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  Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Preview
  2011 SEASON IN REVIEW:Paul Johnson righted the ship in Atlanta after Georgia Tech suffered its first losing season under his reign in 2010 (6-7). Still, an 8-5 overall record and second-place finish in the Coastal Division (5-3) in 2011 was viewed as a down season, considering the Yellow Jackets started out last year on fire. Tech found itself firmly entrenched in the top-25, winning each of its first six games, including jumping out to a 3-0 start in ACC play.

However, the Yellow Jackets could not sustain the momentum, losing four of their last six games to close out the regular season. A bright spot in the second half had to be Tech's dismissal of eventual ACC champion Clemson (31-17), but that was certainly tempered by losses to powerhouse programs Virginia Tech (37-26) and rival Georgia (31-17) down the stretch.

The overall tally could have been much better, as Tech was close to a 10-win season. Two of the team's losses came by three points, the first setback of the season to Virginia (24-21) and the Sun Bowl loss to Utah (30-27 OT).

S 3 at Virginia Tech
S 8 vs. Presbyterian
S 15 vs. Virginia
S 22 vs. Miami-Florida
S 29 vs. Middle Tennessee
O 6 at Clemson
O 20 vs. Boston College
O 27 vs. BYU
N 3 at Maryland
N 10 at North Carolina
N 17 vs. Duke
N 24 at Goergia
QB Tevin Washington
RB David Sims
RB Orwin Smith
OT Ray Beno
OG Will Jackson
OG Omoregie Uzzi
C Jay Finch

DE Izaan Cross
LB Jeremiah Attaochu
LB Quayshawn Nealy
CB Rod Sweeting
CB Louis Young
S Isaiah Johnson

PK Justin Moore
P Sean Poole

OFFENSE:Johnson's claim to fame is his run-first offense and the Yellow Jackets worked it to perfection once again in 2011, finishing second nationally in rushing (316.5 ypg). However, much like in years past, the Tech offense was one-dimensional. Quarterback Tevin Washington led the team in rushing (987 yards, 14 TDs), but his passing was rarely viewed as a threat to opposing defenses, as he completed just under 50 percent of his throws, for 1,652 yards and 11 TDs.

With seven starters back on the offensive side of the ball, including the team's primary ball carriers, expect more of the same in Atlanta. Washington will once again line up under center and when he isn't tucking it in and running himself, he will be handing the ball off to junior David Sims (698 yards, 7 TDs last year) and senior Orwin Smith (615 yards, 11 TDs).

Four of the team's five starters return up front and those guys should pave the way for one of the nation's premier rushing attacks once again. Highlighting the offensive line is All-ACC First-Team guard Omoregie Uzzi (6-foot-3, 300 pounds), who could garner All-American honors as a senior.

Johnson knows he could have something special in his offensive line.

"Could possibly be the best group we've had. Now, you've still got to do it on the field, but we've got a lot of guys who have played a lot. I think that they can play a lot better and I think they will this year."

The passing game is an afterthought in this offense and may struggle even more in 2012, as talented wideout Stephen Hill left school to join the NFL ranks. His departure further dilutes the talent on the outside for Tech.

DEFENSE:The Yellow Jackets had their ups and downs on defense in 2011, but a nice nucleus of veterans return and the hope is that consistency will be the result this season.

Up front, senior end Izaan Cross (32 tackles) is the only returning starter and it will be up to him to lead an inexperienced group. The hope is that mammoth nose tackle T.J. Barnes (6-7, 347) can clog things up in the middle and free up others to make plays.

The linebacking corps is also an area of concern in terms of continuity, as several key contributors are no longer in the mix, including last year's leading tackler Julian Burnett (120 tackles). This year's unit will be led by junior Jeremiah Attaochu (59 tackles, six sacks) and sophomore Quayshawn Nealy (52 tackles, 2 INTs).

Pass defense was a strength in 2011 (197.6 ypg) and with three of the four starters in the secondary returning this year, that could once again be the case. Senior Rod Sweeting (56 tackles, 3 INTs) earned Honorable Mention All-ACC last year at cornerback and will be joined on the other side by junior Louis Young (52 tackles, 1 INT). Junior Isaiah Johnson (78 tackles, 3 INTs) will once again return to his role at free safety.

SPECIAL TEAMS:The Yellow Jackets return both kicker Justin Moore and punter Sean Poole to the fold. Moore was a perfect 56-of-56 on extra point attempts and was 11-of-17 last year in field-goal attempts, with a long of 41 yards. Poole got nine starts in 2011 and averaged nearly 40 yards per punt (39.7).

OUTLOOK:Johnson will get a good feel for what he has right off the bat, as Georgia Tech opens the season on Labor Day at Virginia Tech.

The importance of that game is not lost on Johnson, but still needs to be put into perspective.

"Certainly, it's going to be a huge game; it has been for our division, but there's a ton of football left after that game, so it's not do-or-die."

The team will also face Virginia, Miami-Florida and Clemson all by early October and could know its ACC fate pretty early on. The team does get Boston College, Maryland, North Carolina and Duke in the second half of the season and will have an opportunity to rally if need be.

The non-conference slate includes home dates with Presbyterian, Middle Tennessee and BYU and the annual season-finale against Georgia, this year in Athens.

The schedule does look manageable in terms of the team making its 16th straight bowl appearance and a double-digit win total isn't out of the realm of possibility. but winning on the road will be the key and places like Blacksburg, Death Valley and Athens aren't going to welcome the Yellow Jackets with open arms.

By Scott Haynes, Senior College Football Editor

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