Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech defense preparing for test in opener

FILE- In this Dec. 6, 2014 file photo, Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas, right, runs against Florida State during the first half of the Atlantic Coast Conference championship NCAA college football game in Charlotte, N.C. Thomas and Georgia Tech are looking for more success in 2015 following an 11-3 season that included a narrow loss to Florida State in the ACC championship game and an Orange Bowl win over Mississippi State. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn, File)
FILE- In this Dec. 6, 2014 file photo, Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas, right, runs against Florida State during the first half of the Atlantic Coast Conference championship NCAA college football game in Charlotte, N.C. Thomas and Georgia Tech are looking for more success in 2015 following an 11-3 season that included a narrow loss to Florida State in the ACC championship game and an Orange Bowl win over Mississippi State. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn, File) AP

ATLANTA -- There’s always plenty of discussion that revolves around the Georgia Tech offense. It make sense, since head coach Paul Johnson is an offensive coach, and his system annually produces a lot of yards and points.

It led the nation in rushing again last season.

But going into Thursday’s season opener against Alcorn State at Bobby Dodd Stadium, it’s the team’s defense that might have the most to prove. And less than 48 hours before kickoff, defensive coordinator Ted Roof was still worried about how his group would perform.

“Our focus has to be to get a lot better before Thursday night,” Roof said. “We’ve got a very dangerous offensive football team coming in.”

No need to brush that off as coach-speak. Roof is a straight-shooting coach whose defense could be tested as much as it was by Wofford a year ago when the Yellow Jackets allowed 326 yards in the opener.

Alcorn State comes in with a solid reputation. The Braves were second last year in the FCS in scoring (44 points per game) and fifth in rushing (285.2 yards) en route to winning the Southwest Athletic Conference. They were voted as the preseason pick to win the SWAC’s Eastern Division this season.

Alcorn State is led by quarterback John Gibbs Jr., the 2014 SWAC Offensive Player of the Year. Gibbs, a 6-foot-6 senior, threw for 2,482 yards and 21 touchdowns and ran for 1,006 yards and 11 touchdowns last year.

“This is a good test,” Roof said.

Georgia Tech’s front-line defensive players are proven, especially defensive tackles Adam Gotsis and end KeShun Freeman. The jury is out on how nosetackle Jabari Hunt-Days will perform, but he has been a force in practice.

The defensive questions might revolve around depth. Most of the backups have limited experience, and there’s a good chance that several freshmen are going to get a chance to play.

The Georgia Tech offense should have a big advantage over Alcorn State, which lost four of its top five tacklers from last year’s defense that ranked No. 8 in FCS in rushing defense (108.7 yards) and scoring (19.5 points).

The Yellow Jackets return junior quarterback Justin Thoma, but will be putting a lot of new skill players in the rotation. Among those breaking in are Patrick Skov, a graduate transfer from Stanford who earned the starting B-back role. The Yellow Jackets also will play freshman Marcus Marshall and senior Marcus Allen, who played well in the spring.

“I think we’ll have a better idea after we play a couple of games how that rotation unfolds and where it sits,” Johnson said.

The same is true at A-back, where Broderick Snoddy, fully recovered from a broken leg, is the only experienced player. Johnson said he expects to rotate five or six players at A-back.

Regardless of the new faces on the roster, it has been years since there has been this much optimism at Georgia Tech. And the fact that the opener is against an FCS opponent and not someone from the ACC has not dimmed the enthusiasm.

“You would like to think that you only get to play a few times a year, you would be amped up when you get to play, especially at home,” Johnson said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had a game. The night games here at Bobby Dodd are usually a lot of fun.

“So hopefully we will have a good crowd and it will be kind of an electric atmosphere. It’s as much about us as it is about who you’re playing.”

Thomas believes his team is ready.

“I don’t think anybody’s looking ahead,” he said. “They have some good athletes over there. We have to come out and play.”

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