Wiley Ballard, my young friend and outstanding announcer for the Yellow Jackets, is kind enough to once again give us some excellent insight on Saturday’s game, the program at Tech and college football. Wiley is the voice of Tech’s baseball program and the pregame and sideline reporter for football. He can also be heard as a pre and postgame host on the Atlanta Braves Radio Network.
Talk about Geoff Collins and the energy around the program?
“Geoff Collins was the perfect hire for Georgia Tech following Coach Johnson’s retirement. Given big-time college football’s endless arms race for better facilities, better technology, better fan experience and everything else, Tech needed to find a head coach who could ignite the Yellow Jacket faithful. Over the past 18 months, the athletic department has raised close to $100 million and I strongly believe Coach Collins has played a significant role in the program’s fund-raising success. Not to mention there’s been a dramatic boost in the football program’s social media presence which has already paid dividends in recruiting.”
Is there a lot of optimism about the future with Coach Collins?
“Absolutely. Although a 3-8 record may dampen some fickle supporters, I can attest to the unwavering long-term confidence inside the locker room and among the majority of Tech supporters. Forgive me for this stereotypical Georgia Tech analogy, but in some ways, this season has been a scientific experiment in a college football laboratory: what happens when you instantaneously throttle an offensive scheme from one end of the spectrum to the other?”
“In the 150-year history of the sport, transformations like the one Georgia Tech has undergone in the last 12 months are extremely rare (if not entirely unique). The Yellow Jackets have thrown more passes this season than they did in the last two years combined. Therefore, the on-field transformation will require patience, but there are promising signs and Tech anticipates the return of 18 starters next year.”
“But the most noteworthy development since Coach Collins arrived has been the recruiting. The Jackets are currently poised to secure their first Top 25 recruiting class since 2007.”
What is the perception of Paul Johnson amongst the Yellow Jackets faithful?
“I think Tech fans with a firm grasp on the program’s history have nothing but gratitude for what Coach Johnson accomplished in his 11 years: three ACC Championship game appearances, five wins over Top-10 teams, four nine-win seasons (Tech had seven such campaigns in the previous 50 years) and three ACC Coach of the Year awards. He also left the program with an NCAA Graduation Success Rate of 86 percent, highest in Tech history.”
“But to sum it up in one number: 82 wins are the fourth-most in school history. The only coaches who won more at Tech (John Heisman, William Alexander, and Bobby Dodd) are all College Football Hall of Famers.”
Take us through the season thus far.
“As I mentioned earlier this was going to be a year of massive transition in Atlanta and the offensive numbers reflect that. Tech is last in the ACC averaging 17.5 points and 299.7 yards per game. They’ve been outscored 210 to 104 in the first half this season.”
“James Graham took over as the full-time starting quarterback in October and has gradually improved. Just a redshirt freshman, he’s shown a lot of raw arm talent and an ability to improvise. Unfortunately for Graham, his offensive line is missing three starters from a year ago: All-ACC LG Parker Braun (transferred to Texas), three-year starting center Kenny Cooper (out for the year with injury) and Jahaziel Lee (out for the year with injury). In fact, Tech as a team has lost seven scholarship players to injury and as a result, has started 44 different players over the course of the season (second-most in Power-5 football).”
“The Yellow Jackets’ most reliable position group has been their secondary. The sophomore cornerback duo of Tre Swilling and Zamari Walton has slowed opposing receivers while Tariq Carpenter and Juanyeh Thomas anchor the defense from the safety positions. All four will return next year.”
“There have been highlights including dramatic wins over Miami and N.C. State. The common thread in those games has been early leads and Herculean efforts from running back Jordan Mason.”
What does Tech have to do to win?
“They’ll have to control the clock and win field position. Tech’s defensive line is not deep enough to withstand long drives – especially in the fourth quarter. That unit has been a point of vulnerability over the past several years and has been hit hard by injuries this season in particular.”
“On the field position front, Tech has won that battle only twice this season due in large part to their offensive struggles. Punter Pressley Harvin III is a great talent but there’s only so much damage he can do when punting from inside his own 25. Also, a few turnovers would help!”
What is your take on Georgia?
“I’ve been impressed by the play of Georgia’s defense this year. Admittedly I don’t catch many games due to our radio coverage and travel, but I thought that group might take a step back this year. That’s been far from the case and I think Dan Lanning and the entire defensive staff deserves a lot of credit.”
“I also think Jake Fromm is a spectacular leader. I know Justin Fields has had a lot of success at Ohio State, but I’d be hard-pressed to say Georgia would be truly better off with him instead of Fromm. I wouldn’t mind seeing him playing for the Falcons down the line.”