Posted on: April 26, 2011 3:00 pm
Edited on: April 26, 2011 3:04 pm
Posted by Chip Patterson
With all six spring games completed, we wrap up spring practice in the ACC Coastal Division.
DUKE: Head coach David Cutcliffe exits his fourth spring practice with the Blue Devils with as much optimism as ever, but knows that the 2011 Blue Devils have some work to do before kicking off the season against Richmond on Sept. 3.
"A successful day," Cutcliffe said after the spring game. "But I told them this is just the beginning. In college football now, [you have] the remainder of the spring term to work on weights and conditioning. And a summer that's going to very important to a young team."
Almost two-thirds of the Blue Devils roster is made up of freshman and sophomores. While youth can easily breed optimism, there is also a realistic expectation that this group needs to put in more work on the fundamentals this summer. Duke does have the benefit of returning both pieces of their quarterback rotation from 2010. Junior Sean Renfree will remain the starting quarterback, coming off a pleasantly surprising 3,131 yard, 14 touchdown season. Sophomore Brandon Connette will continue in his role as a run-first quarterback in rotation with Renfree, but the spring has shown some improvement in Connette's passing game. Defensively, we didn't learn much about Duke this spring due to widespread injuries across the unit. If anything the injuries made a talented Blue Devils offense look spectacular at times. Duke will likely not be able to escape a similar bowl-less fate in 2011, but at least now they have the athletes on the roster to remain competitive.
GEORGIA TECH: Georgia Tech set out to improve defensively this spring and try to focus on special teams. The good news is that the Yellow Jackets defense finished spring practice looking much better than the offense. Which might actually reveal more issues with the offense than it does compliment the defensive improvement. At different times this spring, both Tevin Washington and Synjyn Days have struggled in scrimmage situations against the first-team defense. Both quarterbacks have struggled to find a rhythm, and as head coach Paul Johnson said, they have been "running for their lives" on the field.
The defense was highlighted this spring by players like defensive end Jason Peters and inside linebacker Quayshawn Nealy, who entered spring practice as a backup. Nealy, a redshirt freshman, has seen time with the first-string this spring due to injuries to Julian Burnett and Daniel Drummond. He has made the most of the opportunity, capping off his spring by leading the Yellow Jackets in tackles during their annual T-Day game. Paul Johnson also wanted to increase the mistakes in the special teams after last season. Unfortunately that is not completely solved as Georgia Tech's kickers combined for misses from 28, 47, and 49 yards in the T-Day game.
MIAMI: Miami's spring has been much publicized due to the arrival of new head coach Al Golden . Therefore it should come as no surprise that we learned just as much (if not more) about Golden's vision for the Miami football program this spring than we did about the actual players on the roster. In following the Hurricanes this spring one word stands out to describe Golden's brief time at Miami: demand.
Golden demands that Miami play, practice, and think at a fast pace. He demanded that the Hurricanes get in better shape, and instituted a rigorous winter conditioning program. He demanded that players need to earn starting positions, and that is obvious with the unusually fluid final spring depth chart.
But will all these demands and the implementation of a new attitude around Miami catch on in time for the 2011 season? There are still plenty of question marks on the field, most notably the ongoing quarterback battle between Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris. The Hurricanes have a stable of running backs and a solid offensive line that should provide stability to the offense, and take some pressure of whichever signal-caller ends up as the starter. If nothing else, Golden has brought hype back to "The U." More than 300 former players showed up for the Hurricanes' spring game in Ft. Lauderdale, a who's who of active and retired NFL players.
Something else I learned from Miami this spring? I really need to get a Michael Irvin alarm clock.
NORTH CAROLINA: - While several former North Carolina defenders are preparing to hear their name called this weekend in the NFL draft, many of the stars from 2010's defense are still in Chapel Hill preparing for next fall. If anything, the spring showed us that the heart of of the Tar Heels' defense will be on the defensive line. The Tar Heels will be able to rotate 8-9 defensive lineman, highlighted by Quinton Coples, Jared MacAdoo, and Donte Paige-Moss. Much of the depth and added experience on the defensive line is due to the suspensions of Marvin Austin and Robert Quinn forcing players into positions unexpectedly before the season started. One of the things that makes North Carolina's line especially dangerous is the ability of several players to play multiple positions. Both Coples and MacAdoo are able to play inside or out, and that versatility can benefit a team when injuries hit during the long season. One of the biggest surprises on the already deep defensive line has been the play of junior college transfer Sylvester Williams. Williams has been building buzz since he arrived in Chapel Hill, and could end up challenging Jordan Nix for a starting defensive tackle job by next fall. North Carolina's secondary is a concern once again, making it even more important for the defensive line to put pressure on the quarterback to prevent opposing wide receivers from getting space down the field.
Offensively much of the focus will be on quarterback Bryn Renner, who is taking over for four-year starter T.J. Yates. Renner showed promise at times this spring, but he is still getting accustomed to his new role as leader of the offense. Thankfully he'll have Dwight Jones and Erik Highsmith to throw to, and an experienced offensive line to give him time to operate. Ryan Houston was a touchdown machine in 2009, but after redshirting last season and undergoing shoulder blade surgery this summer the depth at running back will be a concern heading into the fall.
VIRGINIA: Earlier this year, head coach Mike London made headlines by pulling in yet another unexpectedly strong class on National Signing Day. Unfortunately, these small victories will take some time before they translate into more marks in the "W" column for the Cavaliers. This spring did not answer many of the questions that existed near the end of last year's four-win season. Defensively, the Cavaliers return seven starters from a unit that finished only better than Duke and Wake Forest in both scoring and total defense. Improvement from those numbers will be necessary considering the lack of offensive firepower.
Virginia rotated through four different quarterbacks during their spring game (Michael Rocco, Ross Metheny, Michael Strauss, and David Watford), but no candidate stood out among the group. The offensive line has been porous, and the Cavaliers still lack an answer at running back as well. What did I learn about Virginia? Greener pastures may lie in their future, but unless someone steps up to make the Cavaliers a threat on offense they will have a difficult time keeping up with opponents in 2011.
VIRGINIA TECH: Not to drone on about new quarterbacks, but when a sophomore takes over for the ACC Player of the Year it is going to turn some heads. Logan Thomas has looked impressive this spring, grabbing most of the positive notes out of Blacksburg across the last several weeks. He finished spring practice as the star of the spring game, throwing for 131 yards and two touchdowns while also leading the Hokies in rushing with 46 yards on just five carries. However, Thomas' impressive performance did showcase some depth issues for the Hokies on offense. With starting running back David Wilson away with the track team, backup running backs Daniel Dyer, Josh Oglesby, and James Hopper struggled against the Hokies' defense in the spring game. Last season head coach Frank Beamer had the benefit of three NFL-caliber running backs to choose from, right now it looks like Wilson is the only competent option. The backup quarterbacks did not fair well either, with second-string Ju-Ju Clayton completing just three of his ten passes, and tossing two interceptions.
Defensively, Virginia Tech's returning talent seems charged up by the 40-12 lashing they took from Andrew Luck and Stanford in the Orange Bowl. The competition on the field has been aggressive, and defensive coordinator Bud Foster has not backed down from calling his team's performance in that game "unacceptable." Players to keep an eye on heading into the fall include linebacker Tariq Edwards and defensive end James Gayle, who was voted the spring defensive MVP. For those still curious, wide receiver Danny Coale did punt in the spring game and is still considered in the running for the job come fall.
Tags: ACC, ACC Coastal, Al Golden, Brandon Connette, Bryn Renner, Bud Foster, Butch Davis, David Cutcliffe, David Wilson, Duke, Erik Highsmith, Frank Beamer, Georgia Tech, Jacory Harris, James MacAdoo, Lamar Miller, Logan Thomas, Miami, Michael Irvin, Mike London, North Carolina, Paul Johnson, Quinton Coples, Ryan Houston, Sean Renfree, Stephen Morris, Synjyn Days, Tevin Washington, Virginia, Virginia Tech, What I Learned, What I Learned Spring Edition
Posted on: March 30, 2011 5:23 pm
Edited on: March 30, 2011 5:29 pm
Posted by Chip Patterson
College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice . So we here at the Eye on College Football will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Georgia Tech, who started spring practice on Monday.
Will Georgia Tech be able to erase the turnovers and mental mistakes that plagued them in 2010?
Coming into the 2010 season, Georgia Tech was riding pretty high. The Yellow Jackets were fresh off an ACC Championship and a BCS bowl berth. Head coach Paul Johnson's flexbone option offense was working immediately, delivering at least a share of two Coastal Division crowns in his first two seasons at the helm. With a preseason #16 ranking, Georgia Tech held the fate of the 2010 season in their hands.
Then they dropped it, literally.
Georgia Tech fumbled the ball 20 times in 2010, more that any other team in Division I. The turnovers and mental mistakes were not the only reason that Georgia Tech finished with their worst record since 1994, but they certainly played a big role in the Yellow Jackets' struggles. A fumbling issue is particularly damaging for a team that rushes the ball an average of 57.9 times a game. For comparison, the rest of the ACC averaged 30-40 rushing attempts per game. But the Jackets not only led the conference with 323.31 yards per game, but also in yards per carry. So clearly the offense was working, as long as the Yellow Jackets were holding onto the ball.
So what was the issue for Georgia Tech? One word that has been floating around Atlanta as spring practice has kicked off is "complacency."
“I think there was a sense of complacency to a degree,” Johnson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Not with everybody. But when you win nine games the first year and then you win 11 games, I think some guys just think, ‘Well, this is going to happen again.’ It doesn’t work like that.”
So for starters, the Yellow Jackets will be focusing on a new mentality this spring. According to Johnson, inspiring this bunch didn't take much extra push from the coaching staff. All any of the Yellow Jackets would need to do is think back to the horrendous 14-7 Independence Bowl loss to Air Force. With two muffed punts to compliment three lost fumbles an interception, it was the perfect microcosm of what went wrong with the Yellow Jackets last season.
“Our guys aren’t dumb, they know what happened,” Johnson said. “We’re light years ahead of where we were last year at this time. We have a lot more togetherness as a group. You can see our focus, our desire. I can look out my office window [onto the practice field] and see guys working, doing things we didn’t do last year. There’s a different aura.”
The aura is different and so will be a lot of the faces in 2011. Georgia Tech only returns six offensive and five defensive starters from last year's squad. What that will mean for the Yellow Jackets in spring practice is open competition for some the most important positions on the field. If complacency was an issue for the offense, that could be eliminated as several candidates enter spring ball competing for the quarterback, A-back, and B-back positions in Johnson's flexbone option.
Junior quarterback Tevin Washington took over as the starting quarterback when Joshua Nesbitt broke his arm against Virginia Tech. At the time, the Jackets were 5-3 and in a position to knock off the Hokies for a huge division victory. Washington was inconsistent on the field, showing both flashes of brilliance and mind-numbingly bad decision making sometimes in the same drive. This spring he'll go head-to-head against Synjyn Days, a 6-2 sophomore from Powder Spring, GA. Days ran an option offense in high school and got to see some time running with the first team in practice near the end of last season. Days will have an opportunity, but according to Johnson the starting spot will remain with Washington for now.
"[Washington] is the starter coming in, and I think that he has earned that," Johnson explained. It is very similar to a lot of the positions, the depth chart is always fluid. He has been taking snaps. This is why I try not to get too hyped up on the freshmen. Synjyn (Days) has a lot of ability, but he has to beat Tevin out. It's Tevins' job."
Another concern for Georgia Tech's offense this spring is replacing B-back Anthony Allen, who led all rushers in 2010 with 1,316 yards. The position previously held by Allen and ACC Player of the Year Jonathan Dwyer before him will be up for grabs among four different backs. Richard Watson, Preston Lyons, Charles Perkins, and former quarterback David Sims will compete this spring for their spot in the rotation. With all that talent, you would think that the Yellow Jackets could benefit from a running back-by-committee approach. But as Doug Roberson points out, Johnson has rarely done that in his 14 seasons as a head coach.
At A-back, the leaders would appear to be Orwin Smith (516 yards, 4 touchdowns) and Roddy Jones (353 yards, 4 touchdowns). In Johnson's system, the A-back needs to have that home-run capability that demands attention from the the opposing linebackers and secondary. Both backs have shown the ability to do that at times, but with another year of experience spring will be the time to show improvement and earn that top spot in Paul Johnson's fluid depth chart.
Georgia Tech will also need to fill holes on the offensive line and hopefully Stephen Hill and Tyler Melton have developed as more consistent wide receivers. The wideouts don't need to catch a lot of balls each Saturday. But when the pigskin is tossed their way, they are expected to pull it in. Defensively Johnson is expecting to see some major improvements in the second season under the direction of defensive coordinator Al Groh, but does not seem to place any of the blame for 2010 on that side of the ball.
"If you look at the [defensive] stats from two years ago to last year, there really wasn't a lot of difference," Johnson explained before the first spring practice. "We probably had a few less turnovers last year and gave up a few less big plays. But the total yardage, points per game, all that was pretty much right in line with where we had been. You hope that in the second year (of the 3-4) there is a little more familiarity. The bottom line is winning and losing the game is determined on how many points you give up. That is the bottom line."
If the mentality has changed, as Johnson suggested, you might see a brand new Yellow Jackets squad in 2011. The expectations are not what they were a year ago in Atlanta, but that does not mean you can count Georgia Tech out of the Coastal Division race. There is a lot of buzz around Miami with Al Golden's arrival, and you can never count out Virginia Tech, but if the Yellow Jackets can eliminate the turnovers and special teams issues they should see significant improvement in the fall.
Click here for more Spring Practice Primers
Posted on: December 27, 2010 8:46 pm
Posted by Tom Fornelli
Air Force out-optioned Georgia Tech just enough to win the game 14-7.
Offense: Looking at the final score, you can see that offense was at a premium in this game. Also, while Air Force won the game, the Falcons actually didn't play strong enough to even reflect the 14 points they did get. All you need to know is that Air Force's option attack was so successful against Georgia Tech on Monday that the Falcons threw the ball 23 times. During the regular season they averaged 12 passes a game. Even crazier, Air Force was more successful throwing the ball than running it, as Tim Jefferson led a nice drive out of the shotgun before halftime to get a field goal. As for Air Force's lone touchdown, it came following a muffed punt by Georgia Tech set the Falcons up inside the 15-yard line. In fact, punter Keil Bartholomew was Air Force's offensive MVP, as two of his punts were muffed by Tech and resulted in about 90 yards of field position and eight points. Grade: D
Defense: While they only gave up 7 points, the Falcons defense wasn't amazing on Monday night. They did allow Georgia Tech to rush for 320 yards, and gave up nearly 5 yards a carry. They also allowed Tech to convert 8 of 18 third downs, and 2 of 3 fourth downs. The key for Air Force was that they forced a few key turnovers. On the opening drive of the second half, Tech put together an 18-play, 77 yard drive that took over eight and a half minutes off the clock. That's when GT's Tevin Washington was stripped inside the Air Force 5-yard line and the Falcons recovered. The second big turnover came at the end of the fourth quarter when Jon Davis intercepted a Washington pass in the final seconds to seal the victory. Grade: B-
Coaching: At the end of the day, you can't be too critical of a coaching staff when the team gets a win, but there were a few things I felt Troy Calhoun and the Falcons could have done. Particularly after seeing the success that the offense had out of the shotgun at the end of the first half. The Falcons couldn't get much going on the ground all day, so I would have liked to have seen Air Force shake things up a bit on offense. Of course, following the script did get a win. Grade: B
Offense: Coming into the game I had doubts about Tevin Washington and how well he could lead Georgia Tech in this game in lieu of the injured Josh Nesbitt. Well, Washington didn't play poorly at all. Yes, there were those two back-breaking turnovers that can't be forgiven, but he also had 131 yards rushing. Anthony Allen finished with 91 yards, and Tech ran the ball well on the day. The problem was that yards don't count for points, and the Jackets just couldn't punch it into the end zone when it mattered. Grade: C+
Defense: I had a lot of crow to eat when it came to Georgia Tech in this game. Much like Washington, I had low expectations for Georgia Tech's defense in this game as well. Seems I forgot one important thing: when you spend all season practicing against an option offense, you tend to get pretty good at stopping an option offense. Anytime you can hold Air Force under 200 yards on the ground and force them to air it out more than they want to, you've done your job, and Tech did just that. It's not their fault they were let down by special teams and turnovers on offense. I'd give them an even better grade than this had they been able to force some turnovers. Grade: A-
Coaching: I can't fault Paul Johnson or anyone on his coaching staff for this game. They had a plan, stuck to it, and the plan worked. They were without their starting quarterback and were in the game with a chance to win through the closing seconds. The coaches can't be held accountable for backup punt returners and a backup quarterback turning the ball over. Grade: A
I was looking forward to this game for weeks because I'm a big fan of the triple option offense, and we don't get many chances to see two teams running it face off. The problem is that option offenses generally struggle in bowl games, and it turns out that when they go against each other, it tends to make things worse. Seriously, the most enjoyable part of this game was that the Air Force's falcon mascot literally flew away before the game and the academy needed to form a search party to find him in downtown Shreveport. They did find him in the fourth quarter. They would not confirm that he was found at a casino playing blackjack. Still, the game was close throughout, and the bird did provide entertainment, so that bumps the grade up a notch. Grade: C+
Posted on: December 17, 2010 12:52 pm
Edited on: December 17, 2010 12:53 pm
Posted by Tom Fornelli
Why You Should Watch: It's pretty simple really. While man is yet to perfect, or even invent time travel, the Independence Bowl will provide you a glimpse of what football in the past looked like. The thing that intrigues me the most about this game is that both teams run the triple option offense. Generally the only chance college football fans get to see such a matchup is in the Army-Navy game, but this one has better athletes.
Keys to Victory for Air Force: The key for Air Force is pretty simple, actually: do what it does best. Run the ball, run the ball, and then run the ball some more. You would think that a Georgia Tech defense that has spent all season practicing against an offense that runs the option would be better against the run, but the truth is that Tech's front seven just isn't very good at stopping the run.
Which the Falcons will have to exploit.
Quarterback Tim Jefferson is pretty inconsistent throwing the ball, and Georgia Tech's defensive strength is its secondary. So if Air Force chooses to throw too often in this game, it will be playing its biggest weakness on offense in Tech's greatest strength on defense. Which doesn't make sense, and will not lead to a victory.
If Asher Clark isn't the player of the game for Air Force, then the Falcons lost.
Keys to Victory for Georgia Tech: The biggest key for Georgia Tech in this game could be the health of quarterback Josh Nesbitt. Nesbitt suffered a broken forearm on November 4th against Virginia Tech and hasn't played since. Tevin Washington has been serviceable filling in for Nesbitt since then, but he's not as good when it comes to decisions and timing in the triple option offense.
The good news for Georgia Tech is that Air Force will be a little thin up front on defense in this game as Zach Payne and Bradley Connor will both miss the game thanks to knee injuries. This means that Georgia Tech will have to try and wear down a defense that has already shown against Navy this season that it can stop an option attack.
The Independence Bowl is like: a time machine. As I said before, we don't often get the chance to see two option teams face off in college football these days, so we should take advantage when we can. This may be the only chance you have in your lifetime to actually travel back to a simpler time, and if you miss out you'll regret it. In fact, your only chance will be that hopefully some day when we have perfected time travel, a friend will go back in time to present day and tell you to watch it.
Posted on: November 11, 2010 12:40 pm
Edited on: November 11, 2010 12:42 pm
Posted by Chip Patterson
When first-team all-conference quarterback Josh Nesbitt left the Virginia Tech game with a broken arm, head coach Paul Johnson was forced to do something he had not done since he arrived at Georgia Tech: name a different starting quarterback. Nesbitt saw significant time as a freshman under Chan Gailey, but has been Johnson's starter since he arrived in Atlanta three seasons ago. Now with the starting job vacant, Johnson has taken the opportunity to entertain competition for the spot.
Tevin Washington did string together one impressive scoring drive late in the first quarter, leading the Yellow Jackets 80 yards in 9 plays to tie the game at 21 with 2:34 remaining. Washington ran for 45 yards in the second half, but at times looked undersized for the Georgia Tech offense. Johnson has been particularly impressed with the work of backup quarterback David Sims this week in practice.
“David Sims has had a good week; he’s practiced well, too,” Johnson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday. “We’ll play it by feel. I’ll tell you, he’s played well in practice this week, made a case for himself.”
With Sims increased workload in practice, do not be surprised to see Georgia Tech utilize both quarterbacks against the talented Miami defense. Standing six feet tall and weighing in at 230 pounds, Sims' physical running style is much more similar to that of Nesbitt. He lacks the arm of Washington (he did not throw a pass in either of his two appearances thus far in 2010), but will be more useful as a threat on short-yardage situations.