After 3 straight non-conference games to start the season, the Deacs kick off ACC play against one of their new “rivals,” the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. While Wake Forest has played Georgia Tech 31 times in their history, the two teams have met just 1 time since 2010—a 38-24 GT win in 2017. Starting this season, the Deacs and Yellow Jackets are “primary opponents,” meaning that they will play every year under the new ACC schedule (with the way conference realignment is going right now, that could change at literally any time).
- Opponent: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
- Date: Saturday, September 23rd, 2023
- Location: Allegacy Stadium | Winston-Salem, NC
- Vegas Win Total O/U: 4.5
- 2022 Record: 5-7, 4-4 in ACC
- Previous Matchup: Wake 24—GT 38 (2017)
- All time vs Wake Forest: 23-8
Georgia Tech has been on a bit of down streak as of late. After going to a bowl game in all but 2 seasons from 1997 to 2018, the Yellow Jackets have managed just 14 wins over the past 4 years. Geoff Collins, who won just 3 games in each of his 3 full seasons at the helm, was fired after a 1-3 start last season, allowing Brent Key to take over as interim head coach. Key was eventually given the head coaching job after finishing the season 4-4 with some impressive wins over #24 Pitt, a solid Duke team, and #13 North Carolina.
He still has a lot of work ahead of him, especially on the offense side of things. The Yellow Jackets were one of the worst offenses in the entire nation last season, averaging just 17.2 points (125th out of 131 teams) and 324 total yards (115th) per game. The Jackets scored more than 30 points just one time all season against FCS Western Carolina and hit 25 or more just twice against Pitt and VT.
One of Tech’s biggest issues was their inability to do anything in the passing game; Tech threw the ball almost 32 times per game last season—more than about half the teams in the nation—and only managed 192 passing yards per game and 10 passing touchdowns all season. Whether or not the passing game improves at all this season will likely come down to how transfer portal pays off. With starting QB Jeff Sims off to Nebraska and leading receiver Nate McCollum on his way to UNC, the Yellow Jackets turned to the portal to find replacements. The QB job may end up in the hands of Haynes King, the former 4-star Texas A&M QB who lost his starting job to Max Johnson after losing to App State. Along with King, the Jackets bolstered their receiver depth in the portal, nabbing Georgia’s Dominik Blaylock (15 rec, 227 yards, 1 TD), Alabama’s Christian Leary (1 rec, 6 yards), and Texas A&M’s Chase Lane (7 rec, 76 yards).
The struggles in the passing attack allowed opposing defenses to stack the box against the run game. The result was the Yellow Jackets rushing for just 133 yards per game and 3.7 yards per carry. As Wake fans saw last season, an inability to effectively run the ball makes it hard to covert 3rd and shorts and can put the offense in a hole when they run on early downs. For the Jackets, that resulted in one of the worst 3rd down conversion rates in the nation, getting a 1st down on just 31% of their 3rd down plays. With leading rusher Hassan Hall headed to the NFL, the Yellow Jackets once again went to the portal and came away with Louisville's Trevion Cooley (700 career rushing yards, 3 TD) to go alongside 4-year veteran Dontae Smith (436 yards, 5 TD last season). With 4 returning starters on the offensive line, the Jackets should be poised to take a step forward in the ground game this season.
You would think that a team that managed to win 5 games despite averaging just 17 points per game must have a pretty solid defense, however the Georgia Tech defense allowed opponents to gain 401 yards and score 28.4 points per game last season. To put that into a context, the Wake Forest defense allowed 406 yards and 28.3 points per game last season. So, while GT did give up more points than Wake Forest last season, the Jackets were one of the best teams in the nation last season in forcing turnovers, coming up with 24 takeaways (14th in the nation). Only Duke and Louisville forced more turnovers in the ACC last season.
The Jackets will have to replace some key guys on defense, including edge rusher Keion White. White finished the season with 54 tackles and 7.5 sacks before being selected 46th overall by the Patriots in the 2023 NFL draft. Starting CB Zamari Walton, the leader in the secondary with 6 pass break ups last season, decided to transfer to Ole Miss for his 6th and final season. Tech will also have to replace Ayinde Eley and Charlie Thomas, two starting linebackers who combined for 230 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, and 6 forced fumbles last season. Tech once again found their replacements in the portal, grabbing Texas A&M’s Andre White (139 tackles over 4 seasons) and Minnesota’s Braelen Oliver (79 tackles over 3 seasons).
Georgia Tech is relying heavily on the transfer portal this season, and Brent Key has proven he is a coach that can bring his players together and get them to buy in to whatever it is he’s selling. However, I’m not completely sold on Haynes King being able to resurrect his career with less talent around him than he had at A&M. The Deacs typically win when they can simply outscore their opponents, and I feel like the Jackets are not going to have a high-powered offense this season. Plus, Wake has this one at home. I like the Deacs to get the win in this one.