Who: Georgia Tech vs. the University of South Florida Bulls
What: Interconference ACC vs. AAC FBS football game
When: Saturday, September 8th at 12:00 PM EDT
Where: Raymond James Stadium
The Yellow Jackets of the Georgia Institute of Technology come buzzing into Raymond James Stadium on Saturday, September 8th 2018 to visit the University of South Florida Bulls for the first time in the history of both programs. This is the first game of a home and home series, where the Bulls will visit Atlanta in 2019.
USF Assistant Coach and Defensive Coordinator, Brian Jean-Mary, has history with Georgia Tech. Jean-Mary coached the Yellow Jackets from 2004-2009. He was the linebackers coach the last time Georgia Tech played a football game in Raymond James Stadium, the 2009 ACC Championship.
The Bulls celebrate their 21st year of collegiate football while Georgia Tech celebrates the 101st anniversary of their first national championship. The Yellow Jackets claim four national championships in total, with the most recent coming in 1990, when they won the Citrus Bowl over Nebraska, 45-21.
The Yellow Jackets are coming off of a disappointing 5-6 season after having won nine games in 2016. USF has spent the same two seasons ranked in the top 25, winning 11 and 10 games in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
For the past three years, USF offense has fared as well as their starting quarterback, Quinton Flowers. Flowers, threat to pass or run, graduated in 2017 after breaking nearly 40 program records. In his senior campaign, he passed and ran for nearly 4,000 combined yards. Aiding him in the running game and also lost to graduation are running backs, D’Ernest Johnson and Darius Tice, who carried the ball for more than 1,700 rushing yards. The trio of Johnson, Tice, and Flowers accounted for more than 90% of the USF offense.
Just when it looked like it was going to be a down season for the Bulls, who lacked an answer for those big losses on offense, Blake Barnett enters the quarterback competition as a redshirt junior transfer. Barnett was a five star recruit who signed with Alabama, only to transfer to Arizona State after losing the starting job in his first game. Many had written him off as a bust, even though he only had a few passing attempts before being relegated to the Crimson Tide bench. Barnett won the competition in the fall, beating out junior, Brett Kean, and sophomore, Chris Oladokun, with just 20 practices with the team.
Barnett’s debut as a Bull was fruitful. He passed for more than 300 yards against Elon, scoring three passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown against Elon. If that isn’t impressive enough on its own, consider that all of that scoring and most of that production came in the first half of the game.
With Barnett showing he can put up Flowers-type numbers, the next open question is the replacement of 1,000 yard rushers. The answer hasn’t been obvious through one game, but that’s mostly due to the fact that the top starter on the depth chart, Jordan Cronkrite, was recovering from injury. Cronkrite was a four star recruit who transferred from Florida. Also out, was star of the fall camps, Duran Bell Jr. Both are projected to play against Georgia Tech.
The receiving corps is an embarrassment of riches for the Bulls. Freshman receiver, Randall St. Felix, was Barnett’s favorite target in game one, catching seven passes for 143 yards. Receiver, Darnell Salomon, and tight end, Mitchell Wilcox, also got their catches in, against Elon. Tyre McCants, with his linebacker size, will play a big role in the passing game, as will speedy receiver, Stanley Clerveaux.
Georgia Tech Defense
The Yellow Jackets posted a shutout against Alcorn State last week. In 2017, they ranked just 63rd in scoring defense, were 49th against the run (154 ypg.), and 35th against the pass (200 ypg.). In an attempt to improve their defense, Georgia Tech hired Nate Woody away from Appalachian State to serve as the new defensive coordinator.
The top tackler for the Yellow Jackets, linebacker, Victor Alexander, returns this season. Not returning are their second and third highest tacklers, Lawrence Austin and A.J. Gray. Freshman, Tre’ Swilling, and sophomore Jaitlyn Askew will step up to fill the void in the secondary.
Georgia Tech Offense
The Yellow Jackets feature an unusual option offense. TaQuon Marshall leads the offense from the quarterback position. In 2017, he led the team with more than 1,100 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns. Qua Searcy and Clinton Lynch fill the a-back role. Last season, they rushed for about 200 yards apiece. Jordan Mason led the team in rushing last week, with 85 yards and one touchdown.
Marshall passed for 927 yards with ten touchdowns last year. Against Alcorn State on Saturday, he passed for just 104 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. Receivers, Brad Stewart and Jalen Camp will pick up the receiving role vacated by Ricky Jeune, who led the team in receiving yards, last season.
USF lost their team-leading tackler, middle linebacker, Auggie Sanchez, to graduation. Also gone are Deatrick Nichols and Deadrin Senat. Those three accounted for more than 200 tackles last season. Nico Sawtelle, who got valuable playing time, last season, has moved to the middle position to replace Sanchez. Kahlid McGee is lining up as weakside linebacker, and he is already tied for the team lead in tackles with 11. Senior defensive back, Jaymon Thomas, also has 11 tackles.
The Bulls were an interception machine in 2017. With 20 total picks, they were tied for second, nationally for most interceptions. Not surprisingly, they caught two of the 11 passes attempted by Elon’s Davis Cheek in game one.
First and foremost, the Yellow Jackets will be successful running the ball and controlling the game clock. USF will probably also have some success on the ground, but will opt to pass and score more quickly to counter the running clock that the Georgia Tech offense will eat up. If USF gets a lead, that will force Marshall to pass, and some of those passes will be caught by the wrong team. If the Yellow Jackets are throwing the ball, the Bulls are probably going to be successful in defending their home turf.
The over / under for the game is 62, with Georgia Tech a 3.5 point favorite on the road. The eastern half of the country can watch the game on ABC. West of the Mississippi River, viewers will need to tune to ESPN2. Noon, EDT is kickoff.