Aug. 29, 2014
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
It’s a new season for Georgia Tech but the Yellow Jackets hope to continue what has become a season-opening tradition when they kickoff the school’s 122nd season and 101st on Grant Field, against Terriers of Wofford. Kickoff is Saturday afternoon, at 12:30 p.m.
The Yellow Jackets have won 13 of their last 14 home openers — 12 of their last 14 season openers — and are 6-0 under Paul Johnson in Bobby Dodd Stadium debuts (they’re 5-1 in season openers). The Jackets are looking to rid themselves of the bitter taste left from the ending of the 2013 season, when they finished 7-6, but endured a gut-wrenching double-overtime loss to Georgia followed by a tough 25-17 loss to Ole Miss in the Music City Bowl.
For the second straight season there will be a new starting quarterback, as redshirt sophomore Justin Thomas gets the nod, with redshirt junior Tim Byerly also expected to see the field. It’ll be something of a new look for the Jackets, the offense will have eight new starters from the unit that took the field in the 2013 opener. The defense will have seven new starters from last year’s first game.
“I’ll tell you. In some ways it seems like it’s been a long time since we’ve played and in other ways it’s come around really quick again,” said Johnson at his weekly press conference. “But I’m excited to be in game week. The first game of every season is always exciting, especially when you have the chance to play at home.”
Georgia Tech puts its home-opener record on the line against a representative of the Southern Conference for the second straight season, and would very much like to see history repeat. In 2013, they demolished Elon (now in the Colonial Athletic Association), 70-0. Johnson, who has his own successful history with Wofford — he was 5-0 against them while at Georgia Southern — doesn’t expect things to be THAT easy. In fact, he expects a battle from Mike Ayers’ squad.
“I have a great deal of respect [for Ayers]. Wade Lang is the offensive coordinator there. Wade’s been there from a player to a coach, he’s probably been there 20 years,” he said. “They do a good job. All you have to do is watch the tape to see they do a good job.”
Wofford’s M.O. offensively in similar to Georgia Tech, as it, too, runs the option. Even in an off-year last year (5-6, 4-4), they finished second in the SoCon on the ground and fifth in the FCS (269.9 rushing yards per game). The Terriers, picked for fourth in the preseason poll, will have some questions, even as they return six starters on offense and seven on defense. They’ll need to replace their leading rusher from last season, as well as two of their top three tacklers and sack leader.
Johnson’s domination of Wofford aside, there isn’t a lot of history between the Yellow Jackets and the Terriers, as today’s game will be the first meeting between the schools in 113 years.
Here are some numbers to get you even more ready for Saturday’s season-opener:
The Series: This is the second meeting ever between the schools. Georgia Tech won the previous meeting, 33-0, back on Oct. 18, 1901, in a game played in Augusta.
.819 – The Yellow Jackets’ all-time winning percentage in home openers. They boast an 83-18-1 record and haven’t lost a home opener since losing 14-10 to Notre Dame in 2006.
.833 – The Yellow Jackets winning percentage in openers under Paul Johnson. Tech is 5-1, with a perfect 5-0 record at home. The lone season-opening loss came in 2012, a heart-breaking 20-17 overtime decision at Virginia Tech.
50.4 – The average number of points Johnson’s Yellow Jackets are averaging in their five season-opening home wins. They’ve upped that average substantially the last two years, scoring 63 against Western Carolina in 2011 and 70 against Elon last season. They also put up 41 and 37 in back-to-back years (2008, ’09) against Jacksonville State and 41 in 2010 against South Carolina State. The 59 points scored in the 2012 home-opener against Presbyterian pushes the average to 51.8 ppg.
38 – The average margin of victory for Johnson’s Yellow Jackets in their five home season-opening wins. They beat Jacksonville State by 27 in 2008 (41-14), and 20 in 2009 (37-17), topped South Carolina State, by 31 in 2010 (41-10), blasted Western Carolina by 42 in 2011 (63-21) and unloaded on Elon, winning by 70 (70-0). The 59-3 trouncing of Presbyterian in ’12 pushes the average to 41.0.
.931/.897 – Georgia Tech’s all-time winning percentages against the Southern Conference at home and overall. The Jackets are 54-2-2 all-time at home against the SoCon and 61-3-4 overall.
0 – The number of FBS teams aside from Georgia Tech averaging at least 300 yards per game on the ground since 2008. The Jackets have rolled up 24,253 yards in 80 games under Johnson (303.17 per game). Navy, Johnson’s former team, is next, almost 8.5 yards per game behind.
0 – The number of times in the Paul Johnson Era that Georgia Tech has run a pass play on its first play from scrimmage in consecutive years. Last season, the Jackets hit on a seven-yard pass play from Vad Lee to Micheal Summers. The only other time Johnson passed on his first offensive play of the season came in 2008, his first season. Joshua Nesbitt’s pass intended for Roddy Jones fell incomplete.
2 – The number of halves in which Georgia Tech has failed to score a point since 2009. Both were second halves on the road, coming on Dec. 27, 2010 against Air Force in the Independence Bowl, in Shreveport, La., and the other Oct. 22, 2011 at Miami. Tech takes a streak of 211 straight games scoring a point, the second-longest in ACC history, into Saturday’s game.
10 – The number of games last season in which the Yellow Jackets scored in at least three quarters. They scored in all four quarters in five games, and were held scoreless in back-to-back quarters only twice.
6 – The number of games last season in which Georgia Tech’s defense did not allow a point in the first quarter.
11 – The number of games in 2013 in which Tech’s defense allowed seven-or-fewer points in the first 15 minutes. Tech led or was tied after one quarter in nine of its 13 games last season.
3 – Georgia Tech’s ranking within the ACC for most conference wins since 2005. The Jackets’ 47 wins are tied with Florida State, behind only Virginia Tech (55) and Clemson (48).
32 – The number of touchdowns out of the 61 the Jackets scored in 2013 by players returning in 2014 (52.5 percent).
25.0 – The percentage of returning TDs scored by senior B-Back Zach Laskey. Of those eight scores, seven came on the ground.
10/134/1/2 – The combined number of completions, passing yards, touchdowns and interceptions by QBs Justin Thomas and Tim Byerly. Thomas was 9-for-17 for 131 yards, with a touchdown vs. two interceptions, while Byerly was 1-for-4, for three yards.
9.5 – The number of sacks of the 34 recorded last season by Tech’s returning players in 2014. That’s 27.9 percent.
57.9 – The percentage of returning sacks recorded by sophomore DT Adam Gotsis (5.5). He accounted for 35 of the 56 yards on sacks (62.5 percent).
28 – The number of combined starts for the offensive backfield and receivers. That’s actually one more than last year, but 19 of those starts come at wide receiver where Summers started 11 times while DeAndre Smelter made eight. Laskey leads the backs, with six starts, while A-Backs Charles Perkins and Tony Zenon combine for three (Zenon, two, Perkins, one).
28 – The combined number of starts last season by O-linemen Shaq Mason (13), Bryan Chamberlain (seven) and Trey Braun (eight). Chamberlain started the first seven before he was injured, while Braun played the final eight.
2 – The number of games in which Mason, Chamberlain and Braun all played together. 70 – The season-high number of points scored in last year’s season-opener against Elon. Tech scored 28 of them (tying the season-high) in the first quarter. 557 – The number of yards Tech had against Elon, also a season-high, including seven plays over 20 yards.
149 – The number of yards in interception returns for touchdowns in last year’s opener. LB Tyler Marcordes went 95 with one in the second quarter, while safety Chris Milton took another 54 yards to pay dirt in the third.
192-58 – The amount by which Paul Johnson-coached Georgia Southern teams outscored Wofford in the five games between the teams as conference rivals from 1997 through 2001. The Eagles won all five games
10 Things To Know About Wofford (including yet another parallel with Georgia Tech)
.645 – Wofford’s winning percentage within the Southern Conference since 2003. That winning percentage sets the pace in the SoCon. The 49-27 record in that span, includes four conference championships
-59 – The number of points by which Wofford was outscored in the first quarter in 2013. They were outscored 94-35 in the first 15 minutes. The 94 points accounted for 40 percent of their total points allowed last season. Georgia Tech outscored the opposition 131-54 in the opening stanza.
17.5 – The percentage of pass plays by Wofford in 2013. The Terriers put the ball in the air 137 times out of 784 total plays. While that amounted to only 17.5 percent of their total plays, it marked a seven-percent increase from 2012, when they put the ball up only 88 times all season. Either is fewer than Georgia Tech, which also put the ball up an uncharacteristically high percentage in 2013 (22.2 percent — 203 passes in 916).
.676 – Wofford’s winning percentage since 2010 when they throw the ball 10-or-fewer times. The Terriers’ winning percentage falls to .600 (9-6) when throwing at least 11 times in a game.
176 – Head Coach Mike Ayers’ career-wins at Woffard. Beginning his 27th season on the sidelines with the Terriers, Ayers is the winningest coach in D-I in South Carolina. His 176 W’s nearly double the nearest coach, South Carolina State’s Buddy Pough (98). USC’s Steve Spurrier is third with 76 wins, while Clemson’s Dabo Sweeny is fourth with 50. His career .567 winning percentage (187-142-2, including his two years at East Tennessee State) is sixth all-time among FCS coaches.
80 – The number of yards per game fewer Wofford ran in 2013 than in 2012. The Terriers ran for 269.9 yards per game in 2013, fifth in the Southern Conference. The year before they ran for 349.7 ypg, second in the FCS and third in all of Division I football.
6 – The number of times since 1997 that Wofford has not finished in the top three in the FCS in rushing. The 2013 season saw the Terriers finish fifth in the country in rushing yards. It was the first time in eight years they didn’t finish first or second.
51 – The number of times Wofford was flagged last season. The 51 penalties accounted for 406 yards (36.91 ypg). That was good for seventh place in the FCS.
6 – The number of returning Terriers out of 2013’s top seven rushers. That includes junior fullback Jonny Martin, who was third on the team with 399 yards but a team-high seven touchdowns. In fact, returning backs, Martin, junior halfback Will Gay (486 yards), junior halfback Ray Smith (243), sophomore quarterback Evan Jacks (241), junior halfback Octavius Harden (170) each scored at least two touchdowns last season. Junior QB Michael Wiemer (167) also hit the end zone. Unfortunately for Wofford, their leading rusher last year, Donovan Johnson, a Second-Team All-SoCon running back, does not return.
6 – The number of seniors on the Wofford roster. That includes key defensive pieces in right defensive end Tarek Odom, First-Team All-SoCon in 2013 and Preseason All-SoCon First Team, outside linebacker Travis Thomas, inside linebacker Kevin Thomas, the team’s leading returning tackler (80, 42 solo, 8.5 for loss) and sacker (3.0), and corner Bernard Williams (a team-high three forced fumbles in ’13). The offensive line has only two juniors on the depth chart, including junior right guard T.J. Chamberlin, also named Preseason All-SoCon First Team.
985 – Wofford Football’s APR. The Terriers, like the Yellow Jackets, not pride themselves on their potentially lethal ground attack, courtesy of the option, they also pride themselves on their Academic Performance Review (APR). Wofford’s 985, tops in the Southern Conference and ranked 12th in the FCS. It was the third time in four years they paced the conference. Wofford has ranked in the top 10 percent of FCS teams in APR in six of the last eight years.
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