliness at times. Some fans dislike his offense, and feel that it holds the program back. Others are perfectly happy with him, and feel that he's got things going in the right direction. Percentage wise, I'd say it's a very vocal 15% or so that don't like him, a solid 30% that completely buys in to what he's trying to do, and the other 55% are on a spectrum somewhere in the middle. If the team accomplishes what I think it's capable of this year, I'd expect a lot of the complaints to die down. That said, Tech could go 10-2 and some local media would focus only on the two. Some of that is due to Johnson's relationship with the media, and some of that just comes with the job at Georgia Tech.