By GEORGE HENRY, Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) — Coach Paul Johnson still regrets the way last season started…and ended for Georgia Tech.
If the Yellow Jackets can correct how they play at the end of games and at the end of halves, Johnson is convinced the team can have a special season.
"We lost at least three games on the last possession," Johnson said. "We gave up scores on the last possession of the half almost every game, and it's a momentum killer."
Georgia Tech reported for the first day of summer camp Thursday with high hopes. The locker room is bright and spiffy following a $4.5 million renovation, and there will be new uniforms in the first year of an apparel deal with Adidas.
The biggest challenge comes after the Jackets went 5-6 and missed out on a bowl game for the second time in three years. Last-second losses to Tennessee and at Miami and Virginia ruined what could've been a respectable season.
"I think right from the first game a year ago, taking nothing away from Tennessee, but we kind of gift-wrapped that game," Johnson said. "That's a game that we felt like we should've won. Then the same thing happens at Miami, and the thing just kind of steamrolls and it just kind of got away from us."
Several plays contributed to the collapse. Offside penalties, holding calls, dropped passes, poor reads and missed tackles all added up to keep Georgia Tech from a winning record in the Atlantic Coast Conference for the third straight year.
Senior quarterback TaQuon Marshall knows the offense must keep building on leads. The Jackets were up 14-3 last year at Duke before collapsing in a 43-20 loss.
"The small things turn into big things," Marshall said. "If you eliminate the small things early in the game or even late in the game, that can determine whether it's a win or a loss."
Georgia Tech is hoping to get center Kenny Cooper back before the Sept. 1 opener against Alcorn State. He suffered a leg injury in spring practice and won't be ready for the first workout on Friday.
Jahaziel Lee has taken over at center, but if Cooper returns, the Jackets will be stronger with Lee returning to his natural spot at left tackle and Will Bryan moving from left tackle back to his starting spot at right guard.
The defense is healthy but still adjusting to a new coordinator in Nate Woody and the 3-4 alignment he installed in spring practice.
Georgia Tech hopes the new look will generate more quarterback pressures and tackles for lost yardage. Georgia Tech has ranked no higher than 107th in sacks over the last three years, but 2017 was even worse.
There were six seniors and five juniors among the regular starters as the Jackets ranked 124th in turnovers and 118th in tackles for minus yards. This year's defense isn't lacking experience in the front seven, but the secondary has just three upperclassmen — free safety Christian Campbell, cornerback Lamont Simmons and reserve safety Malik Rivera — among the ranks.
"As far as the scheme goes, I think we've got the personnel to make it successful," senior linebacker Brant Mitchell said. "I'm looking forward to it a lot. Everybody's buying into it."
Georgia Tech returns seven senior starters on defense and five on offense. Johnson, about to begin his 11th season in charge of the Jackets and his 22nd overall, will remind his older players that they have one last chance to get it right.
"As a senior, this is your team," Johnson said. "You can't do any talking. All the talking don't do any good because they're watching. Don't ask them to do something you're not doing. If you're committed to go out the right way and you're doing it off the field and in the classroom and in practice and all the places you need to be doing it, they'll follow. If you're not, they won't."
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