First there was “Breakfast at Wimbledon.” Now Georgia Tech fans can experience “Donuts and Dublin.”
Dedicated Yellow Jacket fans will need to set the alarm clock early and plan to hit the donut shop as soon as the hot light starts to flash on Saturday morning. That’s the only way they’re going to be back in front of the television to see the season opener against Boston College, which has a 7:30 a.m. start time from Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland.
“It’s been a long time since we played,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “We’re looking forward to have the chance to get back out there and see what we’ve accomplished during the offseason.”
The sooner Georgia Tech plays, the sooner it can cease answering questions about last year’s 3-9 season. The same can be said of Boston College, which was also 3-9 a year ago and failed to win a conference game.
Both teams landed in Ireland as part of the ACC’s Worldwide Initiative. Ireland has hosted five previous games, including Boston College in 1988.
On the surface the game appears to be a classic confrontation between Boston College’s strong defense, which was first in the nation in total defense last season, against Georgia Tech’s running attack, traditionally one of the best in the nation.
The Boston College defense is led by eight returning starters, led by linebacker Matt Milano, who had six sacks and 16 tackles for loss a year ago. The Eagles have a new defensive coordinator is 43-year veteran Jim Reid, who has limited changes to the system he inherited.
Their main objective will be to stop Georgia Tech’s spread option attack, which appears to be back at full speed after last year’s injury laden season that forced backs, lineman and receivers into the lineup. The injuries also frustrated and slowed quarterback Justin Thomas, who has been focused on returning to 2014 form, when he was MVP of the Orange Bowl.
“What you saw two years ago, that’s who I am,” Thomas said. “I’m looking forward to getting back to that.”
Even more important may be the development of the offensive line, which is healthy and experienced since many of the players were forced to play chunks of minutes last year because of injuries.
“I think physically and athletically, this is the best line we’ve had,” Johnson said.
Because it’s the season opener, the Boston College defensive staff has had additional time to get ready for the option. But Boston College coach Steve Addazio refuted the idea that it gave his team an advantage in preparation.
“Nobody wants to play that offense. Nobody,” Addazio said. “Just because it takes so much time to devote to it. It is a very tough offense. It has answers to everything and once they get it going sometimes, it is very hard to stop it — really, really difficult, especially when they have a veteran quarterback like they do.”
At least Boston College knows the quarterback it will be facing. Georgia Tech is still guessing who will be under center for the Eagles, who have not announced whether graduate transfer Patrick Toles or sophomore Darius Wade, who started three games before being injured, will get the nod. Adding even more uncertainty is the presence of new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler and the question of how the team’s approach will change.
It will be an extra challenge for the Georgia Tech defense, led by linebacker P.J. Davis, the team’s leader in tackles the last two seasons. Only three other seniors are in the starting lineup: tackles Pat Gamble and the enigmatic Francis Kallon and end Rod Rook-Chungong.
No one is more eager to see how things will shake out than Johnson, who has taken an optimistic and upbeat tone throughout the preseason.
“I’m as anxious as anybody to see them play,” he said. “We’ve watched them play against each other. We’ll have a much better idea Saturday afternoon.”