Georgia Tech Football: Paul Johnson enters 2018 on hot seat

(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

An embarrassment of riches in the backfield

Tech returns a ton of production on the offensive side of the ball, most notably senior quarterback Ta’Quon Marshall. Marshall had a solid debut season, particularly on the ground – his 1,146 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns led the team. Most all of the backfield returns with him, so it’s safe to assume that the Yellow Jackets’ rushing attack will be a nightmare once again for opposing defenses.

Perhaps the most promising of the returnees is B-back KirVonte Benson. The stocky rising junior rumbled his way for 1,053 yards and six touchdowns in 2017, and will almost certainly be the bell cow of the Jackets’ offense once again. Joining him are A-backs Clinton Lynch and Qua Searcy, both of whom are seniors who will be depended upon in both the rushing and passing games. Lynch is a four-year starter and an explosive playmaker, though he was limited by injuries last season. He’s averaged a remarkable 9.6 yards per carry and 26.7 yards per reception to this point in his career, and if he’s fully healthy, could have a remarkable senior season.

Can the passing game do enough?

Georgia Tech, of course, will never need a passing game firing on all cylinders in order to have a successful offense. Johnson’s triple option is never going to need to put up big numbers through the air, and explosiveness will always be favored over efficiency.

That said, Tech’s aerial attack during the second half of the year was ugly. After a strong start to the season, Marshall never completed more than 27.3 percent of his passes over Tech’s final five games, and threw five touchdowns to five interceptions over that stretch. Unsurprisingly, the Jackets’ offense cooled off, averaging 20.2 points per game (after having put up an average of 34.7 points in the first six games of the season), and the team stumbled to a 1-4 finish.

There are reasons for optimism – getting Marshall back helps, and this running game might be so effective that the Jackets won’t need to pass in many high-leverage scenarios – but also one big reason for worry. Receiver Ricky Jeune, a three-year starter who accounted for an astounding 58.8 percent of Tech’s passing yardage, is off to the NFL, leaving very little experience at wideout in his wake.

Brad Stewart and Jalen Camp will likely get the first shots in the starting lineup, and getting Lynch back at full strength won’t hurt. The dynamic A-back had 490 receiving yards in 2016, but just 43 last season. Teams may not be able to slow Georgia Tech down very much in 2018, but when they do, the Jackets will need to find a way to pass their way out.