As we countdown to kickoff in September, we’re doing a team-by-team opponent preview. Today, we’re previewing Syracuse’s matchup with Georgia Tech on Nov. 18 with our friend Kelly Quinlan over at Jackets Online.
Most important offensive player, defensive player
Offense: QB Zach Pyron or Haynes King
The smart money is on returning quarterback Zach Pyron to earn the starting job at quarterback, but there is still a competition between Pyron and Texas A&M transfer Haynes King. Both were high profile recruits and Pyron played very well as a true freshman after Jeff Sims went down with an injury and Zach Gibson was ineffective. The quarterback play will likely determine how the offense fares.’=
Defense: DE Sylvain Yondjouen
LaMiles Brooks is a known quantity and should be preseason All-ACC, but Yondjouen has to replace Keion White at the strongside end spot in the defense and he had several games where he outperformed White in several games and he has an opportunity to turn himself into a top NFL draft prospect with a strong senior season. Yondjouen came to Tech from Belgium and hadn’t played organized football prior to arriving in Atlanta in 2019. Injuries derailed him in 2020 and 2021 but he bounced back last season and is expected to be a top pass rusher this fall.
Rising star on offense, defense
Offense: SLT Malik Rutherford
Rutherford was the backup slot receiver last year behind leading receiver Nate McCollum who transferred to North Carolina in the offseason. Rutherford is very dynamic despite his small stature at just 5’9″ and 160-pounds. He started against the Tar Heels last year when McCollum was out and had a career day with six catches in the upset win over North Carolina. This is a spot where the Jackets may have upgraded despite losing one of the top receivers in the ACC with the addition of Rutherford and Alabama transfer Christian Leary.
Defense: LB Trenilyas Tatum
Tatum has been in the backup middle linebacker and sometimes sam and weakside linebacker for the Jackets for the last two seasons, but a ton offseason has him more focused than at any point in his career. He has bulked up and put in work in the classroom and he should end up starting on the defense by midseason. Tatum can run sideline-to-sideline and has All-ACC potential, he just has to put it together finally.
Team outlook: Best-case scenario
The Jackets have a lot of winnable games with three very tough games with two on the road against Clemson and Ole Miss plus hosting Georgia. Outside of those games every other game is one they should have a shot at winning on paper. The ceiling is probably eight wins given the schedule and that they won’t win every toss up game on the schedule.
Team outlook: Worst-case scenario
The team is still thin at some key spots and the Jackets will be underdogs in many games this season and they will go against very solid coaches like Dave Clawson at Wake Forest or Jeff Brohm at Louisville that will have their teams prepared. I think the floor for this team is four wins and that would be disappointing but there are still a lot of holes that need to be filled by question marks right now so they could finish anywhere from four to eight wins.
Head coach / program is on the rise, stagnant, decline because …
I think the program is on the rise. Brent Key has a plan, he understands Georgia Tech and he has worked under very succesful program builders to learn the fundamentals of how to build a program. The Jackets are around top 20 in the Rivals team rankings for 2024 so far and they have one of the top classes in the ACC as well led by some big name commits like CJ Jackson, Kobe Young and Troy Stevenson. With the portal the Jackets have added kids from very successful programs like Alabama and Georgia that understand the winning mentality and what it takes to win.
Key portal additions and losses
The Jackets had two big losses with the departure of starting cornerback Zamari Walton to Ole Miss as a grad transfer and the aforementioned McCollum to UNC. Both players they will have to face this fall on the field.
However they have added a lot of talent via the portal led by three receivers, Abdul Janneh (Duquense), Dominick Blaylock (UGA) and Christian Leary (Alabama) who will be in the receiver rotation. Tech added tight end Brett Seither (UGA) as well and both Seither and Blaylock worked with new offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner at Georgia. The Jackets also added offensive lineman Connor Scaglione from Princeton who was a multi-year starter and he can play all five offensive line spots and Louisville running back Trey Cooley to help bolster that side of the ball.
Defensively they added Etinosa Reuben to the defensive line, a trio of linebackers Andre White Jr. (Texas A&M), Braelen Oliver (Minnesota) and Paul Moala (Notre Dame/Idaho) who will replace star linebackers Charlie Thomas and Ayinde Eley along with Tatum. That room has improved dramatically year over year in terms of depth.
Brent Key has done a tremendous job tackling most of the holes in his roster with both high school recruiting for long term success and the portal for shorter term goals.
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