Thomas ready to lead Ge­or­gia Tech to another big sea­son

The Standard Journal - - SPORTS - By PAUL NEW­BERRY AP Sports Writer

AT­LANTA ( AP) — Justin Thomas has a bunch of new guys around him head­ing into Thurs­day night’s opener.

Ge­or­gia Tech doesn’t seem the least bit wor­ried.

As long as the No. 16 Yel­low Jack­ets have their mae­stro of a quar­ter­back, they’re con­fi­dent of hav­ing another stel­lar sea­son.

Thomas cer­tainly ex­pects noth­ing less.

“I al­ways hold my­self to a high stan­dard,” the ju­nior said, look­ing ahead to the open­ing game against lower-di­vi­sion op­po­nent Al­corn State. “It’s the same way go­ing into this sea­son. I ex­pect to do great things. I ex­pect the guys around me to do great things.”

Thomas is com­ing off a break­out year with the Yel­low Jack­ets who went 11-3, reached the At­lantic Coast Con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship game, won the Or­ange Bowl, and fin­ished No. 8 in the As­so­ci­ated Press rank­ings.

In his first year as the starter, Thomas set a school record for rush­ing yards by a quar­ter­back (1,086) and did enough dam­age though the air (1,719 yards, 18 touch­downs) to keep de­fenses hon­est.

Just as im­por­tant, the 5-foot-11, 189-pounder im­pressed his team­mates with his tough­ness and will­ing­ness to take the big hits — a ne­ces­sity for any quar­ter­back in Ge­or­gia Tech’s run-

ori­ented, triple-op­tion sys­tem.

No mat­ter what, Thomas never seems to get flus­tered.

“When we’re in crit­i­cal sit­u­a­tions, he’s calm,” of­fen­sive tackle Er­rin Joe said. “I just love his calm­ness when things get tough. That’s what you’re sup­posed to have in your lead­er­ship, some­one who says, ‘Hey, I’ve got this. We’ve got this.’”

Thomas will be work­ing with an en­tirely new group of starters at run­ning back and re­ceiver.

“All we’re re­ally fo­cus­ing on is build­ing on the foun­da­tion of last year,” Joe said. “Yeah, we lost a cou­ple of key play­ers. But what we’re telling the guys step­ping into those spots is you don’t have to fill their shoes. Just do your job, do what you’re sup­posed to do, go 100 per­cent, and we’ll have no prob­lem ad­just­ing to any­thing thrown at us.”

Al­corn State, try­ing to carry on from a 10win sea­son and its first South­west­ern Ath­letic Con­fer­ence ti­tle since 1993, faces a mon­u­men­tal chal­lenge against the Yel­low Jack­ets.

The only other SWAC team to face Ge­or­gia Tech was Alabama A&M, which was routed 66-7 in 2013.

“These are the type of op­po­nents we want to play,” Al­corn State coach Jay Hopson said. “Any­time you get to play a team of that cal­iber, it’s cer­tainly a big op­por­tu­nity.”

Some things to watch for when Ge­or­gia Tech hosts Al­corn State:

NEW B-BACK: Pa­trick Skov takes over what is es­sen­tially the full­back po­si­tion in Ge­or­gia Tech’s of­fense. Un­like more con­ven­tional sys­tems, which rely on the full­back mainly for block­ing, the B-back usu­ally gets the bulk of the hand­offs for the Yel­low Jack­ets. Last sea­son, Syn­jin Days and Zach Laskey com­bined for 328 car­ries, 1,775 yards and 18 touch­downs. Skov, a grad­u­ate trans­fer from Stan­ford with one year of el­i­gi­bil­ity re­main­ing, rushed for just 18 yards his fi­nal year with the Car­di­nal. Fresh­man Mar­cus Mar­shall and ju­nior Mar­cus Allen should also get ex­ten­sive play­ing time at that spot.

SEA­SONED LINE: Ge­or­gia Tech does have plenty of ex­pe­ri­ence up front, with four of five starters turn­ing on the of­fen­sive line. The only new­comer is right guard Shamire Devine, a third-year sopho­more who takes over for Shaq Ma­son.

SWARM­ING DE­FENSE: With so many new starters at the skill po­si­tions, Ge­or­gia Tech might have to rely on its de­fense to carry more of a load than usual, at least early in the sea­son. End KeShun Free­man (4.5 sacks, 9.5 tack­les for losses), tackle Adam Got­sis, and safety Ja­mal Golden are the lead­ers on that side of the line.

VER­SA­TILE GIBBS: Al­corn State re­turns all 11 starters on of­fense, most no­tably quar­ter­back John Gibbs Jr. The fourth-year starter was the SWAC of­fen­sive player of the year in 2014, com­plet­ing 58 per­cent of his passes for 2,482 yards and 21 touch­downs. He also led the Braves in rush­ing with 1,006 yards.

FAST STARTERS: Don’t be late to the game. A year ago, the Yel­low Jack­ets put up points the first time they touched the ball in 10 of 14 con­tests. No other team matched their 71.4 per­cent scor­ing rate on the open­ing pos­ses­sion.

John Amis/AP

Ge­or­gia Tech quar­ter­back Justin Thomas (5) played against Al­corn State on Sept. 3.

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