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Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 2016 preview

2015 record: 3-9 (1-7, ACC)

Georgia Tech went from Orange Bowl champ to last in the Coastal Division in pretty short order, ending an 18-year bowl streak last season. There were myriad issues, from an inconsistent offensive line to an inability to rush the passer, but it is not as if the Jackets were that far away from being a winning team. They ended up losing six games by eight points or less, and the only conference game they won was on a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown against Florida State. With Justin Thomas returning at quarterback and renewed optimism about the offense, coach Paul Johnson is determined to prove his Jackets have what it takes to compete in the Coastal again.

Three storylines to watch:

Can Georgia Tech get back to a bowl game?

Compared to last year, Johnson hasn't been nearly as critical about the way his team has practiced. In fact, he said at the close of training camp, “I thought we had a good camp overall. We got after it pretty good this camp. We had a lot of contact, a lot of scrimmaging.” Compare that to fall camp 2015, when his team was picked to win the Coastal Division but he constantly lamented how poorly they performed in practice and scrimmages. Does Johnson know something the general public and ACC media do not? “I think they have a chance to be better than people think,” Johnson said last month. Having Thomas back, along with a healthy Freddie Burden (center), and much more experience at the A-back and B-back spots should give Johnson reason to feel that way.

Can the offense get back to its run-game domination?

Georgia Tech struggled so badly last season because it could not run the ball as well or as consistently as it had previously under Johnson. Even in years the Jackets struggled to get to .500, they averaged close to or over 300 yards rushing per game. Last year, that number dipped to 256.2, the lowest under Johnson. There was a chain reaction of problems: an inability to hold blocks up front, plus an entirely new set of backs, plus a quarterback who suddenly felt the need to do everything, plus a step back in production from receivers = an atypical Georgia Tech season. This fall, Johnson feels much better about the way his offensive line has progressed. Its improvement truly is the key to the entire offense.

How does the defense get after the quarterback?

There are two main questions facing the Georgia Tech defense headed into the season. Four starters are gone in the secondary, so that is one. But perhaps bigger is trying to find a way to improve its sack production – because that, in turn, will help out a much younger secondary in coverage. The Jackets had only 14 sacks a year ago and are going to need veterans KeShun Freeman and Rod Rook-Chungong to step up production. Georgia Tech also wants to rely less on blitzing to help create pressure, because the quick passes that followed ended up hurting the Jackets as well.