Jackets exceed preseason expectations

After being picked to finish fourth in the Coastal Division to start the season, the Jackets knew they would have to work hard to exceed the expectations of the media. On paper, Tech looked like a six- or seven-win team at best, with the potential to possibly make a smaller-tier bowl game.

The Jackets started the season strong, rattling six straight wins and going up as high as No. 12 in the polls. The Jackets started their first three games of the season scoring on their first play from scrimmage and averaging 59.3 points per game.

They then notched off three straight conference wins against North Carolina, N.C. State and Maryland, establishing the Tech offense as one of the elite in the country before facing a tough road stretch.

The Jackets’ woes began with a road trip to Virginia, as the Jackets went on to lose four of their last six games. The Jackets struggled on offense in Charlottesville and posted their worst offensive performance of the season the following week against Miami.

The Jackets then rallied, posting their biggest victory of the season by beating an 8-0 Clemson team 31-17 in a dominant defensive performance that pushed Tech back into the rankings.

The Jackets were firmly in contention for the ACC Coastal crown after the win with a 7-2 record overall. However, the Jackets could not keep up the success, falling to another top-ten team in Virginia Tech and ultimately falling to rival Georgia to finish the season.

“I think it’d just playing with a sense of emotion. If you turn on the film and look at the Clemson game, [you can see] how emotional we were. Football’s an emotional game. I feel like we’ve come out flat the last couple of games… You just have to go out there and play with everything you have,” said senior linebacker Stephen Sylvester.

Despite the losing stretch to end the season, the Jackets still far exceeded the media’s expectations, finishing with a 5-3 conference record and the No. 20 ranked offense in the nation. Tech finished the season averaging 34.9 points per game. The early success was in large part thanks to the dominant performance of the offense with several weapons emerging to start the season.

Junior wide receiver Stephen Hill and junior A-back Orwin Smith emerged as the main offensive weapons in Head Coach Paul Johnson’s spread option attack, combining for 1,734 yards of total offense and 16 touchdowns on the season.

On top of this, redshirt junior quarterback Tevin Washington stepped into his role as a full-time starter, throwing for ten touchdowns and rushing for 14 more. Washington had high and low points throughout the season, but struggled in the passing game after the first five contests.

All 10 of Washington’s touchdown passes came in the first five  games, while seven of his eight interceptions came in the final seven contests.

However, despite their recent losing stretch, the Jackets still have a chance at making school history. With 485 yards in the bowl game, the Jackets could finish the season with 6,000 yards of total offense in a single season for the first time in school history.

The young team showed sparks of success that create a buzz around Tech fans about the future under Johnson. However, that raw talent will have to develop on both sides of the ball if the Jackets want to continue improving their image in the ACC picture. The extra bowl practices will go a long way in developing players, and a strong bowl outing could result in a lofty preseason expectation for Tech.