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Georgia Tech Secondary on the Rise

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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The foundation is in place for the Yellow Jackets' secondary to help set a championship tone this season.

Expectations are high for Georgia Tech, winners of four straight games and six of seven outings to end last season. The Yellow Jackets have confidence and cohesion, a dynamic offensive backfield and one of the best secondaries in the ACC. All five starters, all upperclassmen, return to a unit poised to help Georgia Tech contend for a conference crown this fall.  

Back are first-teamers Lance and Lawrence Austin and Step Durham at corner and safeties A.J. Gray and Corey Griffin, veterans who will make up the strength of the Yellow Jacket defense. Collectively, the group played its best down the home stretch of last year; Virginia, Georgia and Kentucky, Georgia Tech's final three opponents, combined to complete just 55.6% of their passes for a total of 534 yards, an average of merely 4.9 yards per attempt, with three touchdowns and five interceptions. 

All season long, the Yellow Jackets excelled at limiting the big play. Georgia Tech tied for fifth in the country, allowing just 12 pass plays of 30 yards or more. The Yellow Jackets gave up the fewest completions of 40+ yards and, for the second consecutive year, 50+ yards in the ACC.

The Austin twins had key performances in a pair of late-season victories. Lawrence intercepted Virginia Tech's Jerod Evans twice, also forcing a fumble, in a 30-20 triumph over the nationally-ranked Hokies in Blacksburg. With Georgia protecting a six-point lead late in the fourth quarter in Athens, Lance picked off Jacob Eason near midfield, setting up Qua Searcy's game-winning touchdown run minutes later. Both brothers recorded three interceptions and Lance led the ACC with 15 passes defended. Durham finished second on the team with six pass break-ups.

Griffin, a fifth-year senior, and Gray return as the Yellow Jackets' first and third-leading tacklers from 2016. The productive duo combined for 17 solo tackles and six tackles for loss in a win over Georgia Southern.

Players like former Southern Cal-transfer Lamont Simmons and an impressive collection of incoming freshman including Tre Swilling, son of Georgia Tech legend and College Football Hall of Famer Pat Swilling, provide even more options.

Continued improvement is needed, but the foundation is in place for the Yellow Jackets' secondary to help set a championship tone this season. With a notable mix of talent and experience, Georgia Tech's defensive backfield is on the rise.   

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports