At 7:30 a.m. EST on Saturday, Tech will kick off its college football season in Dublin, Ireland, against the Boston College Eagles. The match-up is important for both teams since they struggled last season, especially against conference opponents.
Coming into the game, the Jackets will start many fresh faces. The most important aspect for Tech this game, however, will be the offense.
Last year, the Boston College Eagles were top in the nation defensively, and although they have lost most of their defensive coaching staff and key players like Steven Daniels and Justin Simmons, they will still remain a formidable defensive force.
Leading the offense, redshirt senior Justin Thomas will start his 27th consecutive game for the Jackets, courtesy of ajc.com. At B-back, sophomore Marcus Marshall and true freshman Dedrick Mills are listed as split starters.
An important point for Tech will be getting at least one of the two B-backs to jumpstart the offense early, an admittedly sore point in the latter half of last season. The young age at B-back is countered at A-back, though. There, redshirt sophomore Clinton Lynch, redshirt senior Isiah Willis, and redshirt junior and UGA transfer J.J. Green are firmly in the mix.
The biggest offensive change this offseason for the Jackets was the offensive line. Not only are the players generally young, but the line has undergone a physical transformation as well. Most of the offensive line, particularly towering guard Shamire Devine, shed fat and gained muscle this offseason, resulting in a more athletic line that will be looking to prove itself after a shaky season last year. It’ll be especially important for the line to be strong in this game because of the Eagles’ strong, athletic defense.
To put it in perspective, last season Tech averaged 256.2 rush yards per game while Boston College led the entire nation by allowing 254.3 total yards per game and only 82.8 rush yards per game courtesy of NCAA.com.
Moving onto the defensive side, Tech will look to shut down a Boston College offense that was close to last in the nation last year. What appears to be a seemingly easy task at face value may have more to it; the Eagles received a graduate transfer from Kentucky in quarterback Patrick Towles. In addition, they are returning running back Jon Hilliman from a broken foot that caused him to miss much of last season.
Some key players to look out for on the defensive side for Tech are going to be redshirt senior Rod Rook-Chungong, who will have to step as the leader for the defensive line, and senior Chase Alford, who will have to coordinate the defense at middle linebacker. A wild card is redshirt senior defensive lineman Francis Kallon: he may be particularly fiery in front of family and friends who have traveled the short distance to Dublin from his birthplace of London.
Also important to note are the changes that Tech faces in the secondary. With the loss of big names such as Jamal Golden and D.J. White, some of the starting spots in the secondary are still up in the air. Coach Ted Roof has yet to announce the starters at strong safety, as well as one of the cornerback spots. Beyond that, even with experienced starters, back-ups will most likely be put in at some point during the game. This means that two redshirt freshmen — Meiko Dotson and Dorian Walker — will see their first playing time in their college careers.
However, the secondary shouldn’t be tested too much , even with the new quarterback for the Eagles. Last season, Boston college was ranked the fourth worst team in the nation in terms of pass yards per game with an abysmal 111.2 yards per game. To put that in perspective, Tech, who threw 57 fewer times than Boston College over the last year, averaged 121.8 yards per game, courtesy of NCAA.com. This match-up should be a good warm up game for the secondary; however, Towles’ addition to the team may be able to kickstart an otherwise stale offense.
Overall, Tech should focus on getting the offense going early to tire out a talented defense, and just playing to the fundamentals on defense to keep the ball with the offense. If Tech can avoid the woes of early down running that plagued them last year, they should be able to outscore what was one of the worst offenses in the nation last year. The biggest wildcard for this game, however, is the Boston College defense with a whole new coaching staff. For this game, Tech will look to set the tone and show that last season was just a fluke.