Record: 8-4, 5-3 ACC
Overview: Georgia Tech was one of the ACC’s biggest surprises in the first half of the season, as the Jackets zipped off to a 6-0 start for the first time since 1966 and looked like one of the top teams in the country. It was a quick, impressive turnaround after a 6-7 finish in 2010, as Georgia Tech was ranked No. 13 in the country and bowl eligible by Oct. 8. The Yellow Jackets averaged almost 52 points in their first five wins and Paul Johnson’s offense seemed unstoppable under quarterback Tevin Washington, who had an inconsistent offseason. It looked like Georgia Tech and Clemson were headed for a battle of unbeatens, but the Yellow Jackets were tripped up in back-to-back road losses to Virginia and Miami. Georgia Tech couldn’t put back-to-back wins together again, and lost four of its last six games, including to rival Georgia.
Georgia Tech had the No. 3 rushing offense in the country, but it wasn’t enough to get back into the ACC race. Despite Washington’s success in the passing game early, the Yellow Jackets weren’t as productive as they needed to be down the stretch, and the triple option stuttered against Virginia and Miami. The defense was also average in the second season under coordinator Al Groh, and it allowed at least 30 points in each of its last two losses. Statistically, though, the defense improved its national ranking in every category.
The Yellow Jackets were able to derail Clemson’s perfect season, though, with a 31-17 upset of the then-ranked No. 5 Tigers. With only 10 scholarship seniors on the roster, it was a young team and that showed at times. Georgia Tech had 18 turnovers that resulted in 52 points for opponents, but the Jackets actually scored more (56 points) off their opponents’ mistakes. Georgia Tech was picked by the media to finish fourth in the Coastal Division this year, but the Jackets tied Virginia for a second-place finish.
Offensive MVP: RB Orwin Smith. He averages 10.3 yards per carry and 23.5 yards per reception. Smith has 11 rushing touchdowns on just 60 carries. He has more than 1,200 all-purpose yards. Against Kansas, he broke a school-record with the longest rush from scrimmage (95 yards) and he rushed and received for more than 100 yards.
Defensive MVP: LB Julian Burnett. His 113 tackles this season rank fifth in the ACC, 32nd nationally and he has 44 more tackles than any of his teammates. Burnett has produced five double-digit tackle games, he leads the team in tackles for loss (9.5) and he has forced and recovered fumbles.
Turning point: The road losses to Virginia and Miami. Georgia Tech wasn’t out of the Coastal Division race until it lost to Virginia Tech, but these back-to-back losses brought Georgia Tech’s momentum to a screeching halt. Georgia Tech combined for six turnovers in those two games, and the offense was stifled.
What’s next: Georgia Tech will face Utah in the Hyundai Sun Bowl and will try to snap a six-game losing streak in bowl games. The Jackets will face the No. 7 rushing defense in the country, and once again, arguments will surface about whether Johnson’s offense is less effective when opponents have more than a week to prepare for it.