ACC: Synjyn Days

ACC morning links

November, 11, 2014
Nov 11
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Mario Edwards Jr. was a force to be reckoned with against Virginia on Saturday, racking up a career-best nine tackles, four tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble in the Seminoles’ win.

The reason for the big game, writes the Tallahassee Democrat, is that Edwards is finally healthy after an injury-plagued season.

From the Democrat:
"I've been trying to get back healthy," Edwards, Jr. said. "From spraining my MCL (against Syracuse) and all that stuff and having a concussion, I couldn't do the things I needed to do to keep my weight where it is. So now I'm good and back healthy and I've got my weight where I want it to be."

A healthy and productive Edwards could be a crucial weapon this week against Miami, particularly given that the Hurricanes’ starting left tackle, Ereck Flowers, may not play due to an injury of his own.

For the season, Florida State has recorded a sack rate of just 4.9 percent — good for 90th nationally and down from 7.6 percent a year ago. But getting some pressure on Miami QB Brad Kaaya is crucial.

Kaaya has been sacked twice in each of his last three games and has been taken down multiple times in six of eight games this year. Making the true freshman uncomfortable — and ideally forcing him into a few mistakes — will be a priority for FSU. Miami QBs have six turnovers in the Canes’ four-game losing streak to the Seminoles.

A few more links:

By the numbers: Week 11 recap

November, 10, 2014
Nov 10
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Looking at some statistical nuggets from last week's action in the ACC...

Boone getting it done

Since losing to Miami on Sept. 27, Duke QB Anthony Boone probably hasn't turned many heads with his play, but that's sort of the point.

Boone's numbers don't jump off the page -- 60 percent completions, seven TDs, 5.8 yards-per-attempt -- but when it comes to avoiding the kinds of plays that cost teams wins, he's been exceptional. In Duke's four games since the Miami loss, Boone has thrown just one INT, hasn't fumbled and hasn't taken a sack.

How crazy is that? If we add up sacks, fumbles and INTs for all QBs with at least 100 action plays during that stretch, they average a sack, fumble or INT every 12.3 plays. Boone has one in 164 plays.

Holliman gets lucky 13

Louisville safety Gerod Holliman went for the hat trick against Boston College on Saturday, picking off three passes in the game. That brings his season total to 13 -- tying David Amerson for the most by an ACC defender and just one shy of the NCAA record, set by Washington's Al Worley in 1968.

Here's how good Holliman has been: Not counting his own team, just nine other programs in the country have more interceptions this season total than he does individually.

Of course, Holliman doesn't get all the credit. Louisville's defensive front has forced many a bad throw this season, which has upped the takeaway numbers. Against BC, the Cards sacked Tyler Murphy twice and had him under pressure all night, despite missing leading pass rusher Lorenzo Mauldin. Against FBS opponents this season, Louisville's defense ranks sixth nationally in sack rate (9.8 percent) and has the 11th highest rate of plays going for zero or negative yardage (40.5 percent).

Georgia Tech's turnovers

The Yellow Jackets' defense hasn't fared too well statistically, ranking 114th nationally in yards allowed per play. But those struggles have been accounted for by capitalizing on takeaways.

Tech ranks ninth nationally in turnover margin (plus-9), is fourth in points off turnovers (101, including 14 on Saturday against NC State) and fourth in points-off-turnovers margin (plus-70). Since the start of last season, only five teams have scored more points off turnovers than the Yellow Jackets, despite ranking just 35th in turnovers created.

Murphy reaches 1,000

It was definitely Tyler Murphy's worst game of the season, but still worth noting that he became just the fourth QB in ACC history -- and first since 2009 -- to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.

Murphy's 28-yard run in the second quarter was also his 12th carry for 25 yards or more this season. In the past decade, the only Power 5 quarterbacks with more in a season are Johnny Manziel and Pat White.

Greene is go-to guy for FSU

Rashad Greene had a career-high 13 catches for 136 yards and a touchdown in a win against Virginia. Greene is now just five catches shy of his 2013 total, just 11 yards shy of topping 1,000 for the second straight season and just 16 receptions from breaking Ron Sellers' school record for catches, set in 1968. Greene is one of just five players in the country with three games with at least 11 receptions this season, and he's responsible for 34.2 percent of FSU's receptions vs. FBS teams this year, the 13th-highest rate in the nation.

Wake's woes on O

Wake Forest was held to just 119 yards of offense against Clemson. It's the fifth time this season the Deacons were held to fewer than 170. In the past decade, the only other team to tally no more than 170 yards in a game five times was Notre Dame in 2007.

Wake did still score 20 points against the Tigers, however, which ranks as just the third time in the past decade that a team had at least 20 points but no more than 120 yards of offense in a game. Oddly, Missouri also turned that trick this season (against Florida) and both previous teams to do it won their games. The other was Florida State (also against Florida) in 2011.

Clemson's stout D

The beneficiary of Wake's struggles -- or the cause of it, depending on your perspective -- was Clemson's defense. The Tigers became the first unit to hold an opponent to fewer than 170 yards in consecutive weeks this season. In the past decade, it's just the ninth time that's happened against Power 5 opposition, and the first time it's happened in the ACC.

For the season now, Clemson's D ranks first in third-down conversion rate (23.2 percent), yards-per-play (3.97), percent of plays resulting in loss or no gain (45.8 percent), percent of plays gaining 5 yards or more (30.8 percent) and tackles-for-loss (91).

Quick hitters
  • Since returning from injury on Oct. 18, DeVante Parker has 25 catches for 490 yards. That's the most receiving yards by any Power 5 receiver during that span, and no other ACC receiver is within 127 yards of his total.
  • Florida State tailback Karlos Williams scored twice in a win against Virginia, bringing his career total to 20. He's done all that on just 210 career rushing attempts -- scoring once every 10.5 rushes. Since the start of last season, no other Power 5 back with at least 200 carries has been better.
  • BC running back Jon Hilliman now has 11 rushing touchdowns this season, the most by an ACC true freshman in at least a decade.
  • Syracuse wide receiver Jarrod West ranks fifth in the ACC in receiving yards vs. FBS teams (596) despite the fact his quarterbacks rank 121st nationally in passer rating in those games.
  • Georgia Tech senior Synjyn Days had just 561 career rushing yards until three weeks ago. He's had 414 since, and only Miami's Duke Johnson has averaged more yards-per-carry in the ACC during that stretch.
  • Opponents' average starting field position against Duke this season is their own 24-yard line. Ohio State is the only defense in the nation to start with more advantageous field position.
  • Deshaun Watson is set to return for Clemson at quarterback this week against Georgia Tech. In his absence, the Tigers' offensive TD output (7) was exceeded by its turnovers (8).

ACC helmet stickers: Week 11

November, 9, 2014
Nov 9
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Here are the players who stood out the most from Week 11 of ACC action:

Georgia Tech running back Synjyn Days. Days has continued to make the most of his opportunities, tallying a career-high rushing total for the third straight week since Zach Laskey went down with a shoulder injury. Days rushed 19 times Saturday for 157 yards and a touchdown, keying a 56-23 Georgia Tech win at NC State. Days has now rushed for 414 yards over the past three games.

Florida State wide receiver Rashad Greene. Mr. Reliable came through once again for Florida State, hauling in a career-high 13 catches for 136 yards and a touchdown on a night the Seminoles tallied just 376 yards of offense. Greene is five catches shy of last season's total, and 11 yards shy of 1,000. As our David Hale notes, Greene is now also 16 catches shy of breaking Ron Sellers' single-season FSU record, from 1968.

Florida State defensive end Mario Edwards. How can you not be impressed with Edwards' stat line from Saturday? The junior had nine total tackles, including four for loss -- which included one sack -- while forcing one fumble. Edwards forced a loose ball on a Kevin Parks run on Virginia's first drive, setting up the first score of the game for the Noles three plays later.

Louisville safety Gerod Holliman. What more needs to be said about Holliman? He had added three interceptions in Saturday's 38-19 win at Boston College, giving him a ridiculous 13 on the season. Through 10 games. Let that sink in. He easily leads the nation, as he is now four ahead of Ole Miss' Senquez Golson.

Louisville wide receiver DeVante Parker. It's easy to wonder where this Cardinals team would be had Parker not gotten hurt during camp. The senior turned in another brilliant performance on Saturday, notching eight catches for 144 yards to go along with his first touchdown of the season. All Parker has done in his three games back is tally 25 catches for 490 yards, topping 130 yards in each of his three contests.
Paula Days was talking on speakerphone Monday night about her son's recent breakout when her husband interjected.

"Right now we're breaking down the North Carolina State-Syracuse game," Calvin Days said. "She's looking at the line. We're looking at personnel, looking at techniques, looking at a particular linebacker getting pushed off the ball. Looking at opportunities and looking at tendencies."

Synjyn Days' parents do this for fun now, as a way of staying involved in their son's career at Georgia Tech, which travels to NC State this Saturday. And as a way of possibly getting back into their part-time careers.

"Really?" Paula cracked, after her husband suggested a return to the sideline upon Synjyn's graduation.

[+] EnlargeSynjyn Days
Mike Stewart/Associated PressSynjyn Days has rushed for more than 100 yards in back-to-back games for Georgia Tech.
Sure, many football players are the products of parents who coach. But how many grew up with two coaches in their households?

That was the situation Days was raised in, as both his father and his mother coached him at Osbourne Middle School in Hoschton, Georgia. They gave up coaching when Days got to high school, but their lessons — and their extra homework — have stuck with the redshirt senior. Days has stepped up in place of the injured Zach Laskey to tally career-best rushing efforts in each of his last two games, eclipsing the 100-yard mark in both. He ran the option as quarterback at Hillgrove (Ga.) High, served as a backup quarterback during his first two years with the Yellow Jackets and has played A-back and B-back since.

"Everyone on the team calls me the C-back because I've played A-back, B-back and quarterback," Days quipped. "So I pretty much know all the skill positions. But I just look to step in any role where the team needs me. That's the mentality I've always taken -- not really worried about myself but worried about the team's needs and other people. That's how my parents had raised me."

No kidding. His father said the only position Days has yet to play is punter.

"When we coach, the mindset is we had to understand the game," Calvin Days said. "Defensively, we wanted every defensive player to know the other players' responsibilities as well. Our guard could tell you what Cover 1 or Cover 2 or Cover 3 was, and even with Synjyn it was really important. Traditionally you get locked in a position and you just play that. But for us we thought it was important to really know and understand the game, because you never knew where they were going to be."

Calvin, whose dreams to play as a Florida State student were derailed by health issues, was coaching his son's team at Osbourne but longed for more time with his wife and family as a whole. So he invited Paula to join his staff. Her response — "I don't know anything about football" — was expected, but soon enough Calvin had his 5-foot-3, 110-pound wife in the trenches, barking orders as Osbourne's offensive and defensive line coach.

Calvin, a financial analyst, reasoned that the technical aspects of the positions would best suit Paula, an engineer. She would join the rest of the staff in film sessions and even invite players over to the house to help her get up to speed.

This was no ragtag bunch, either — pupils of the Days include current college starting quarterbacks Hutson Mason (Georgia) and Chandler Whitmer (UConn).

"In middle school, all kids are pretty much hard-heads then, but for some reason when a woman tells you to do something, you should probably listen to the woman more," Synjyn said, laughing. "It would hurt more to see my mom disappointed than my dad."

His parents are well aware.

"That's pretty accurate," Paula said. "That's not just for football, but I think life, period. It's interesting how that works out with kids. Dad was a disciplinarian in our house, but I can just give him a look and he goes to tears."

Added Calvin: "She's up at 4:30 every morning herself working out. Traditionally you would have the mom who's compassionate — 'Oh, it's OK' — and he just didn't get that break. [If] he got hurt during the game, she would always say, 'Don't let them see you hurt.' Everyone's like, Is he OK? She's like, 'You better get up.' "

Synjyn Days
Courtesy of Days familySynjyn Days' parents understand the X's and O's of football better than most.
Days' parents still harp on him now. The family has always preached the importance of a healthy lifestyle, regularly exercising together and helping Synjyn with agility drills in the offseason. (His brother, junior end Jabari Hunt-Days, is academically ineligible at Georgia Tech this season.)

Game days offer their own set of challenges for the family, as Paula insists on sitting behind an end zone so that she can get a better view of the offensive line. Synjyn does not need to be told that these last two performances are as much his blockers' doing as his own.

"Although Synjyn may be getting a little bit of recognition for his last two performances, he really can't make the plays if the offensive line doesn't do what they have to do and if the coaches don't make the right call and the quarterback doesn't make the right read," Paula said. "It's definitely a team sport, and I always have to take up for my offensive line.

"You tell them thank you when you make those long runs. He's like, 'Of course, Mom. Yeah, I do.'"

As for his parents' advice off film heading into Saturday?

"The funny thing is it's really more armchair entertainment, because the reality is Coach [Paul] Johnson could probably care less," Calvin said.

As their son thrives with a bigger workload now, though, the Days family's hard-nosed philosophy continues to pay off. Good thing Synjyn was paying attention all those years to his coaches — in the household and out of it.
Justin Thomas' growth as a passer and DeAndre Smelter's success as a receiver have been headline-worthy storylines throughout Georgia Tech's 7-2 start this season. But the core truth about the Yellow Jackets still holds true: They remain pretty darn good running the football.

So good, in fact, that they have rebounded from losing their top running back the last two games to improve their rushing average and have done serious damage to their opponents' defensive stats, too.

[+] EnlargeSynjyn Days
Mike Stewart/Associated PressSynjyn Days (pictured) and Broderick Snoddy have picked up the slack in Georgia Tech's running game after Zach Laskey's injury.
Zach Laskey's status remains up in the air for Saturday's tilt at NC State because of a shoulder injury suffered Oct. 18 at North Carolina that has kept senior out of the past two games. All Georgia Tech has done without the bruiser -- who has rushed for 595 yards this season -- is tally 733 yards on the ground over its last two games, wins at Pittsburgh and against Virginia.

Synjyn Days has led the charge, with the former quarterback putting forth consecutive career-best outings. The redshirt senior rushed for 110 yards against the Panthers and 147 yards and a touchdown against the Cavaliers. Broderick Snoddy has excelled as well, going for 82 yards and three touchdowns in the Steel City before tallying 52 yards on just seven carries this past Saturday.

"He's got good speed," Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson said of Snoddy. "He's gotten more comfortable with what he's doing. He probably played better at Pitt than he played Saturday, but he's got a good skill-set. He can run fast."

Six Panthers turnovers aided a Yellow Jackets offense that put up 56 points two weeks ago, with the ground game proving relentless. Georgia Tech rushed for 465 yards on a Pitt defense that entered that game ranked 17th nationally against the run (111.14). That makes the 268 rushing yards compiled against Virginia seem ordinary by comparison. But consider that the output came against a Virginia defense that entered Atlanta with the nation's ninth-best rushing defense (100.38).

Georgia Tech has boosted its rushing offense these past two games (from 306.28 to 319.67) despite being down its top back.

Laskey, for his part, has tried to remain as involved as possible despite still not practicing as of Monday.

"He's a big help," Snoddy said. "He's just lifting us up. He's a happy guy. He's smiling, picks us all up, lets us all know what we need to do. We all say that we're playing for Zach."

Laskey's potential return would surely provide a boost against a Wolfpack team coming off its first ACC win in two years Saturday at Syracuse. The Wolfpack might be going for bowl-eligibility during these final three regular-season games, but there is plenty at stake during this same stretch for Georgia Tech, too.

"Right now we're just focused on NC State and getting this eighth win," Days said. "We haven't had (more than) eight wins since I've been here at Tech. So that's what our senior class is pretty psyched about, to try to have our best year since we've been here. It's looking good so far, but we've got to keep on plugging along."
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson released his post-spring offensive depth chart Wednesday, without many surprises. Stay tuned for the release of the defensive chart, set for next week.

For now, here are a few notes on the offense:
  • One of the biggest holes to fill is at A-back, where the highly productive Robert Godhigh is gone. Seniors Tony Zenon and Synjyn Days are listed as starters but there is plenty of talent and depth at the position. B.J. Bostic, Deon Hill and converted B-back Broderick Snoddy are all in the mix for playing time, along with a few others. Days (6-foot-2, 232 pounds) and Zenon (5-8, 174 pounds) are different backs so they will give the Jackets some versatility in how they can be used.
  • At B-back, there are no questions about Zach Laskey replacing David Sims in the starting lineup. But behind Laskey, there are some depth concerns after Travis Custis decided to leave the program and enroll at a junior college for academic reasons. Senior Matt Connors is currently listed as the backup there.
  • The offensive line remains a work in progress. Aside from veteran Shaq Mason, a near lock to be a preseason all-conference selection, everybody else is penciled in to their starting roles right now. Keep an eye on left tackle Chris Griffin -- the only redshirt freshman listed as an offensive or defensive starter. Center Freddie Burden, who has fought through injuries, also has never taken a collegiate snap.
  • No surprise to see Justin Thomas listed ahead of Tim Byerly at quarterback, but there are ways the Jackets could use both effectively this season.
  • At receiver, DeAndre Smelter impressed this spring, after giving up baseball to focus solely on football. Micheal Summers is listed as the other starter. Remember, Darren Waller and Anthony Autry are suspended for the first two games of the season for team rules violations.

There’s something to be said for consistency, and for the better part of the past two decades, Georgia Tech has been consistent. In the last 17 years, the Yellow Jackets have finished with either seven or eight wins 11 times, including in each of the past three seasons. But they haven't won more than 10 games in any of those years, they’ve lost 10 of their last 12 bowl games and they’ve dropped 12 of the last 13 against in-state rival Georgia.

So as dawn breaks on a new season at Georgia Tech, the big question swirling among fans is simply: Is this as good as it gets?

[+] EnlargePaul Johnson
Mitch Stringer/USA TODAY SportsCoach Paul Johnson and Georgia Tech won't have Vad Lee in 2014, but it's a big season for Johnson's future.
Spotlight: Coach Paul Johnson

2013 summary: Georgia Tech made a surprise appearance in the 2012 ACC championship game in spite of a 6-6 regular season, so there were still some major issues for Johnson to address in 2013. Ted Roof was brought in to helm the defense, and Tech moved from seventh to fourth in the conference in scoring defense, allowing six fewer points per game. Johnson also had to break in a new quarterback to run his triple-option offense and identify talent at receiver, where the ranks had grown thin. Tech did manage to finish third in the conference in total offense, but it still struggled against better competition. The result was another seven-win campaign.

The skinny: If Georgia Tech AD Mike Bobinski is to be believed, there’s no internal conflict between Johnson and the school, and the administration remains supportive. But after stagnating results on the field and mounting rumors of discord off it, the picture may not be quite so rosy.

In January, rumors surfaced that Johnson was unhappy and looking to leave. Instead, it was his quarterback, Vad Lee, who departed. Lee’s production regressed late in 2013 and there had been a push to bench him anyway, but Lee was also immensely talented and his decision certainly didn’t engender more faith in Johnson among an increasingly skeptical fan base.

This spring, Johnson will again undertake the difficult task of finding new personnel for his unique offense, identifying new playmakers on defense and reassuring fans that, indeed, they should expect more than seven wins per season.

In addition to Lee’s departure, Tech also loses top backs David Sims and Robert Godhigh -- meaning the Jackets’ top three rushers from 2013 have all moved on. On defense, leading tackler Jemea Thomas, All-ACC lineman Jeremiah Attaochu (12.5 sacks) and veteran linebacker Brandon Watts are gone, too.

Justin Thomas takes over as the heir apparent at quarterback, the third starter in as many years. The ground game has ample potential from Zach Laskey, Synjyn Days, B.J. Bostic and Travis Custis, a recruit from 2013 who wasn’t cleared by the NCAA until January. Still, none are proven commodities, and Johnson will have his work cut out for him.

Johnson revitalized Tech upon arrival in 2008, winning 19 games in his first two seasons. But it’s been downhill from there, and the questions about his ability to right the ship are only getting louder. This is a crucial spring for the coach, because while the Coastal Division is winnable and Tech is far from the only team with question marks at key positions, there’s also much less patience in Atlanta for the coaching staff to find the right answers.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 3

September, 12, 2013
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Here are a few things to keep an eye on this weekend as we head into Week 3:

1. Famous Jameis. It's been a nearly interminable two weeks since we've seen Jameis Winston take the field. And who can blame us for complaining? His college debut was sensational, and his home debut will come this Saturday against Nevada. (He's excited, meanwhile, because Wolfpack end Brock Hekking has a mullet.)

Steve Addazio
AP Photo/Mary SchwalmBoston College is playing better under coach Steve Addazio so maybe, just maybe BC could pull off the upset at USC.
2. Another upset on the horizon? OK, so it will take a lot for BC to pull off the upset at USC. But who's to say that it cannot happen after watching the first two weeks? The Trojans are reeling after a 10-7 home loss, and the fans are calling for Lane Kiffin's firing. The Eagles, meanwhile, have shown a renewed sense of grit under new coach Steve Addazio. Just imagine Addazio's reaction if his squad pulls it off ...

3. Edsall's reception. Randy Edsall's exit from UConn three years ago was not exactly smooth. Now the Maryland coach returns to his old stomping grounds as the Terrapins look to improve to 3-0. The Huskies beat them last year in College Park, Md., 24-21.

4. Pitt getting back on track. All we have on which to judge the Panthers' ACC era so far is a Week 1 loss to Winston and FSU. But the Panthers do show promise offensively, and they have a great chance to get in a rhythm this week against New Mexico, especially coming out of a bye.

5. Duke QBs. It's Brandon Connette time for the Blue Devils, who kick off their ACC season at Georgia Tech. With Anthony Boone out indefinitely with a broken collarbone, Connette will start, though coach David Cutcliffe has said he wants to get freshman Parker Boehme some playing time as well.

6. Georgia Tech's A-back. The Yellow Jackets start an eight-week stretch of eight games, with the first four coming against division opponents. They will be without A-back Deon Hill (illness), with B.J. Bostic or Synjyn Days likely to step in for Hill.

7. Syracuse's QB shuffle. A home opener against FCS Wagner may be the perfect remedy for the 0-2 Orange. Drew Allen will start again at quarterback, but Terrel Hunt has been assured of playing time as well. How both fare could determine who gets the nod moving forward this season.

8. Wake looks for answers on offense. The Deacs struggled in their 10-point outing last week at BC, particularly running the option. Coach Jim Grobe said the option is here to stay, though he'd like to see more out of the passing game when defenses focus on the run.

9. Can the Hokies' offense get it going? Logan Thomas was better last week but still threw two picks in the end zone against Western Carolina, resulting in a total QBR rating that ranks 132nd out of 138 passers. He will need to improve against the East Carolina Pirates, whom the Hokies remember for their opening-week upset in 2008.

10. Unlikely fireworks? Five ACC teams are off this weekend, including Clemson and Miami, which have provided the league with its signature victories so far this season. Where will the surprises come from this week? The Coliseum is where the biggest one can probably take place, though Winston could surprise us all and re-create his opening-week performance when FSU faces Nevada.

Georgia Tech season preview

August, 19, 2013
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Today, we're looking at Georgia Tech, which hopes to ride a strong second half -- and surprising appearance in the 2012 ACC championship game -- to bigger things this season.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

[+] EnlargePaul Johnson
Mitch Stringer/USA TODAY SportsLed by coach Paul Johnson and quarterback Vad Lee, Georgia Tech has championship aspirations.
Coach: Paul Johnson (149-65 overall, 40-26 at Georgia Tech)

2012 record: 7-7 (5-3 in ACC)

Key losses: QB Tevin Washington, RB Orwin Smith, WR Jeff Greene, RG Omoregie Uzzi, CB Rod Sweeting, DT T.J. Barnes

Key returnees: RB David Sims, QB Vad Lee, OG Will Jackson, DE Jeremiah Attaochu, CB Jemea Thomas, LB Brandon Watts

Newcomer to watch: Receiver DeAndre Smelter. Three years ago, Smelter was among the elite baseball prospects in the country, with a 95 mph fastball and raves from scouts. But a series of arm injuries derailed his career on the diamond, and now the 6-foot-3, 220-pound junior is giving football a whirl. He's impressed during fall camp, and his size makes him an obvious mismatch at receiver -- an area where Georgia Tech needed help.

Biggest games in 2013: Sept. 26 vs. Virginia Tech, Oct. 5 at Miami, Nov. 14 at Clemson, Nov. 30 vs. Georgia

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: The defensive line was hardly a strength for Georgia Tech last season, but there is some hope for improvement in 2013. Start with Attaochu's move from outside linebacker to defensive end this spring. He projects as one of the top pass rushers in the league. Tech managed just 28 sacks in 14 games last season, and ranked 70th nationally in yards allowed per rush. If the linemen can improve on those numbers this season, there's ample defensive talent behind them.

Forecast: Two-thirds of Georgia Tech's vaunted triple-option backfield departed, and Washington and Smith took more than 1,300 yards and 25 touchdowns with them, but there is actually a feeling that this year's group might be more dangerous.

Lee is a star in the making. He's an excellent fit in Johnson's offense, and he got enough work last season that the bigger role won't be a shock to the system. At A-back, the depth of talent is impressive, too. Start with Robert Godhigh, who rushed for 429 yards and four scores in 2012, and now projects to take over as a starter. Tony Zenon, Synjyn Days and B.J. Bostic can help, too, while Sims looks to blossom at the B-back position.

If the offense can develop as Johnson hopes, the defense should be stout. A bevy of senior starters return, and Attaochu and Thomas have legitimate NFL potential. As a unit, the defense struggled badly at times last season, but after former coordinator Al Groh was fired midseason, there were signs of marked improvement.

In fact, it's that latter half of 2012 that offers the most hope. Georgia Tech rallied down the stretch to win three of its last four regular-season games, played Florida State close in the ACC title game, and won its first bowl game in seven years. That's the building block for 2013, but Johnson also has perhaps his most talented roster since taking over at Tech in 2008.
Georgia Tech released its post-spring depth chart on Wednesday without a whole lot in the way of big surprises.

Nothing is set in stone of course, as the Jackets use this chart as a starting point for the start of practice come Aug. 1. Among the highlights:
The rest of the ACC wraps up practice this weekend. Here is a look at what to watch at each spring game.

BOSTON COLLEGE

When: Cancelled.

UPDATE: Boston College decided to cancel its spring game, set for Saturday, because of the tragic events that unfolded in the area this week. Though there is no game, these are still three keys for the Eagles as they move into the offseason.
  • Chase Rettig. Rettig has been through one coordinator too many during his career with the Eagles, and now he has to learn a new system that is not exactly the pro-style brand more suited to him. Coach Steve Addazio has said he will not force Rettig out of his comfort zone this year, but how Rettig handles yet another change is definitely something to watch.
  • The run game. Addazio has placed a heavy emphasis on the run game this spring. Does he have the talent and depth to improve the dreadful numbers from a year ago? With Rolandan Finch gone, senior Andre Williams has been the guy left to shoulder the load this spring. He says, "Bring it on."
  • More aggressive D? This will be a good chance to see how Don Brown has gone about revamping the defense. We have all heard how he wants to be more aggressive this year. Let's see it.
GEORGIA TECH

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m. (Note: There is a threat of rain so a decision on whether the game will be played as scheduled will be made later today. As of this morning, the game is still on.) NC STATE

When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m., ESPN3
  • The quarterbacks. Starting to sound like a theme, right? Coach Dave Doeren has said he will not name a starter after spring practice. Pete Thomas and Manny Stocker are still learning the new system, and Doeren says, "They're getting better. I told somebody the other day: I just don't think it's fair to make a decision on a guy that doesn't know your offense yet. I think we've got to give those kids a chance to play football without thinking. We're not there yet."
  • The secondary. This group will have three new starters when fall rolls around, and much less game experience. Juston Burris is listed as the starter at the cornerback spot David Amerson leaves behind, while Hakim Jones and Jarvis Byrd are set to take the open safety spots.
  • The defensive ends. There is still open competition at both defensive end spots, according to the depth chart the team released ahead of the spring game. Art Norman and Forrest West are battling for one spot, while Mike Rose and Darryl Cato-Bishop are competing for the other.
SYRACUSE

When: Saturday, noon.
  • Terrel Hunt vs. Charley Loeb. Hunt has reportedly gotten more of the first-team reps as the spring has gone on, but this is a good chance for both quarterbacks to make an impression on their coaches -- especially with Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen headed to Syracuse in the summer.
  • Defensive line. There is no question Syracuse has to work on building depth here because of several losses the group has taken. One player to watch is Iowa transfer John Raymon, who has worked at both tackle and end this spring.
  • Quinta Funderburk. Funderburk sat out last season after transferring in from Arkansas. He has made a few highlight catches during the spring scrimmages to catch some attention, and with Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales gone, Funderburk has an opportunity to become a go-to receiver on this team.
VIRGINIA TECH

When: Saturday, 3 p.m., ESPN3
  • Logan Thomas and the offense. So, how does Thomas look under new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler? His rebound from a mediocre 2013 is going to be huge for the Hokies this season.
  • The running backs. Nobody has really stepped up to take the starting job, although Trey Edmunds has had a good spring, including 86 yards and two touchdowns in the last scrimmage. JC Coleman, also vying for the job, is not expected to play because of a leg injury.
  • Brandon Facyson. It's no secret the Hokies need some help in the secondary, and every single report out of Blacksburg points to the freshman cornerback as being the next star on defense.
WAKE FOREST

When: Saturday, 1 p.m., ACC Digital Network
  • The receivers. One of the big goals this spring has been to find another receiver to complement Michael Campanaro. Orville Reynolds, who moved from running back, has so far turned some heads with his performance, so keep an eye on him.
  • New faces. Two players who have drawn raves on defense this spring are defensive linemen Desmond Floyd and Johnny Garcia. In fact, coach Jim Grobe believes his defensive line has been a bright spot this spring because the group has been able to develop some depth.
  • Competition. This will actually be a scrimmage, not a game, because the Deacs simply do not have enough offensive linemen to split the team in two. At last check, Wake had seven healthy offensive linemen after Cody Preble injured his ankle in the last scrimmage.
Georgia Tech opens spring practice today with a new defensive coordinator in Ted Roof, and a new starter at quarterback in Vad Lee. I had a chance to catch up with coach Paul Johnson to ask about his expectations of both headed into the spring. Here is a little of what he had to say.

I have to start off by asking -- how are you enjoying Twitter so far?

PJ: My daughter, she said, ‘You’ll be good at that, Dad, you need to do it.’ And, ‘I’m like, I don’t know about that.’ She goes, ‘Oh just try it.’ So it’s been interesting.

What is the No. 1 thing you want to see this spring out of your defense as it starts to get adjusted to playing a different scheme?

PJ: It’s the same regardless of scheme. You want guys that can play fast, play hard and understand what they’re doing. The scheme is there to help them. We try to work the scheme around them rather than trying to fit them into the scheme. And I think our guys are excited about it. Ted’s a fiery guy. He’s going to have a lot of passion, a lot of energy and I think they’re looking forward to that. And it’s not that big of a change from what we did the last half of the season.

You guys showed major improvement the second half. Is the goal to build on some of what you were able to do?

PJ: Yeah I think the second half we simplified things and tried to let guys play fast and understand what they were doing and basically we played a lot of 4-3 tenets the last six games. We got away from the 3-4 a little bit.

Jeremiah Attaochu is going to be playing more at defensive end. What are your hopes for him in that role?

PJ: That’s what he played last year. Very seldom did he drop. He was more our rush guy. We played a field boundary guy and it’s going to be very similar in what we’re doing now, so we’ll try to play to his attributes and his strong suits. He’s a really good pass-rusher and we’ll try to utilize him in that area and line him up on some tight ends and some of that.

[+] EnlargePaul Johnson
Mitch Stringer/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia Tech's Vad Lee is in a QB competition this spring, but coach Paul Johnson said there's no doubting Lee's leadership skills.
How do you see some of the competition playing out along the line with T.J. Barnes and Izaan Cross gone?

PJ: We’ve got some good depth. Euclid Cummings is a guy I’m excited about. I think he’s got a ton of ability. Emmanuel Dieke has played a lot. Adam Gotsis, Shawn Green played. We’ve got a couple guys, Pat Gamble, Rod Chungong, Francis Kallon that we redshirted so we feel like we’ve got depth there and some guys so we’ll probably play six, seven guys up front.

Now that Vad looks to be your starter, have you seen him taking on more of a leadership role?

PJ: Vad’s always been a leader. It’s in his DNA. Usually the good ones in that position are that way. He’s a hard worker and I think that he’s trying to develop a chemistry with everybody and we’ve got another guy named Justin Thomas that we redshirted at quarterback, and that ought to be a heck of a battle this spring. Clearly, Vad’s in front but Justin’s a good player in his own right, so that ought to be some pretty good competition between those two guys.

How will you work the reps?

PJ: Well, Vad will start out at 1 but in the spring, you’re going to run two teams anyway so they’ll probably get an equal number of reps.

Any kind of scenario where you play both like you did with Vad and Tevin Washington last year?

PJ: It’s possible. It will be determined on how it turns out, once we get into the spring and we start playing how it looks and how it unfolds, but I think going into the spring you’d have to say Vad’s the No. 1.

What about at A-back. Orwin Smith was able to do so much, what’s the competition going to look like there?

PJ: We’ve got a lot of guys back there who have played a lot. Synjyn Days played the last half of the season there, we moved from quarterback so we’re excited about him. Robbie Godhigh is the starter that returns. Deon Hill, B.J. Bostic, Dennis Andrews is a guy we redshirted. We have a lot of guys there we feel can be pretty good players.

What are you looking for out of those guys to take the next step?

PJ: Well Robbie’s been a reliable guy, he played well all year and I think the other guys are very capable. I think the more Synjyn plays, hopefully the better he’s going to be. He’s 225 pounds so he’s ideal. He can block, has good speed, hard to tackle. B.J. and Tony (Zenon) both are shifty littler guys, Deon’s in the middle so out of that group of guys we just hope to find a rotation that fits what we need really.

What about Broderick Snoddy? Will he continue to run track this spring?

PJ: Football will override the track part and so he’ll be at practice. Whenever they have meets and those kind of things we’ll try to work it out and let him do both.

Do you envision a bigger role for him?

PJ: Yeah, I would hope so. Every time we got to the point last year where we were trying to get him in, he would get hurt or something would happen and it just didn’t materialize but certainly we’d love for him to have a bigger role. But that’s going to be up to him this spring to earn it.

Who are you looking at to replace Omoregie Uzzie on the offensive line?

PJ: There will be some competition. We were able to redshirt a couple of classes of guys and we feel like we have some depth, so we’ll just work it out. We’ll end up with the best five playing if we have to move some guys around. With Jay (Finch) missing the spring, Catlin Alford, Freddie Burden will get a lot of reps. We’ll slide some guys. We’ve got some guys, Will Jackson has played both guard and tackle. He can slide in there. He and Shaq (Mason) will probably be the starters and then Morgan Bailey and Ray Beno, who both started at tackle all year -- we could still have five guys who started a lot of games.

Orwin Smith doubtful for ACC title game

November, 30, 2012
11/30/12
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Georgia Tech leading rusher Orwin Smith did not practice on Thursday because of a right ankle injury and is listed as doubtful for Saturday's Dr Pepper ACC championship game against Florida State, according to a school spokesman.

Smith is the team's leading rusher with 673 yards this year and five touchdowns. He is averaging 9 yards per carry. He also has 14 kickoff returns for 267 yards. He injured his right ankle in a Nov. 17 win over Duke and missed last week's game against Georgia. On Monday, Smith said he expected to play, but he probably hasn't practiced enough this week.

Georgia Tech will turn to an A-back by committee approach should it need to replace him. The most likely candidates are B.J. Bostic, who started in Smith's place last week against Georgia, and Synjyn Days, who started the second half last week. Tony Zenon (25 carries, 191 yards and a touchdown) and Deon Hill (five carries, 42 yards) will also play.
Several NCAA rules changes went into effect this season, but there was one that was talked about more than the others on opening weekend.

That would be the new "helmet rule" that requires a player who loses his helmet to leave the game for one play. The only exception is if the player loses his helmet as a result of a penalty. For those who need a refresher on the rules changes, here is an explainer I did back in May, complete with comments from ACC coordinator of officials Doug Rhoads.

According to the ACC, players lost their helmets 17 times in the 10 games across the league in Week 1. None were the result of a penalty. That number is not much different than the trend the ACC found last season, when an average of two players per game lost their helmet.

Still, folks are watching much more carefully now. It was probably most noticeable in two nationally televised games: Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd and Georgia Tech quarterback Tevin Washington were forced to leave their respective games during critical junctures. Boyd, in fact, lost his helmet three different times against Auburn, and Cole Stoudt was forced into the game in his place.

When you have running quarterbacks like Boyd and Washington, they run a higher risk of losing their helmet. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said he would spend more time this week making sure Stoudt was ready to go into the game in case Boyd is lost for a play.

“I understand the rule, but for us it’s a little bit of a challenge when you run your quarterback, he gets hit and sometimes he gets in some piles, and sometimes helmets find their way from getting of their head,” Swinney said on the ACC coaches call Wednesday. “The big thing for us is you better have your backup ready to go. One of the things we’re going to do moving forward is to make sure our backup is getting some snaps, throwing the ball, staying loose and being ready.

“I don’t know how we can get the helmet on any tighter. We’re basically about to cut his circulation off trying to keep it on. It’s definitely an issue, especially at that position. It’s not like at wideout or something else, that is such a critical position. ... It’s definitely something everyone is going to have to continue to adjust to.”

Washington was forced out of the game against Virginia Tech on a crucial third-and-8 from the Hokies' 21 on the final play of the third quarter. Synjyn Days went in, rushed for 4 yards and the Yellow Jackets kicked a field goal.

"Well, clearly you don’t want to lose your starting quarterback on third down but that’s the rule," Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said Wednesday. "It looked like the helmet came off when he was on the ground. ... It's just one of those things."

One of those things to watch for the rest of the season.

ACC's lunchtime links

August, 23, 2012
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Ran five miles this morning. Almost back down to playing weight. Bring on the season ...

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