NCF Nation: Jack Tyler

ACC all-bowl team

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9
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Bowl season was kind to the ACC in a few games (Florida State and Clemson won BCS games), not-so-kind in a few others (Miami, Virginia Tech, we're looking at you) and at least one was a little of both (can we get Texas A&M and Duke every year?). But now that it's all over, we're honoring the best individual performances in the ACC with our all-bowl team.

OFFENSE

QB: Tajh Boyd, Clemson: The big stage hadn't been kind to Boyd through most of 2013, but on the first day of 2014, he was exceptional. Boyd accounted for 505 yards and six touchdowns in a Discover Orange Bowl win over Ohio State, giving the ACC two BCS bowl game victors.

RB: James Conner, Pittsburgh: The freshman tailback carried 26 times against Bowling Green, blowing past Tony Dorsett for the Pitt bowl game record with 229 yards on the ground. For good measure, Conner chipped in on the defensive line for a few snaps, too.

RB: Devonta Freeman, Florida State: It wasn't the most spectacular performance of bowl season -- Freeman wasn't even the best running back on the field in the BCS title game -- but his hard running early kept FSU from falling too far behind, and his final tally -- 11 carries for 73 yards and a TD -- helped Freeman become the first FSU running back since Warrick Dunn to top 1,000 yards on the season.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesOhio State wasn't able to catch Sammy Watkins, as the Clemson WR set multiple Orange Bowl receiving records.
WR: Sammy Watkins, Clemson: Watkins made his last game in a Clemson uniform one to remember, catching an Orange Bowl record 16 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns despite battling an injury for half the game.

WR: Jamison Crowder, Duke: Ho-hum, another 12 catches for 163 yards and a touchdown for Crowder, who turned in one last stellar performance to cap an exceptional season for the Blue Devils.

WR: Rashad Greene, Florida State: The Seminoles' dramatic comeback against Auburn in the BCS championship game wouldn't have been possible without Greene's big day. He was the only FSU receiver with positive yardage in the first half of the game, and his 49-yard reception -- he dodged two tacklers and picked up most of that yardage after the catch -- was the key play on FSU's dramatic last-minute, game-winning drive.

TE: Braxton Deaver, Duke: The junior had six catches for 116 yards, including three grabs that went for 25 yards or more and five that went for first downs.

OL: Dorian Johnson, Pitt: The Panthers simply overwhelmed Bowling Green's defensive front in the Little Caesars Bowl, racking up 487 yards of offense, including 255 on the ground. (Ed. note: We mistakenly included Matt Rotherham here in an initial post. Johnson slid from tackle to guard for the game, replacing Rotherham, and the Pitt line didn't miss a beat. We apologize for the error.)

OL: Jon Heck, North Carolina: Cincinnati entered the Belk Bowl second in the AAC in sacks with 35, but the Bearcats couldn't get to UNC QB Marquise Williams, as the Tar Heels' offense racked up 39 points -- the second-most Cincinnati gave up all season.

OL: Laken Tomlinson, Duke: The Blue Devils racked up 661 yards of total offense and 29 first downs against Texas A&M, with the offensive line -- led by Tomlinson -- paving the way for a 300-yard passer and a 100-yard rusher.

OL: Tre' Jackson, Florida State: Yes, the Seminoles' line allowed four sacks in the game, but Jackson and Co. also helped FSU run for more yards per carry (4.8) than the vaunted Auburn ground game and provided Jameis Winston with plenty of time to throw on a dramatic game-winning drive in the final minute.

C: Macky MacPherson, Syracuse: The Orange rushed for 208 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner with 1:14 left, to knock off Minnesota in the Texas Bowl. The physically dominant performance on the line was a fitting conclusion to MacPherson's Syracuse career.

DEFENSE

DE: Mario Edwards Jr., FSU: Edwards had one sack and three tackles for loss among his six total tackles for a Seminoles front that turned it up a notch in the second half, allowing the offense to catch up and ultimately escape with the win.

DT: Andre Monroe, Maryland: The Terrapins' finale as an ACC member ended on a sour note with a 31-20 loss to Marshall in the Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman. Monroe tied for a game-high with 10 total tackles, three of which went for a loss, one of which was a sack. Monroe added a quarterback hurry as well.

DT: Aaron Donald, Pitt: With one more game to go in a historic season, Donald did not disappoint. The senior closed out his career with two tackles for loss, including one sack, to go with a pass break-up in the Panthers' 30-27 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl win over Bowling Green. Donald's sack came on second down of the Falcons' final drive, all but sealing the win.

DE: Vic Beasley, Clemson: Beasley was part of a Tigers front that made life extremely difficult for Braxton Miller and the rest of the Ohio State backfield. Beasley recorded four tackles for loss and a sack among his five total tackles, and in the end Clemson's defense proved to be the difference in a shootout win.

LB: Norkeithus Otis, UNC: The Tar Heels capped their strong second half with a bang, routing Cincinnati 39-17 in the Belk Bowl to make them 6-1 over their last seven games. Otis tallied seven total tackles -- two for loss and one sack among them -- to go with two quarterback hurries.

LB: Jack Tyler, Virginia Tech: UCLA proved to be too much for the Hokies in a 42-12 win in the Hyundai Sun Bowl, but Tyler played well, totaling seven tackles, including half of a sack, to go with one pass break-up and one quarterback hurry.

[+] EnlargeP.J. Williams
AP Photo/Gregory BullP.J. Williams' interception was the big break Florida State needed to create in its come-from-behind victory over Auburn in the BCS title game.
LB: Cameron Lynch, Syracuse: The Orange finished a successful first season in the ACC by topping Minnesota 21-17 in the Texas Bowl. Lynch, a junior, tied for a team-high with eight stops, with most of his big plays coming behind the line of scrimmage. He had two tackles for loss, one sack and a forced fumble to help Syracuse go 7-4 after an 0-2 start in coach Scott Shafer's first year.

DB: P.J. Williams, FSU: The defensive MVP from the Vizio BCS National Championship came up huge when it mattered most, picking off Auburn's Nick Marshall early in the fourth quarter to set up a touchdown that cut the Tigers' lead to one. Williams finished with seven total tackles and 0.5 tackles for loss.

DB: Jemea Thomas, Georgia Tech: Thomas ended his college career with a bang, totaling a game-high 15 tackles. Three of those stops were behind the line of scrimmage, including one sack.

DB: D.J. White, GT: The Yellow Jackets get two more years of White, a future that looked all the brighter in the 25-17 loss to Ole Miss in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. White finished with 13 total tackles, two forced fumbles, one interception and three pass break-ups.

DB: Bryce Jones, Boston College: The Eagles' turnaround campaign under Steve Addazio ended on a down note, falling to Arizona 42-19 in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl, but Jones was a bright spot, with the sophomore notching a team-high 12 tackles, including one for loss.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Chris Blewitt, Pitt: Blewitt went 3-for-4 for the Panthers in Detroit, connecting from 25, 28 and, most important, 39 yards with the game-winning kick with 1:17 left in Pitt's 30-27 win.

P: Tommy Hibbard, UNC: Hibbard was phenomenal for the Tar Heels, punting four times for an average of 44.2 yards per boot. He pinned Cincinnati inside its own 20 three different times, and he had a long of 59 yards in the win.

KR: Levonte Whitfield, FSU: At the time, Whitfield's 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown seemed as if it would go down as one of the greatest returns in BCS championship game history. The touchdown gave Florida State a 27-24 lead with 4:31 to play -- but the lead would change twice more before it was over. Whitfield finished the game with 172 return yards.

PR: Ryan Switzer, UNC: The Tar Heels had a huge day on special teams in a Belk Bowl win over Cincinnati, with Switzer -- an All-American -- leading the way, returning his fifth punt of the season for a touchdown.

ACC keeps expecting the unexpected

September, 28, 2013
9/28/13
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In the days leading up to Virginia Tech's Thursday night showdown with Georgia Tech, Logan Thomas could hardly throw. An abdominal injury limited him in practice, which figured to be bad news for the Hokies, given how poorly Thomas and the offense had played when healthy.

So, of course, the senior quarterback went to Atlanta, played his best game of the season, and the much-maligned Virginia Tech offense helped lead an upset over the Yellow Jackets.

It was a harbinger for the weekend to come in the ACC. Just when it seemed we had things pegged, the expectations got turned upside down again.

How else to explain what happened in Pittsburgh, where the Panthers' defense completely shut down Virginia just seven days after coughing up 532 yards and 55 points to Duke? Certainly Virginia's offense didn't present the same test, but the Cavaliers mustered just 188 yards of offense in the game. Of course, the most surprising thing might have been that high-flying Pitt managed only 11 more.

Who could have possibly predicted Boston College's near upset of Florida State? It wasn't so much that the Eagles came out quickly against an unprepared Seminoles team. They did, of course, jumping out to a 17-3 lead. What was perhaps more surprising, however, was that BC kept coming back even after Jameis Winston and Florida State delivered what seemed like one final dagger after another. BC fought to the end, riding a power running game to 34 points against the bigger, faster Seminoles. Florida State knew BC's game plan was to run the ball, and yet Andre Williams still racked up 149 yards on the ground -- the most by a runner against FSU since 2010.

And what happened to North Carolina? Sure, the Tar Heels hadn't opened the season with many fireworks, but this was a team that tied for the Atlantic Division title a year ago, looked at least reasonably capable against South Carolina in its opener and was up early on Georgia Tech a week ago before faltering late. So did the Heels take out their frustrations against East Carolina? Not even close. UNC allowed 603 yards and 55 points, of course.

[+] EnlargePete Thomas
Jeremy McKnight/Icon SMIAfter a rough start to the season, Pete Thomas stepped up with his best game in a win against Central Michigan.
Or how about NC State's Pete Thomas? The backup QB forced into the starting role in Week 1 had looked dreadful during his first three games, tossing four interceptions without a TD. He looked much improved against Central Michigan on Saturday, including an 80-yard touchdown pass to Bryan Underwood, helping NC State to nearly 500 yards of total offense.

Then there was Logan Thomas, who had completed 70 percent of his passes in a game just once in his career, but managed to find receivers on 19 of his 25 attempts against Georgia Tech, racking up 279 yards of offense and two touchdowns in the win.

If the slate didn't provide myriad upsets, it certainly provided plenty of surprises in just how those outcomes came to be.

And yet, not every game was a shocker. Clemson scored an easy win on Wake Forest, and Miami ran up the score against USF. Some outcomes were so secure, there was no wiggle room for surprises.

But so much of what seemed clear a week ago -- that Georgia Tech was in the driver's seat in the Coastal, that Florida State was gearing up for its showdown with Clemson, that the Hokies couldn't move the football and Pitt couldn't stop it -- those assumptions all seem a bit silly now.

Instead, the Seminoles must go back to work and try to figure out how their defense has been gashed by both of the ACC opponents it has faced this year. With Maryland and Clemson up next on the slate, such shortcomings won't be so easily overcome by Winston's heroics.

Georgia Tech's plans for a second straight trip to the ACC title game may be dashed already, but the Jackets can help themselves stay alive with a win over Miami next week. They’re going to need some outside help, though, as they’ll lose the head-to-head tiebreaker with Virginia Tech, should it come to that.

Clemson and Miami are rolling, Pitt and NC State appear resilient, North Carolina and Wake are reeling. And Duke? Well, there's always hope the Blue Devils' D can rebound as well as Virginia Tech's offense.

"That locker room feels real good about ourselves," Hokies linebacker Jack Tyler said after their big win. "But like [defensive coordinator Bud] Foster says, when you start feeling good about yourself, that’s when you get knocked off."

That's a warning worth remembering around the ACC after this week.

After all, for all we thought we learned, the one overriding revelation could be that those lessons may last only until the games of Week 6 kick off and the whole set of assumptions is flipped upside down once again.

Virginia Tech wins defensive slog

December, 28, 2012
12/28/12
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- You knew it, I knew it, everybody knew it: The Russell Athletic Bowl would be a defensive struggle between two highly skilled groups at Rutgers and Virginia Tech.

But did anybody expect the slog that ensued?

Gary Nova and Logan Thomas did nothing to dispel the notion that they are quarterbacks who have yet to live up to their full potential. Virginia Tech finished with 3 total yards rushing. Rutgers averaged 1.7 yards per carry. Virginia Tech averaged 2.7 yards per play. Rutgers averaged 2.5 yards per play.

It was almost as if they were playing a game of "anything you can do, we can do worse!" Virginia Tech owned that game within the game in the first half. But in the fourth quarter, boy, that was all Rutgers. Virginia Tech overcame a 10-0 deficit to tie the game thanks to a host of Scarlet Knights errors, then Cody Journell made a 22-yard field goal in overtime to give the Hokies a 13-10 victory Friday night, preserving a 20th consecutive winning season.

[+] EnlargeBruce Taylor
AP Photo/Scott A. MillerLinebacker Bruce Taylor hoists the Russell Athletic Bowl trophy after a team-high 11 tackles in the lockdown of Rutgers.
"Nothing comes easy for us," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "It's work, but we got a bunch of guys that will hang on, and keep working at it. Rather than get down a couple times this year, we could have shut it down, and these guys never did. We always hung together and we kept playing. That's what this game is all about. That's what life is all about."

This game unfolded the way the seasons have unfolded for both teams. Neither has had much success on offense, though their issues have been different. Thomas has been way too turnover-prone, and we saw that on the second play of this game, as he couldn't handle a bad snap and fumbled in the end zone. Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene recovered for his team's only touchdown on the night.

Thomas sailed balls left and right. He threw two interceptions. At halftime, the Hokies had 73 total yards of offense, and Thomas was 10-of-21 for 84 yards. Rutgers was not much better on offense, and much of that falls on Nova, a quarterback who gets easily rattled when the pressure gets to him.

Viewers have seen it many times this year, and Virginia Tech saw that on film as it prepared for this game.

"We got after him all day," Virginia Tech linebacker Jack Tyler said. "Our defensive line played great, got great pressure and you can have Tom Brady back there as the quarterback, and if you get pressure on him, he’s going to be very average. And that was our game plan going in. He had a tendency down the stretch to turn the ball over a little bit and we knew if we got to him we could make that happen."

Rutgers led 10-0 into the fourth quarter, but that was through no effort from its offense. Virginia Tech played well defensively enough to hang around, well enough to drop three shoulda-been interceptions. So you almost felt as if it was a matter of time before somebody on the Hokies side came up with a game-changing interception.

Enter Antone Exum.

His interception early in the fourth quarter allowed Virginia Tech to score the only offensive touchdown of the game, as Thomas threw a 21-yard pass to Corey Fuller to tie the score at 10. We have seen a similar scenario play out all year -- struggling Virginia Tech offense gets bailed out by the defense.

We've seen it play out at Rutgers, too. But tonight, there was not much the Scarlet Knights defenders could do to help their woefully anemic teammates on offense. In the fourth quarter, Rutgers ran 19 plays for 12 yards. Twice on third and long, Rutgers ran the ball, too scared to allow Nova to perhaps win the game.

Two straight games now, Rutgers has blown late leads and Nova has thrown interceptions down the stretch to cost his team. Nova finished 17-of-40 for 129 yards and that crucial interception. But coach Kyle Flood was unwavering in his support of his embattled quarterback after the game, saying confidently that Nova is his starter headed into the spring.

There is not as much certainty at Virginia Tech, where Thomas is faced with a decision about whether to return or go to the NFL draft. His body of work this season and on Friday night indicates he would be foolish to leave. Perhaps he gets a high enough grade from the NFL draft advisory board because all his measurables scream, yes, you are an NFL quarterback!

If that was his final game at Virginia Tech, it was not his prettiest. Check that. It was not pretty for either offense, period. Or for football, period. The teams combined for a bowl-record 21 punts. Good defense, bad offense? Depends on your perspective.

"It was the prettiest game for our defense," Tyler said with a smile.

Jack Tyler emerges as Hokies leader

December, 26, 2012
12/26/12
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When Jack Tyler walked on at Virginia Tech, he did not expect much of anything.

Why would he? He was on the lowest rung a linebacker could be on, last on the depth chart. He just hoped for a shot one day. Now, four years later, Tyler has emerged as a centerpiece of the Hokies defense -- a tackling machine poised to become one of the unquestioned senior leaders next season.

Pretty incredible for a guy whose only FBS scholarship out of high school was from Buffalo.

[+] EnlargeJack Tyler
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports Jack Tyler made the most of his first opportunity to start this season, collecting a team-high 112 tackles.
"I’ve had a few discussions with Coach [Bud] Foster about taking on that leadership role," Tyler said in a recent interview with ESPN.com. "That was maybe one of our downfalls this year. We didn’t have a lot of senior leadership, didn’t have a lot of seniors. He told me he wanted me to be one of those guys next year.

"Obviously, it’s a dream come true even being put in that sentence, and for Coach Foster to even think of me like that. Throughout my career here, I've just slowly gotten more confidence with the coaches and with other people. I just feel like I’m ready and it’s my time and I’m the perfect person to step into that leadership role."

Given the way Tyler played this year, it should be easy for his teammates to follow his lead.

Tyler has recorded a team-high 112 tackles, including 11 for loss and 2.5 sacks with two pass breakups and 13 quarterback hurries. He ranks third in the ACC in total tackles and fourth in tackles per game, and earned first-team All-ACC honors from the coaches for his play this season.

This also happened to be his first year as a full-time starter, after injuries gave him his opportunity in the lineup. But his monster opening night performance against Georgia Tech -- a career-high 17 tackles and ACC linebacker of the week honors -- cemented his place as a starter, and he has not looked back.

Now that he and his teammates are preparing to close out the 2012 season against Rutgers in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando on Friday, Tyler has a unique opportunity to set the tone for his teammates for the year to come.

Not bad for a guy who had no guarantees when he arrived.

"When I first got here, I had low expectations because I felt like I had to," he said. "Now my goals are as high as they possibly could be. That’s how my career has gone. What I thought about my freshman year doesn’t matter any more. Whether I was a walk-on doesn’t matter. No one looks at me as an old walk-on anymore."
The ACC coaches have unveiled their inaugural All-ACC football team and award winners, and it looks nearly identical to the media winners announced last week.

Both the coaches and media are in agreement on the players of the year: Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd as player of the year and offensive player of the year; Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner as defensive player of the year; and Miami running back Duke Johnson as rookie of the year and Offensive Rookie of the Year; Florida State cornerback Ronald Darby as defensive rookie of the year; and Duke coach David Cutcliffe as coach of the year.

Boyd won player of the year and offensive player of the year more comfortably on the coaches' ballots, getting four more votes than North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard. In media voting, Boyd beat out Bernard by one point.

Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own players. First-team selections earned two points; second-team selections got one.

Clemson, Florida State and North Carolina each had five players chosen to the first team, though the Tar Heels actually had six first-team picks as Bernard was named to the first-team offense as a running back, while also earning first-team specialist accolades. All of Clemson’s first-team honorees were on offense, while four of FSU’s five were on defense.

The coaches' All-ACC first-team differed from the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association team only at three positions: choosing Duke receiver Conner Vernon over Boston College’s Alex Amidon; North Carolina offensive tackle James Hurst over Clemson’s Brandon Thomas; and Virginia Tech linebacker Jack Tyler instead of Virginia’s Steve Greer. Amidon, Thomas and Greer were all second-team picks.

In all, there were four unanimous first-team selections in Boyd, Bernard, Clemson receiver DeAndre Hopkins and Florida State defensive end Cornellius Carradine on defense.

Here are the complete teams.

Bud Foster talks Hokies

October, 12, 2012
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Before I even had the chance to ask him a question, Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster began the conversation by saying it’s been at least 20 years since he’s been through a season like this one. “We’ll be all right,” he said, “we’ll survive.”

And there began the interview.

Virginia Tech hosts Duke on Saturday in a crucial game for the Coastal Division standings. Shockingly, Duke comes to Blacksburg with a 2-0 ACC record and ahead of the Hokies in the standings. Duke is one win away from becoming bowl-eligible for the first time since 1994. Virginia Tech, the preseason division favorites, is a pedestrian 3-3. What's even more surprising than the team's struggles, though, have been the Hokies' problems on defense. Last week, Virginia Tech allowed North Carolina to score 48 points -- more than another ACC team has ever scored against the Hokies. I spoke with Foster on Thursday to get his take on the defensive struggles.

Here are the highlights of our conversation:

What’s wrong? What’s going on?

Bud Foster: I think it’s a combination of things. We’ve give up too many explosive plays. A year ago we didn’t do that. You lost a guy who’s pretty dynamic in Jayron Hosley, we lost a really good player in Eddie Whitley. Kyle Fuller has been really banged up all year. We’re just having some growing pains back there a little bit right now, just giving up too many big plays. We gave up more explosive plays last week than we did all of last year.

How many?

BF: Oh I don’t know. I can’t tell you exactly. I lost track, that’s how many it was.

So what do you do?

[+] EnlargeBud Foster
Lee Coleman/Icon SMIVirginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster has more depth at cornerback after freshman Brandon Facyson emerged this spring.
BF: We’re going to stay positive. Several of [these players] won 11 games and went to the Sugar Bowl last year. At the same time, there are some key spots with new faces in there. But it’s the same group that played really well against a good Georgia Tech offense. I don’t know. We’re not panicking. We’ve got to perform better. We’ve got some guys who have to play better, that’s the bottom line. We’re just working hard and staying positive. We’re not pointing fingers, we’re just trying to find ways to get better and keep going.

Considering most of the growing pains have been in the secondary, how concerning is it knowing Duke’s passing game is its strength?

BF: It is a concern. You’ve got a fifth-year senior quarterback, if he plays. The other kid, No. 7 [Anthony Boone] is a complete player who can run and pass. You’ve got the receiver who set all the records [Conner Vernon], he’s a good player. We’ve just got to go play. We’ve been inconsistent in our performance. Defensively, you can’t do that, especially with how people are spreading the field and putting athletes out in space, you have to be able to match up, and right now we’ve missed tackles, we’ve lost leverage, we’ve given up big plays on simple technique. That’s been the frustrating part from a coaching standpoint. … Everything that we’ve given up play-wise has been our fault, not the other team. Now there’s going to be some execution, don’t get me wrong, they’ve got scholarships, too, but the majority of the plays we have given up have been because of our lack of execution, whether it’s a missed tackle or poor technique.

When we talked before the season, you cautioned me and said, ‘Well, now, you guys are the ones who keep saying this is going to be a great defense.’ It was almost like you kind of knew.

BF: That’s exactly right. I’ve always told everybody, ‘Ask me at the end of the year.’ You’ve got a whole new secondary, basically. When it’s all said and done, Kyle Fuller has played very little corner for us the last two years. He’s been our nickel guy. He’s been a bit of a freelancer. You’ve got two new safeties in there. You’ve got a guy playing corner for the first time. In the limited time he’s played there I think he’s done a great job in [Antone] Exum. He had some penalties in the Cincinnati game, but I think that’s a good fit for us still. Some people who don’t know think it’s not, but I think it’s a great fit for us and for them. Obviously we’ve had some injuries, Tariq Edwards is out, so Bruce Taylor was playing a position he’s not accustomed to. Jack Tyler has played extremely well. Bruce has played solid. I don’t know if we’ve had as much production inside as I’d like to have. We’re going back to ground zero, so to speak. I told the defense we’re starting all over again. I know what we can do and what we’re capable of doing. We’ve got everything in front of us. We control our own destiny here and if we do a good job down the stretch it will be one of the better comebacks in our program’s recent history.

I know you said you expected some growing pains, but has this start for the team surprised even you?

BF: The team in a nutshell is, we’ve been good at times and not very good at times. We’ve just been inconsistent. That’s on both sides of the ball. Offensively when they played well we haven’t played well. When we played well, the offense hasn’t played well. We just haven’t put it all together. Offensively we lost our top three producing players at their positions in Danny Coale and David Wilson, four linemen, your tight end, and defensively we started out with a bang and for whatever reason, Kyle’s been nicked up, and that affects things, and then he got hurt in the Pittsburgh game, and that threw us all out of whack. We just have to get back to what got us to where we are, and that’s effort, hard work, and believing in each other. … I have high expectations every year. I’m disappointed. I haven’t looked at our stats. They’re probably horrendous. It’s not about that, it’s about getting guys better. The only stat I care about is that win-loss column, and right now we’re just OK. The bottom line is we’ve got to play better. Consistently better.

BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas said he probably won’t sleep too well following his pedestrian performance in the Hokies’ 20-17 overtime win against Georgia Tech.

It might help him to watch the game film of the first three and a half quarters.

It was a snoozefest. Nyquil in uniform. Until the final 7:46 of regulation, when the Hokies scored 10 points to tie the game at 17 and force the first overtime game in Lane Stadium history. It was a thrilling, historic, dramatic finish that went off like an alarm and reminded many of us why we love college football.

You never know what you’re going to get -- and that just might be the story of the Hokies this fall.

There were signs that Virginia Tech can again play its way to the ACC championship game -- and historically, the winner of this game has gone on to do just that in each of the past seven seasons. But more often than not Monday night, the offense was sluggish, Thomas' throws were off, and the youth and inexperience around him was exposed. The defense, though, lived up to the billing, particularly on the interior defensive line, which was disciplined and effective against the Jackets’ spread option offense. It was only the first game of the season -- a big one as far as the conference standings go -- but this team’s identity will likely grow with the offense this year.

[+] EnlargeCody Journell
AP Photo/Don PetersenVirginia Tech eked out a win over Georgia Tech on Cody Journell's field goal in overtime.
“They say when you’re ripe, you rot,” said linebacker Jack Tyler. “We like to say that we’re green, we still have room to grow.”

And a schedule that will allow them to do it.

The Hokies’ most difficult game of the month is behind them. Three of the next four games are in Lane Stadium, the lone exception being a trip to Pittsburgh to face a team that just lost to Youngstown State. With upcoming nonconference games against Austin Peay, Pittsburgh, Bowling Green and Cincinnati, Virginia Tech could be a deceiving 5-0 heading into an important Coastal Division game against North Carolina on Oct. 6.

Odds are 47 first-half rushing yards aren’t going to continue to cut it. To be fair, a 22-yard loss contributed to that after freshman punter A.J. Hughes let a bad snap sail through his hands. The errant play set up Georgia Tech’s first touchdown that tied the game at 7. For a long, long time.

“We’re not as good of a football team as we need to be right now, but I think we’ve got the potential to be a really good football team,” coach Frank Beamer said. “That’s our challenge is to keep growing, keep getting better, day by day.”

Nobody in the program shied away from the fact that there’s room for improvement.

Thomas’ performance wasn’t exactly first-round-esque. He completed 21 of 38 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns. He had a couple of overthrown balls, and the offense never quite got into a rhythm, but his receivers weren’t flawless, either. He took all of the blame, though.

“The offensive line played great, the receivers played great and the running backs played great,” Thomas said. “I would say I was the one holding us back.”

Some growing pains were to be expected. Virginia Tech had to replace four starters on the offensive line, a first-round draft pick in running back David Wilson, and the top two pass catchers in school history. This offense got a makeover, and it showed. The same five linemen started every offensive snap against Georgia Tech. Six players made their first career starts, including offensive tackle Nick Becton, offensive tackle Vinston Painter, guard David Wang and tailback Michael Holmes.

“It’s the first game, we had a bunch of young guys who hadn’t played a lot,” linebacker Bruce Taylor said. “In the fourth quarter we showed some promise, that’s something to look forward to for next week. The offense looked a lot better in that fourth quarter. ... We can only build from here and it will look better from here.”

Hokies, Michigan succeed by adapting

December, 31, 2011
12/31/11
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Bud Foster, Al BorgesIcon Sports MediaVirginia Tech's Bud Foster and Michigan's Al Borges have benefitted from being flexible.

NEW ORLEANS -- If ever a coach had earned the right to be stubborn about his system, it'd be Bud Foster.

He has coordinated Virginia Tech's defense for the past 16 seasons, and the unit has finished in the top 12 nationally on 10 occasions (the Hokies currently rank 13th in total defense). He has had 34 players drafted in the NFL, 45 different players score touchdowns and at least one player earn All-America honors in all 16 seasons.

The pillars of Foster's defenses -- speed, athleticism, pressure, opportunistic play -- have become synonymous with Virginia Tech's program.

Foster could enter rooms with "My Way" blaring in the background if he wanted to. But he doesn't.

His success isn't tied to stubbornness. He has adapted over time, while maintaining an attacking foundation.

"It's changed a lot but it hasn't changed a lot," Foster said Friday. "We were more of an eight-man front group in the mid-1990s through probably the mid-2000s. You were seeing a lot more two-back offenses at that time. ... We've just tweaked things year in and year out. We're always trying to make it a little better."

Michigan made more than a few tweaks in its offense this year, as coordinator Al Borges integrated some of his pro-style elements while maintaining a spread framework. The results were predictably choppy, but Michigan still scored more points (410) than it did in 2010, when the offense set several team and individual records.

Although Foster has led the Virginia Tech defense since 1995 and Borges had led the Michigan offense only since January, both have benefited from being flexible.

"He's like we have been offensively," Borges said of Foster. "Their defense is ever-evolving."

The next step in the evolution takes place Tuesday night at the Allstate Sugar Bowl, as Virginia Tech's defense and Michigan's offense square off in a fascinating matchup.

Both units faced some obstacles to reach this point. A look at Virginia Tech's defensive depth chart shows seven sophomores and a freshman in the starting lineup. The Hokies were hit particularly hard by injuries this season, losing starters Antoine Hopkins, Jeron Gouveia-Winslow and Bruce Taylor as well as key reserves like Kwamaine Battle.

Despite the losses and the abundance of youth, Virginia Tech maintained its standards on defense, ranking in the top 20 nationally in scoring defense (17.2 ppg), total defense (313.9), pass-efficiency defense (111.8), rushing defense (107.8 ypg) and sacks (2.92 spg).

"[Foster] has enough flexibility," Borges said. "He's been there a long time. That system, although he's got some young players, that system that he has ... they know it. ... You're not teaching every little tiny thing, and you can start dealing more with nuance and things like that. Bud's at that point because he's been there so long."

Borges inherited a more seasoned offense and benefited from a lack of major injuries. His challenge was blending what he had done for decades with personnel suited to a vastly different scheme, particularly junior quarterback Denard Robinson.

"You can see they've done a great job adapting to their talent," Foster said. "But then, there's nothing real fancy about them, either. They're going to line up and hit you in the mouth and be physical."

Virginia Tech must not only contain Robinson on Tuesday night but be wary of Michigan's power game, which features sophomore running back Fitzgerald Toussaint and a big offensive line led by All-America center David Molk.

While the Hokies boast good size at defensive tackle, they're giving up a few pounds elsewhere. Sophomore defensive end J.R. Collins checks in at 240, while outside linebacker Alonzo Tweedy weighs just 189 pounds.

"We obviously have to get off on the football and be physical," Foster said. "That's what [Michigan] is going to do."

Virginia Tech has faced mobile quarterbacks in the past -- former West Virginia star Pat White among them -- and practiced against one the past few seasons in Tyrod Taylor. But linebacker Jack Fuller said Robinson gives the Hokies a look they haven't seen this season.

The closest comparison, according to Tyler, is Clemson's Tajh Boyd, who torched the Hokies in the ACC title game (240 pass yards, 3 TDs).

"But [Boyd's] not much of a scrambler," Fuller said. "He's quick and he can run the ball, but they look for Denard to run the ball. They have set plays for him and that's part of their offense, getting him to run the ball and getting that extra blocker."

Michigan also must adjust to some different elements from Virginia Tech, which doesn't shy away from press coverage and has the athletes to do so.

"It is a challenge," Robinson said. "They have some unique defenses and great athletes."

Added Toussaint: "They are very athletic at every position and play every play with maximum effort."

Virginia Tech's defense and Michigan's offense both should be improved in 2012, as only a handful of players depart each unit.

Both groups will look to use Tuesday night's game as a springboard.

"This is a big step for all of us," Toussaint said.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 11

November, 10, 2011
11/10/11
10:15
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Here’s a look at 10 things to keep an eye on in Week 11, in no particular order:

1. Virginia Tech’s defensive changes. Coordinator Bud Foster has revamped his starting lineup in preparation for Georgia Tech’s spread option offense. Jack Tyler will get his first start of the season at middle linebacker, and defensive end J.R. Collins will move to defensive tackle. Tyrel Wilson will take Collins’s spot at defensive end, and for the second straight year, cornerback Kyle Fuller will play linebacker. There are a lot of redshirt sophomores in the lineup who will get their first look at the Jackets’ unique offense. How they handle that -- some in new positions -- will be critical.

[+] EnlargeDavid Wilson
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneVirginia Tech's David Wilson is looking for his ninth 100-yard rushing game of the season.
2. Georgia Tech’s rushing defense. The Yellow Jackets have allowed four different 100 yard ACC rushers this season, and Virginia Tech’s David Wilson is looking for his ninth 100-yard game of the season. The Jackets played well in their upset win over Clemson, but can they make the stops against the nation’s leading rusher and get the Hokies off the field?

3. The ACC standings. This is a critical week for the conference race. Clemson can clinch the Atlantic Division with a win over Wake Forest, Virginia Tech can eliminate Georgia Tech and Miami with a win in Atlanta, and Georgia Tech can move into a tie for first place with Virginia with a win.

4. Clemson running back Andre Ellington: He missed the Georgia Tech game with an ankle injury, and Clemson in turn missed him. Ellington is not only the team’s top rusher, but his ability to block and hang onto the ball should be a noticeable upgrade to Clemson’s offense against Wake Forest.

5. Standout receivers in Death Valley. The ACC’s top two receivers in receptions/per game will highlight Saturday’s matchup. Wake Forest junior wide receiver Chris Givens is 68 receiving yards away from tying Ricky Proehl’s single-season record of 1,053 which he set during the 1989 season. Clemson’s Sammy Watkins is No. 2 in the ACC at 108 receiving yards per game, while Givens leads with 109.4.

6. Miami running back Lamar Miller against the nation’s No. 3 rushing defense. Florida State is holding opponents to just 78.89 rushing yards per game, but Miller is coming off a 147-yard performance against Duke and became the program’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2002.

7. Florida State’s receivers against Miami’s secondary. A total of 10 Seminoles with at least five receptions are averaging more than 10.5 yards per catch. No team in the nation has more receivers averaging 10.5 yards per reception with a minimum of five catches. Miami’s defense can’t key in on one player, and the Canes rank No. 95 in pass efficiency defense.

8. Duke’s passing game against Virginia’s defense. The Hoos are No. 20 in the country in pass efficiency defense, and Duke has the No. 3 passing offense in the ACC. Virginia safety Rodney McLeod had three interceptions last weekend against Maryland, but Duke receivers Conner Vernon and Donovan Varner are two of the best in the league.

9. NC State receiver T.J. Graham. He needs 55 yards to break the ACC career kickoff return mark. Earlier this season, Graham became the first Wolfpack receiver with three consecutive games with more than 100 yards since Jerricho Cotchery had five straight at the end of 2003.

10. Maryland’s red zone defense. Over the past four games, Notre Dame has converted 17 red zone trips into 15 touchdowns. That is the highest touchdown percentage on red zone visits for the Irish over any four-game stretch since 2000. As much as Maryland’s defense has struggled this year, the Terps have fared well in the red zone, and are tied for No. 20 in the country in red zone efficiency defense.
It was a busy weekend in the ACC. Here's a look back at the highlights from the scrimmages, according to the sports information departments of the teams that provided reports:

BOSTON COLLEGE

Coach Frank Spaziani told reporters after the 70-minute scrimmage that there were some good things, but "it's like a jigsaw puzzle with all the pieces in the box; they're not connected yet."

Offensive highlights:
  • Quarterback Chase Rettig completed 12 of 19 passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns. “I think Chase showed the progress he's been making,” Spaziani said. “The obvious things were fine; there were some subtle things he needs to work on.”
  • Rettig connected on passes of 10 yards six times, including a 30-yard pass to Colin Larmond, Jr., a 24-yard touchdown pass down the middle of the field to receiver Bobby Swigert and a 3-yard touchdown pass to senior captain Ifeanyi Momah.
  • Larmond (3 receptions for 53 yards), Swigert (3-for-33), junior receiver Donte Elliott (3-for-37) and redshirt freshman tight end Jarrett Darmstatter (3-for-16) led a total of 12 receivers that registered at least one reception each.
  • Rettig and fellow quarterbacks Mike Marscovetra and Dave Shinskie combined for four touchdowns as Marscovetra went 6-for-9 for 30 yards and a touchdown pass of five yards to junior receiver Hampton Hughes and Shinskie connected on 4-of-5 passes for 38 yards and a touchdown to sophomore tight end Mike Naples.
  • Tailback Rolandan Finch carried the ball 10 times for a total of 30 yards to lead all running backs while sophomore Andre Williams broke free for a 20-yard touchdown run during red zone drills. Williams finished with five attempts for 21 yards and redshirt freshman Tahj Kimble accounted for 20 yards on five carries.
Defensive highlights:
  • Linebacker Nick Clancy and defensive back Sean Sylvia led the team with four tackles each.
  • Sophomore linebacker Jake Sinkovec had one interception and one fumble recovery.
CLEMSON

Quarterback Tajh Boyd had an impressive performance, as he completed 10 of 12 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown to highlight the new offense in Clemson’s 75-play scrimmage in Memorial Stadium on Saturday morning.

Offensive highlights:
  • Boyd completed each of his final eight passes to six different receivers. He threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to receiver DeAndre Hopkins, then connected on a 3-yard score to Dwayne Allen in a goal-line situation.
  • Allen had three receptions for 66 yards, including a diving catch over the middle for 14 yards and a first down. Brandon Ford had three receptions for 37 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown pass from Cole Stoudt.
  • Stoudt was 4-of-14 passing, but threw for 71 yards and two touchdowns, one to Ford and one to Bryce McNeal (23 yards).
  • Rod McDowell was the leading rusher with four carries for 68 yards, including a 39-yarder on his first carry of the day. Andre Ellington had five rushes for 41 yards and added two receptions, while freshman Mike Bellamy had five carries for 40 yards.
Defensive highlights:
  • The first-team defense did not allow a scoring drive.
  • Martin Jenkins led the team with seven tackles, including a tackle for loss.
  • Corico Hawkins had five tackles and a fumble recovery, while freshman defensive end Corey Crawford had five stops, including a sack.
Special teams highlights:
  • Clemson’s three kickers, Chandler Catanzaro, Ammon Lakip and Brian Symmes were a combined 16-of-16 on the day in field goal attempts and extra points against a live rush.
Notable:
  • Three Tigers missed the scrimmage because they were going through graduation exercises across the street from Memorial Stadium in Littlejohn Coliseum. Starting offensive tackle Landon Walker, starting safety Rashard Hall and reserve defensive end Kourtnei Brown all graduated from Clemson on Saturday. It was especially noteworthy for Hall, who has been at Clemson just three years. He joins Nick Eason (now in the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals) as the only scholarship football players to graduate with two years of athletic eligibility remaining.
  • Four players missed the scrimmage due to injury. Those players were defensive back Xavier Brewer (sprained foot), defensive back Garry Peters (bruised calf), Andre Branch (head injury), DeShawn Williams (sprained ankle).
GEORGIA TECH

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson had mixed reviews after the Yellow Jackets' first scrimmage, which ran 90 minutes inside Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday morning.

"It was like a lot of first scrimmages, there were way too many balls on the ground and way too many penalties," Johnson said. "But we hit some big plays. When you play against each other there's positives and negatives on both sides. It's a starting place and we'll look at it and try to make some improvements."

Offensive highlights:
  • While no official statistics were kept, quarterback Tevin Washington passed for well over 100 yards, including a 63-yarder to senior A-back Roddy Jones. Redshirt freshman quarterback Synjyn Days threw the only touchdown of the day, to true freshman Jeff Greene.
  • Greene ran with the first unit Saturday as most of the veterans -- junior Stephen Hill, senior Tyler Melton, sophomore Jeremy Moore and junior Daniel McKayhan -- all sat out with injuries.
  • Washington scored the only other touchdown Saturday on a 1-yard QB keeper.
Defensive highlights:
  • Defensive end Emmanuel Dieke had a sack, true freshman Jamal Golden intercepted a Vad Lee pass, and Steven Sylvester and Isaiah Johnson both recovered fumbles.
Special teams highlights:
  • Sophomore Justin Moore booted a 45-yard field goal on his only attempt.
  • David Scully's 52-yard attempt was long enough, but just wide left.
MIAMI

The most important news out of Miami's first scrimmage was that quarterbacks Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris combined for five touchdown passes and only one interception. That sounds like improvement. Miami's quarterbacks combined for 407 passing yards on 38-of-52 passing for six touchdowns and only one interception.

Offensive highlights:
  • Receiver Tommy Streeter had the best offensive day for the Canes, catching five passes for 71 yards and three touchdowns, two of which came from Harris.
  • Lamar Miller had runs of 16 and 31 yards on the opening drive.
Defensive highlights:
  • Senior defensive back JoJo Nicolas led all defenders with eight tackles (six solo), with two tackles for loss.
  • Ramon Buchanan and freshman Gionni Paul and each had six total tackles, with Paul also recording a tackle for loss.
  • The defense totaled eight tackles behind the line of scrimmage for a total loss of 29 yards
VIRGINIA TECH

The Hokies' offense was the highlight, but what does that mean for the defense? Coach Frank Beamer pointed out that there were some long plays allowed, as the offense racked up 398 yards of total offense in the 78-play scrimmage at Lane Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The touchdowns came against Tech's second- or third-team defense, though, so the jury is still out.

"I thought it was a good first scrimmage -- better than most," Beamer said, according to the team's scrimmage report. "You take into consideration that you're trying to get everyone some work, people who don't know quite what they're doing, and that makes things a little ragged. I thought overall, though, it was a sharp scrimmage. The quarterbacks made some nice plays and Wilson got a couple of long plays against the defense, and we need to see what's going on there. Overall, the effort was good and the play was good."

Offensive highlights:
  • Backup quarterback Mark Leal led the quarterbacks with 116 yards passing, completing 6 of 13. He also threw an interception. Beamer said Leal is No. 2 on the depth chart behind Logan Thomas. Ju-Ju Clayton, who has dropped to No. 3 on the depth chart, completed 6 of 10 for 51 yards, while starter Thomas completed 4 of 8 for 79 yards, with an interception, in limited action.
  • Tailback David Wilson scored against the Hokies' second-team defense on a 22-yard run. Wilson led all rushers with 57 yards on five carries. Freshman Michael Holmes added 54 yards rushing on a game-high 11 carries.
Defensive highlights:
  • Freshman tackle Luther Maddy led the team with eight tackles, including two for a loss, and a sack. Freshman Michael Cole added six tackles, while Telvion Clark and Jack Tyler each finished with four.
  • Barquell Rivers had three tackles and an interception.
  • Jayron Hosley and freshman Ronny Vandyke also had interceptions. Hosley intercepted a Logan Thomas pass, while Vandyke intercepted a Trey Gresh attempt.
Special teams highlights:
  • The kickers connected on 5-of-6 attempts. Cody Journell hit from 35, 22 and 35 yards, while Justin Myer drilled a 52-yarder and a 28-yarder. "Cody's kicking extremely well," Beamer said. "Myer has a load of potential, and he needs to win some of the kicking contests during the week. That shows consistency, and that's where he is right now. Cody is usually winning it or right in the running at the end."
You are going to argue about this. How do I know? Because I'm still arguing with myself over it ...

[+] EnlargeLuke Kuechly
Michael Tureski/Icon SMILuke Kuechly leads a deep group of Boston College linebackers.
1. Boston College: Luke Kuechly is one of the best in the country, but he’s not alone. The Eagles also have Kevin Pierre-Louis, who ranked second nationally among all freshmen in tackles per game last season with 7.15 -- ninth in the ACC. It won’t be easy to replace Mark Herzlich, on or off the field, but Steele Divitto played in 11 games last season, and Nick Clancy and Will Thompson both saw time on the second team.

2. Florida State: The Noles had to replace two starters, including Kendall Smith, the team’s second-leading tackler, last season, and Mister Alexander, but the upcoming talent could be even better. Nigel Bradham led the team with 98 tackles and five pass breakups last season, and Christian Jones, Jeff Luc, Telvin Smith and Vince Williams will also be competing for playing time.

3. Miami: Sean Spence, who has 30 career starts, should be one of the best in the country, and Ramon Buchanon, another senior, also returns. The Canes have five other linebackers with experience in Kelvin Cain, who started seven games, Jordan Futch, who had a great spring and will see the field, Tyrone Cornelius, Shayon Green and C.J. Holton.

4. North Carolina: Kevin Reddick, who led the Tar Heels with 74 tackles last season, returns for his third season as starter. Zach Brown is also a returning starter with game-changing capabilities, and there is plenty of depth with Dion Guy, Darius Lipford, Ebele Okakpu and Herman Davidson. Junior college transfer Fabby Desir could also have an impact.

5. NC State: Audie Cole and Terrell Manning have combined for 39 career starts, and Cole fared well this spring moving to the middle to replace Nate Irving. With the return of Sterling Lucas, Dwayne Maddox and Colby Jackson, there is plenty of experience, but not quite as much depth as some other programs.

6. Georgia Tech: The Jackets return both starters in Steven Sylvester and Julian Burnett. There is no shortage of depth with Jeremy Attaochu, Quayshawn Nealey, Brandon Watts, Albert Rocker, Malcolm Munroe and Daniel Drummond.

7. Clemson: This group has a lot of potential, especially if true freshmen Tony Steward and Stephone Anthony make an immediate impact. There’s no question they’ll be given a chance, but the Tigers already have a good group with Corico Hawkins, Quandon Christian and Jonathan Willard.

8. Virginia Tech: It seems like this rotation has been in flux for a while now. The Hokies’ leading tackler returns in Bruce Taylor, Barquell Rivers had 96 tackles as a starter in 2009 but was injured last season, and there are several young players adding to the competition. Chase Williams, Tariq Edwards, Telvion Clark and Jack Tyler are only a few. Whip linebacker Jeron Gouveia-Winslow will have to earn his spot back over Alonzo Tweedy, Dominique Patterson and Nick Dew.

9. Maryland: The Terps were hit hard here with the losses of Alex Wujciak (381 career tackles) and Adrian Moten (14.5 career sacks). Demetrius Hartsfield returns with 20 career starts, and there are four lettermen returning including Darin Drakeford, Isaiah Ross, David Mackall and Bradley Johnson.

10. Wake Forest: Kyle Wilber’s move to outside linebacker will give this position a boost, as he led the Deacs with 14.5 tackles for loss and six sacks last season. His backup is Gelo Orange (22 tackles). The Deacs also have Tristan Dorty, Joey Ehrmann, Mike Olsen, Scott Betros, Riley Haynes and Justin Jackson.

11. Virginia: Starters LaRoy Reynolds and Ausar Walcott both return, but neither has started more than 11 career games. Junior Steve Greer has prior starting experience but played mainly as a reserve last season. Adam Taliaferro, Conner McCartin, Tucker Windle and LoVante Battle are also in the mix for playing time.

12. Duke: Kelby Brown is the lone returning starter, but he’s a promising young player who led the nation last season as a freshman in fumbles recovered. He missed spring ball while recovering from a knee injury, but is expected to start with Tyree Glover or Kevin Rojas.
Tags:

ACC, Boston College Eagles, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Clemson Tigers, Duke Blue Devils, Florida State Seminoles, Maryland Terrapins, Miami Hurricanes, North Carolina State Wolfpack, North Carolina Tar Heels, Virginia Cavaliers, Virginia Tech Hokies, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Demetrius Hartsfield, Jordan Futch, Adrian Moten, Kendall Smith, Zach Brown, Gelo Orange, Nate Irving, Steve Greer, Alex Wujciak, Steven Sylvester, Barquell Rivers, Tariq Edwards, Sean Spence, Malcolm Munroe, Nigel Bradham, Bruce Taylor, Dwayne Maddox, Mark Herzlich, C.J. Holton, Will Thompson, Tristan Dorty, Luke Kuechly, Kevin Reddick, Christian Jones, Ausar Walcott, Audie Cole, Chase Williams, Jeron Gouveia-Winslow, Joey Ehrmann, Julian Burnett, David Mackall, Jack Tyler, Terrell Manning, Kelby Brown, Tyree Glover, Mister Alexander, Herman Davidson, Telvin Smith, Quandon Christian, Tony Steward, Kevin Rojas, Corico Hawkins, Darin Drakeford, Dominique Patterson, Daniel Drummond, Riley Haynes, Kevin Pierre-Louis, 2011 ACC position rankings, 2011 ACC summer position rankings, Justin Jackson, Adam Taliaferro, Albert Rocker, Alonzo Tweedy, Bradley Johnson, Brandon Watts, Colby Jackson, Conner McCartin, Darius Lipford, Ebele Okakpu, Fabby Desir, Isiah Ross, Jeremy Attaochu, Jonathan Willard, Kelvin Cain, Kyle Wisber, LaRoy Reynolds, LoVante Battle, Mike Olsen, Nick Clancy, Quayshawn Nealey, Ramon Buchanon, Scott Betros, Shayon Green, Steele Divitto, Stephone Anthony, Sterling Lucas, Telvion Clark, Tucker Windle, Tyrone Cornelius, Vince Williams

MIAMI -- There are no lineup changes for Virginia Tech, other than the ones you already know about -- Darren Evans starting at tailback, and former walk-on Jack Tyler will get his first start at mike linebacker with Bruce Taylor sliding over to the backer spot.

It will be an unusual rotation at linebacker, as Taylor started all 13 games this year at the mike spot and will replace Lyndell Gibson, who started all 13 games at the backer spot, but was injured in the ACC championship game. Tariq Edwards will play backer as well, allowing Taylor to move back to the mike spot during the game. Taylor had said earlier this week he couldn't ever remember another time he had played two positions, but he was eager to try it.

Stanford had no lineup changes, but offensive guard James McGillicuddy, who likes to switch jerseys to keep things interesting, could be wearing No. 11 Monday night. Just look for the 307-pound guy moving around back there.
FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Before he was injured, Virginia Tech linebacker Barquell Rivers gave his teammate Bruce Taylor some friendly advice.

He told Taylor to learn his position “in case something happens.”

Some things happened.

First, Rivers suffered a torn quad and missed the entire regular season. Then, in the ACC championship game, starter Lyndell Gibson was sidelined with a season-ending shoulder injury, and Taylor was injured, forcing redshirt freshmen Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards into integral roles. They could continue to be impact players against Stanford in the Discover Orange Bowl. This week’s practices are likely to determine the Hokies’ starting lineup and rotation, which is currently unsettled.

The good news is that Taylor is healthy enough to play two positions, both “backer” and middle linebacker.

“It’s the first time I’ve done anything like that before, but Coach [Bud] Foster was telling me a few years back he had some guys who played both positions,” Taylor said. “He knows what he’s doing. He’s a great coach. I know we’ll be fine.”

Part of that is because Taylor took Rivers’ advice and kept up with the backer position during the year. He said he knows it now “except for a few little things.” Taylor said Rivers will play, but this week will determine how much. Edwards is listed as a starter on the two-deep depth chart against Stanford.

“If I have to come in as a backup, that will be fine as well,” he said. “We’re all prepared.

Tyler agreed, and said that his time in the ACC championship game did wonders for the confidence of those around him.

“It didn’t just help mine, I think it helped some of the players and coaches have more confidence in me,” he said. “I knew my abilities going in, but I think some coaches and players alongside of me, they might not have had as much confidence as they do now. I think it was more for them.”

Regardless of who lines up against Stanford, all of them said they’ll be prepared.

“It’s a little rambunctious right now, but Coach Foster, he knows what we’re doing. We all have our roles. We all know what we’re game planning for. We know game time is not going to be a big cluster. We’re going to know what we’re doing and be prepared to go out and win.”

Video: Virginia Tech's Jack Tyler

December, 29, 2010
12/29/10
3:31
PM ET


Heather Dinich talks with Virginia Tech linebacker Jack Tyler about facing Stanford.
You couldn't ask for much more from the Hokies right now, considering they'll enter the Discover Orange Bowl on an 11-game winning streak after having gone undefeated in ACC play. They're one of the best teams in the country since their 0-2 start, but there's one position that's a little unsettled heading into the matchup against Stanford.

Who's going to have to step up?

The linebackers. With starter Lyndell Gibson out with a fractured shoulder blade, Tariq Edwards is likely the next man up. He has 21 tackles, one interception, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery this year. There could be a rotation at linebacker, though, with Bruce Taylor and Jack Tyler, who has 20 tackles, including five for loss this year. Taylor could be playing two positions, as he is listed as the starter at mike but also the backup to Edwards. Edwards and Tyler, both redshirt freshmen, will see increased playing time against an offense that ranks No. 8 in the country with 40.33 points per game.

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