ACC: Tyler Stargel

Georgia Tech D has something to prove

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
9:00
AM ET
The scenario facing Georgia Tech’s defense this week isn’t exactly ideal.

Three wins are in the ledger, and that’s the good news. But those first three were supposed to be the easy ones, and instead, the Yellow Jackets have had to sweat out each ‘W’ thus far.

[+] EnlargeGeorgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Georgia Southern Eagles, Kevin Ellison
Mike Stewart/Associated PressGeorgia Tech's defense has had a hard time corralling its first three opponents.
In what should have served as the Yellow Jackets’ final tune-up before ACC play last week, Georgia Southern racked up 528 yards of offense and nearly pulled off the upset before a frenetic finish allowed Tech to escape with a win. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof summed up the performance is blunt fashion: “Embarrassed and disappointed,” he said.

And now comes a road game at Virginia Tech, and still so many questions on the Georgia Tech defense remain.

“We’re happy we’re 3-0, but we’re not happy with how we got there,” defensive end Adam Gotsis said. “There’s plenty of work to still be done. We’ve shown some good things, but we also have a lot of bad that we need to improve on.”

The numbers tell a relatively bleak story. Georgia Tech’s defense ranks 113th nationally in yards-per-play allowed, a particularly galling stat given the level of competition, which includes FCS Wofford and two teams from outside the Power 5. Among all Power 5 teams, only Iowa State, South Carolina and Kansas have allowed a higher yards-per-play to teams outside the Power 5 so far this season -- and they’ve played just one such game apiece. The Yellow Jackets are surrendering nearly 2 yards per play more against non-Power 5 teams than they did just a year ago.

Last week’s game, in particular, illustrated what Gotsis and Roof believe to be the biggest culprit, however.

“We shouldn’t have been in that position,” Gotsis said. “We should’ve come out and put our foot on the pedal, but we let up a bit.”

If focus was an issue in the first three weeks, Virginia Tech has the Jackets’ undivided attention.

What the Hokies also have, however, is a passing game.

Perhaps the biggest question mark on Georgia Tech’s revamped defense entering the season was the pass rush, but with two option teams in the first three weeks, that’s one area that hasn’t gotten much of a test.

That won’t be the case against the Hokies, who lead the ACC in passing attempts and have thrown the ball 52 percent of the time thus far.

With that in mind, Roof is rotating in younger players in the secondary and on the line during practice, hoping to build some much-needed depth.

“We’re looking to give more people opportunities,” Roof said. “We’ll have to rotate guys, and with that comes some growing pains. But that’s also how you develop depth.”

Gotsis was Georgia Tech’s leader in sacks among returning players with just 6.5 entering the year, but the opportunities to get after the quarterback have been rare thus far. Of the 180 plays the Jackets have faced so far, 61 percent have been runs. Even in the one game they faced a more pass-heavy team, Tulane went to battle with a freshman QB making just his second career start.

Still, the work in practice has Gostis optimistic that improvement is just around the corner.

“[The pass rush] is not where it has to be at the moment, and we lost a lot of guys who were at getting to the passer, but we’ve had some guys step up,” Gostis said. “Playing the option teams, it’s hard to get pressure on the quarterback, but when we get out there and do one-on-ones, we need to make the most of those opportunities so when we get into a game, we’re ready for it.”

Tech has just four sacks thus far -- three coming against Tulane -- but they’ve come from some encouraging sources. Gotsis praised the work of sophomore Tyler Stargel and freshman KeShun Freeman, and said he’s encouraged by the progress they’ve made in limited opportunities.

But this week is the real test, and against Virginia Tech there won’t be room for growing pains or lost focus. The Hokies have a veteran quarterback who has already toppled a top-10 team. They have two hulking running backs eager to break tackles. They have a game plan that won’t be one-dimensional.

It’s also an opportunity, and after three sluggish warm-up acts, Georgia Tech is eager to see what happens when it puts the pedal to the floor.

“It’s going to be a good battle going into Virginia Tech,” Gotsis said. “They have a very experienced O-line coming back and it’ll be good to get some young guys in for us and get a good rotation going and get some pressures and some sacks.”
A week after releasing its offensive depth chart, Georgia Tech released its defensive depth chart. Here are a few notes:
  • Defensive line could be a position of concern headed into the fall. There is not much depth at defensive tackle, and there are big-time question marks at defensive end. Right now, the Jackets list either Roderick Rook-Chungong or true freshman KeShun Freeman as the starter at the defensive end spot that lost Jeremiah Attaochu (NFL) and Jabari Hunt-Days (academically ineligible). Neither Rook-Chungong nor Freeman has played in a college game. The depth chart does not list incoming junior college transfer Kenderius Whitehead, who will be expected to contribute right away. At the other end spot, Tyler Stargel is listed as the starter. He has never started a college game. Tackle Adam Gotsis is the only returning starter in the group.
  • At linebacker, it's no real surprise to see Tyler Marcordes taking over for Brandon Watts. Quayshawn Nealy is back and should be among the best linebackers in the ACC.
  • The secondary also has potential, with safeties Jamal Golden (shoulder) and Isaiah Johnson (knee) coming back off injuries. The Jackets do have to replace all-everything Jemea Thomas and have Demond Smith penciled in at that safety/nickel spot. Lynn Griffin is listed as one starter at cornerback, taking over for Louis Young.

Breaking down the spring in the ACC Coastal division:

Duke

Spring practice over

What we learned:
  • Momentum rolls on. It's hard to believe the Blue Devils are already done with spring ball, but coach David Cutcliffe opted to open practice in February to capitalize on the momentum that was created last season. After the spring game ended Saturday, he praised the way his players handled the practices. There was a great deal of retention and not a lot of re-teaching, so coaches were able to get much more out of their players this spring.
  • Max McCaffrey emerges. Jamison Crowder had a spectacular 2013 season, but it was essentially him and then everybody else in the receiver group. That may not be the case this season. McCaffrey earned praise from coaches and teammates for the way he improved during the spring. Offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery said McCaffrey made as many plays as anybody else on the offense this spring.
  • Stepping up on the line. The Blue Devils lost three starters on their defensive line -- both ends in Kenny Anunike and Justin Foxx, and defensive tackle Sydney Sarmiento. But it appears as if the players behind them are ready to step up and make a seamless transition. Defensive ends Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo and Dezmond Johnson each had two sacks in the spring game. Kyler Brown also made the switch from linebacker to defensive end and had a sack in the spring game as well.
Georgia Tech

Spring start: March 24

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:
  • Justin Thomas takes over. After Vad Lee announced his transfer from Georgia Tech, the quarterback reigns fell to Thomas, who played in 10 games this season. The Jackets had their share of highs and lows under Lee, but what the staff is going to be looking for first and foremost is Thomas’ ability to hold on to the football. Georgia Tech had 24 giveaways and ranked No. 12 in the ACC in turnover margin.
  • Defensive line questions. The Jackets lose three starters on the defensive line, including All-ACC defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu -- who had 22.5 sacks over the last two seasons. Who will step up and fill that type of production? The most experienced backups returning are sophomores Tyler Stargel and Patrick Gamble. Also, Travin Henry will get a look at defensive end after playing wide receiver last season.
  • Offensive line questions. Georgia Tech also loses three starters on the offensive line -- tackles Ray Beno and Will Jackson and center Jay Finch. The trio combined to start 117 games in their careers, so there is no doubt this is going to be a much less experienced unit in 2014. The good news is All-ACC guard Shaq Mason returns to help anchor the new-look line.
Miami

Spring start: Started March 1

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Quarterback derby. Stephen Morris is gone, but the Canes do have at least one experienced quarterback on the roster in Ryan Williams, a Memphis transfer who has served as Morris’ backup the last two seasons. As a true freshman with the Tigers, Williams started 10 games -- all the way back in 2010. Challenging Williams is redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen, who had a bit of a rocky first year in Miami, along with Gray Crow.
  • Defensive improvements. Perhaps more than what happens at quarterback, Miami must see improvements out of its defense this season. Embattled defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio kept his job but the status quo cannot persist. Every single area of the defense must be upgraded. Ranking No. 13 in the ACC in total defense just can’t happen again.
  • Defensive improvements, Part II. To try and help the secondary, Miami already moved Dallas Crawford over to safety, where the Canes could use the help. But Miami must be stronger on the defensive front. The Canes only had 12 sacks in eight conference games. By comparison, BC led the way with 25 sacks in conference games. This is a big opportunity for guys like Al-Quadin Muhammad, Tyriq McCord and Ufomba Kamalu to really step up.
North Carolina

Spring start: Started March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks. Marquise Williams took over as the starter when Bryn Renner was gone for the season and ended up helping the Tar Heels make a bowl game after a 1-5 start. But coach Larry Fedora said the competition is open this spring. Look for Mitch Trubisky and Kanler Coker to give Williams a major push.
  • Defensive line questions. Kareem Martin and Tim Jackson are both gone, leaving big holes in the North Carolina front. Martin ended up notching 21.5 tackles for loss to rank No. 3 in the ACC. So who are the next guys up? At end, Junior Gnonkonde and Jessie Rogers are the top two contenders, while Shawn Underwood, Devonte Brown and Justin Thomason will compete for one of the tackle spots.
  • Replacing Ebron. Eric Ebron was dynamic at tight end for the Tar Heels last season, leading the team with 62 receptions for 973 yards, while adding three touchdowns. Will the Tar Heels be able to replace that type of production with just one player? Jack Tabb would be next in line among the tight ends, but this is a huge opportunity for the North Carolina receiving group as well. We saw plenty of promise out of young guys like Bug Howard, T.J. Thorpe and Ryan Switzer.
Pitt

Spring start: March 16

Spring game: No spring game. Last day of practice April 13

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks. Chad Voytik played really well in relief of an injured Tom Savage in the bowl game, but coach Paul Chryst said the competition to win the starting job is open headed into the spring. At this point, Voytik and Trey Anderson are the only scholarship quarterbacks on the roster. So you can bet the biggest goal of all is to keep them both healthy.
  • Replacing Aaron Donald. One of the biggest surprises in all of college football this past season was the emergence and utter dominance of Donald at defensive tackle. Donald swept every major defensive award after notching 28.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, 16 quarterback hurries and four forced fumbles. Darryl Render is the next man up.
  • Complementary receiver. Devin Street is gone, leaving Tyler Boyd as the only standout receiver on the roster. Not only do the Panthers have to develop a consistent No. 2 receiver, they also have to develop some depth. Watch for Manasseh Garner, a former H-back who moved to receiver late last season when Street got hurt. He is more physical than Boyd, and has some extended playing experience.
Virginia

Spring start: Started March 1

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks. David Watford is not guaranteed to win his starting job back after last season, when he threw eight touchdown passes to 15 interceptions. Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns are also in the mix and reps with the first team will be split. In fact, Lambert got the first-team reps when the Hoos opened spring ball last weekend.
  • Andrew Brown. The highly-touted freshman will have every opportunity to win a starting job at defensive tackle, and it all starts in spring ball. The No. 3-ranked player in the ESPN 300 comes in with tons of hype; now can he translate that into on-field success? He, Donte Wilkins and Chris Brathwaite will be competing to start next to David Dean.
  • Mr. McGee. Jake McGee was the best player the Hoos had among the group of tight ends and receivers a year ago, leading the team with 43 catches for 395 yards. This spring, McGee has now moved over to receiver so the Hoos can take advantage of his athletic ability. Plus, Virginia is lacking playmakers at the position, so we’ll see how much this move benefits both McGee and the offense.
Virginia Tech

Spring start: March 27

Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
  • Quarterback. Mark Leal heads into the spring with a leg up in the quarterback competition but make no mistake, there is no set starter. He will get competition from freshmen Andrew Ford and Brenden Motley in the spring, with freshman Chris Durkin and Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer arriving in summer. This competition will likely drag on into the fall.
  • Front seven. The Hokies are losing five terrific players up front, including ends James Gayle and J.R. Collins, and linebacker Jack Tyler, who racked up 100 tackles in back-to-back seasons. There is no doubt a major priority this spring is finding their replacements and building depth along the line and at linebacker. Who will step up as the leader of this group with Tyler gone?
  • Skill players. This has been an ongoing theme over the last two seasons and will continue to be a theme until the Hokies have consistently good players at running back and receiver. Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler is excited about the return of tight end Ryan Malleck, and his entire tight end group for that matter. A healthy Malleck and improvement from Kalvin Cline means the Hokies could simultaneously improve their run and pass game.

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