ATLANTA – Georgia Tech hosts Alcorn State in Saturday’s season opener, hoping the return of eight offensive starters translates into a winning season and a bowl invitation -- once-annual benchmarks that were not met in a disappointing 2017.
The Yellow Jackets endured a miserable ending to last season, losing five of their final seven contests, but return an intriguing mix of key cogs from the nation’s ninth-best rushing offense and hopes for improved defense under new coordinator Nate Woody.
TV: 12:30 p.m. ET, FS South, ACC Sports Network. LINE: None
“We’ve got a lot of young guys that, the more reps you get, the better,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson told the media Sunday. “You always like to be better than what you are, but overall, I can’t complain.”
Senior quarterback TaQuon Marshall rushed for 1,146 yards and 17 touchdowns while spearheading the run-heavy triple-option attack, but completed only 37.1 percent of his passing attempts.
The Yellow Jackets had reached a bowl game in 18 consecutive seasons before falling short in 2015 and 2017, finishing with losing records in both seasons after ending below .500 once (2010) since 1996. The Braves return 12 starters as they look to win the Southwestern Athletic Conference East Division title for the fifth year in a row.
ABOUT ALCORN STATE (2017: 7-5)
Junior quarterback Noah Johnson passed for 782 yards and rushed for 333 yards a season ago, and has 31 total touchdowns in his first two seasons. Senior running back P.J. Simmons averaged 8.6 yards per carry last season and finished with 687 yards and seven touchdowns.
Senior defensive back Brady Smith and junior defensive back Javen Morrison anchor the secondary, combining for 95 tackles in 2017.
ABOUT GEORGIA TECH (2017: 5-6)
Returning with Marshall in the backfield are fullback KirVonte Benson and wingbacks Qua Searcy and Nate Cottrell as Benson rushed for 1,053 yards a season ago, while Searcy and Cottrell each averaged more than six yards per carry.
Defensively, the Yellow Jackets have to replace six starters but bring back senior linebackers Victor Alexander and Brant Mitchell, who combined for 111 tackles last season. Georgia Tech faces a difficult schedule with two home games against top 10 teams (No. 2 Clemson; No. 8 Miami), and trips to No. 17 Virginia Tech and No. 4 Georgia.
1. Johnson said Sunday he probably will not name a starting kicker – out of the group of Brenton King, Shawn Davis and Wesley Wells – until Wednesday or Thursday.
2. Special teams has been a big focus in preseason, considering the Yellow Jackets generated only two kickoff returns of 30-plus yards and gave up eight such returns a season ago.
3. The Yellow Jackets were 33rd nationally in yards allowed per game last season (354) but 64th in points allowed per contest (26.5).
PREDICTION: Georgia Tech 38, Alcorn State 10