No program’s head coaching hire attempted to truly personify change and a “new” culture more than Georgia Tech’s hiring of Geoff Collins. Collins, the head coach of the Temple Owls at the time of his hiring, only had two years of head coaching experience before landing the job in Atlanta. In two seasons with the Owls, Collins record was 15-10 including 11-5 in conference, and made two bowl appearances (1-0 in bowl games).
What Collins brought to Georgia Tech was a fresher, younger, newer process that would be focused on a modern recruiting and branding model. Collins, who is 49 years old at the time of this writing, was substantially younger than his predecessor, the 62 year old Paul Johnson, both in age and in swagger. Collins has focused on social media, hip hop music, and technology while Johnson was an old school coach who came to fame running the triple option at the Naval Academy.
Collins has done a fantastic job both in Philly and now in the 404 of branding the school to the local culture. At Temple, there was the YouTube show “Cheesesteaks with Coach,” where the best episode was clearly “My Cousins Vinny.” At Tech, Collins immediately aligned with the breakfast chain Waffle House as well as with area rappers, DJ’s, and other parts of Atlanta culture.
The Jackets finished the 2019 season with a painful 3-9 record in Collins first season at the helm. One of those three wins came against the Miami Hurricanes at Hard Rock Stadium. Three of the Jackets losses in 2019 came by 10 or less points, including two overtime losses. Collins and his staff have had a full year of evaluating, recruiting, and developing the roster. The Jackets are the preseason 58th ranked team in the country per Bill Connelly’s SP+ analytics while Miami is the preseason 23rd best program.
I sat down with (read: emailed) Benjamin Tankersley of From the Rumble Seat and asked a series of questions about Georgia Tech in general and about the GT-Miami matchup this season.
Georgia Tech Primer
Q1: How would you describe the culture of Georgia Tech Football under Coach Collins?
BT: It’s certainly a whole lot different than it was under Paul Johnson. Collins has put a huge emphasis on connecting with younger folks and trying to make Tech seem more “cool,” so we’ve seen a whole lot of different initiatives like the #404Takeover. Games have also been a lot different, with the addition of things like the Money Down, which, given Tech’s lack of success last season, was a little draining. It’s also taken a bit to get used to the coach-speak that we get from Collins, who likes to talk about players giving “Relentless Effort” and other terms like that. As far as the team itself, they seem really happy, and I can’t really ask more than that.
Q2: Describe for me the impact branding has had on Georgia Tech
BT: The atmosphere is just trying to make it, given the 3-9 season last year, but with some success, I think things will continue to get better. With recruiting, Collins has done a great job of surrounding himself with assistant coaches who are really good at recruiting, like Tashard Choice and Brent Key. Choice was instrumental in keeping Jahmyr Gibbs, who ended up being one of the highest-rated players in the class. Even looking at what Collins was able to do when he was first hired, getting a player like Jamious Griffin after taking over as the head coach.
Collins and his staff have also shown to be good identifiers of talent. There were a number of players who committed to Tech who ended up receiving bumps, though none more notable than Gibbs after his monstrous senior season. Fundraising is the one area where I’m very much wait-and-see as fans are still kind of waiting to see what Tech can do under Collins. I think there is certainly some renewed interest under Collins, so the fundraising should continue to get better.
Q3: What factor/s or coach/es or player/s do you see turning GT’s close games into wins in 2020?
BT: It all starts up front. Starting on the offensive line, Tech adds two key players in Devin Cochran and Ryan Johnson. Cochran should be a day-one starter at left tackle and Johnson should slide in nicely at one of the guard positions. This will help whoever ends up at quarterback stay on his feet.
On defense, the line will be boosted with the addition of Antonneous Clayton, who transferred from Florida and had to sit out last year. Tech hasn’t had much of a pass rush since the days of Jeremiah Attaochu, but there is some definite potential there now with Clayton and also Chico Bennett (who is returning from injury) and Jared Ivey, an incoming freshman.
I think a lot of it will come down to quarterback play. It’s an open competition right now, though the loss of spring hurts a lot as Tech had two early enrollees at quarterback with Tucker Gleason and Jeff Sims. I think it will come down to either James Graham, who started most of the games last season, and Jordan Yates.
Q4: What newcomers at GT should the ACC be watching out for in 2020?
BT: I mentioned a few guys in the last section, but I think the biggest newcomer to watch out for might be Jahmyr Gibbs. If you haven’t watched film on Gibbs before, I would certainly recommend it. He is not the biggest running back, but his ability to stay on his feet and slip between would-be tacklers is phenomenal, and I think he will certainly have some kind of role coming into the season.
Also, while he technically isn’t a newcomer, he is moving to a new position: Tobias Oliver. After starting at quarterback, and then moving to receiver last season, Oliver seems to have finally found a home at cornerback. He’s made an impact everywhere he’s been, and I’m excited to see what he does on defense.
Q5: What are GT’s strengths and weaknesses heading into 2020?
BT: You can’t start a list of strengths without starting at running back. Jordan Mason was one of the best backs in the ACC last season, even if the raw numbers don’t show it. Mason’s greatest strength is his ability to to shake off would-be tacklers and get yards after contact. In terms of weaknesses, I’ll say quarterback solely because it’s so up in the air and also the pass rush, as it is still young.
Miami at Georgia Tech
Q1: The Jackets ran for 207 yards and a TD against Miami in 2019. Jordan Mason had a fantastic performance rushing for 141 yards for 7.1 yards per carry and the lone rushing TD. What do you think we’ll (the fans of college football) see from Jordan Mason for 2020?
BT: I think we will see him continue to do what he did last season: get tough yards. He’ll be splitting carries with Jamious Griffin and Jahmyr Gibbs, but Mason should still be getting the bulk of the carries, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get 1,000 yards this season.
Q2: What was going through your mind when Pressley Harvin III unloaded the pass on the fake punt to Nathan Cottrell against Miami a year ago?
BT: I had a wide range of emotions. I went from, “Why are we punting this close to the end zone?” to “Oh crap, it’s a fake!!” to “Oh crap, he caught it!” to “TOUCHDOWN!!!!!”
Q3: Miami has added the dual threat QB in D’Eriq King, what defensive player/s do you think can contain the talent of King?
BT: While I think King was a solid addition for Miami, I think the Canes’ new offensive coordinator, Rhett Lashlee, is a far more important addition. King fits very well into Lashlee’s offense, which was the same kind of offense Auburn ran with Nick Marshall at quarterback. The biggest key to containing King for Tech’s defense will be at linebacker. While King is a formidable passer, I’m more concerned about him as a runner. Tech has long had issues with quarterbacks who can run the ball well. No matter who is running the defense, those quarterbacks always seem to do well. If Tech can force King to throw the ball, I feel better about Tech’s chances.
Q4: What is your prediction for Miami vs Georgia Tech in 2020?
BT: This is hard for me because I really have no clue how improved Tech’s offense will be. You don’t have to be an expert to see that Tech’s offense last year was absolute garbage. The offensive line should be better, which will help quarterback play, but I’m curious to see how well the offense plays this year. For the time being, I think we’ll see a similar game to what we saw last season: a close struggle that will come down to the very end of it. Because I’m a homer, I’ll take Tech 27-24.