Aug. 28, 2011
ATLANTA – Georgia Tech, looking to finally put last season’s 6-7 record in the rear-view mirror, starts anew Thursday night when the Yellow Jackets open the 2011 season against Western Carolina in Bobby Dodd Stadium (7:34 p.m./ESPN3.com).
Head coach Paul Johnson, who enters his fourth season on the Flats with a record of 26-14, will be coaching against his alma mater for the sixth time, his first time as head coach of the Yellow Jackets. Johnson is a 1979 WCU graduate.
The Jackets, who received one vote in the preseason ESPN Coaches Poll, have higher hopes than the modest media projections. Tech, which returns 11 starters, was picked to finish fourth in the ACC’s Coastal Division.
Western Carolina returns 13 starters, including nine on offense, from a team that struggled to a 2-9 record and a 1-7 mark in the Southern Conference, arguably the nation’s top FCS league. The Catamounts, who employ The Pistol offense, return quarterback Zac Brindise, who passed for more than 1,400 yards and completed 55 percent of his passes a year ago.
Tech will start junior Tevin Washington, who stated the final four games of 2010, at quarterback. Junior guard Omoregie Uzzi, a second team All-ACC pick last season, will lead the offense. Senior A-back Roddy Jones, who has rushed for more than 1,300 career yards and averages 7.5 yards per carry, is listed as questionable for the opener.
Tech’s 3-4 defense, despite losing all four starters in the secondary, expects to be much improved under defensive coordinator Al Groh.
Georgia Tech leads the all-time series, 4-0. The two teams are meeting for the first time since 1994.
QUICK NOTES ON THE YELLOW JACKETS
Georgia Tech led the nation in rushing (323.3 yards per game) last season. The last team to repeat as national rushing champion was Navy, which earned the crown every year from 2004-2008. Paul Johnson coached all those Navy teams except for the 2008 squad.
Tech is the only school in the nation to produce a 1,300-yard rusher in each of the last five seasons. While Tech may or may not produce a 1,300-yard rusher this season, Johnson expects to the B-back position to ground up close to that mark as a collective group.
Tech will play Thursday without junior tackle Phil Smith, who is suspended for the first two games of the season; and four injured players – sophomore safety Fred Holton, sophomore A-back B.J. Bostic, sophomore guard J.C. Lanier and redshirt freshman DL Shawn Green.
The Jackets must replace four starters in the secondary and there doesn’t figure to be a senior in the bunch, although senior CB Michael Peterson will be one of the first DBs off the bench.
It’s possible that Tech could start one or two true freshmen – offensive lineman Trey Braun and/or wide receiver Jeff Greene. The last true freshman to start a season opener was WR Tyler Melton, now a senior, in 2008.
Tech hasn’t returned a kickoff for a touchdown since Oct. 31, 1998 (vs. Maryland), but junior Orwin Smith gives the Jackets a legitimate shot at it. Smith has 1,005 career kick return yards, which ranks sixth in Tech history.