NCF Nation: Jaymes Brooks

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Hokies were favored to win this game, but Clemson has done a good job of getting the ball to Sammy Watkins in space, and DeAndre Hopkins was wide open on another big gain, as was tight end Dwayne Allen. Short passes have turned into some long gains for Clemson, and the Hokies have missed tackles and gotten beat on a few plays.

Meanwhile, the ACC's Player of the Year, David Wilson, hasn't been enough of a factor. His 11-yard gain late in the second quarter was the Hokies' longest run of the half. One thing that's similar to the first meeting between the two teams earlier this season, is that Logan Thomas has struggled to find guys open downfield, and there was also a turnover on the Hokies' first offensive play of the game. Both teams have made costly mistakes, in particular penalties. Here's a look back at the first half:

Turning point: Clemson defensive end Andre Branch was flagged for roughing the passer late in the first half, which gave Virginia Tech an automatic first down on Clemson's 48-yard line. It was a foolish, unnecessary hit and gave the Hokies new life. The penalty was followed by gains of 19 and 13 yards. The Hokies got as close as the 14-yard line, but Clemson got a break when Jaymes Brooks was called for holding, and the Hokies lost about 14 seconds off the clock because they seemed to be aware of it and were forced to kick a field goal. The penalty on Branch, though, gave them that opportunity.

Stat of the half: Wilson's 21 yards on six carries tied a season-low for rushing yards in a first half. He also was held to that many against Boston College, but finished with 134 yards.

Best player in the half: Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd. He's already had a much better game than what he did in last week's loss to South Carolina. Boyd has completed 14 of 21 passes for 118 yards and one touchdown. Chad Morris is putting him in positions to be successful, and he's only been sacked once after 11 sacks in the previous two games.
I know there are many ACC enthusiasts out there who will be saddened to hear that I am not going to rank the offensive linemen by position (centers, guards and tackles). Instead, I’m going to put them all together and just rank the top 10 offensive linemen in the ACC this year.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Washington
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesBrandon Washington started every game last season and was credited with 56 pancake blocks.
1. Brandon Washington, Miami: He was one of three offensive linemen to start all 13 games last year and finished second on the team with 56 pancake blocks. He graded out at 99 percent against Pittsburgh, the highest grade of any starter all season, and 95 percent against Virginia Tech.

2. Andrew Datko, Florida State: He has played his entire career at left tackle, where he has protected the quarterbacks' blind side extremely well. He allowed just one sack in 11 games (all starts) last year, stifling heralded pass-rushers from Oklahoma, Miami, Clemson, Florida and Virginia Tech. He was penalized just three times and had only five missed assignments in 691 snaps. Datko's season average grade of 87 was second on the team only to Rodney Hudson.

3. Blake DeChristopher, Virginia Tech: He’s the veteran on the offensive line, with 37 career starts. He was a second-team All-ACC selection at tackle last fall when he graded out at 83 percent with a team-leading 59 knockdown blocks.

4. Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina: He is the veteran on the line with 22 career starts. He started all 13 games last year and played a team-high 875 snaps. He led the Tar Heels in knockdown blocks for the second straight year with 55. He graded out at 83 percent, tied with James Hurst for the best on the team.

5. Jaymes Brooks, Virginia Tech: He’s entering his third season as starting right guard, and is powerful and explosive. He had a season-high nine knockdowns against Florida State in the ACC championship game, and eight in the opener against Boise State.

6. Dalton Freeman, Clemson: He has started each of the past 22 games at center and finished second on the team with 58 knockdown blocks. He allowed just two sacks and was third on the team with a grade of 80.6 percent. He led the team in knockdown blocks in six games and four of the last seven.

7. James Hurst, North Carolina: He was one of the top freshmen in the country last year, and made an immediate impact with 12 starts at left tackle. He was third on the team with 33 knockdown blocks and tied with Cooper for a team-high grade of 83 percent.

8. Omoregie Uzzi, Georgia Tech: He was a second-team all-conference guard last year and started all 12 games he played in. He’s strong, has good lateral quickness, and has become more fundamentally sound. He should be the leader of the line this year.

9. Zebrie Sanders, Florida State: He started all 14 games last year and was the only Seminole lineman credited with at least one knockdown block in 13 of 14 games. He finished second on the team with 37 knockdown blocks, and had a season average grade of 81 percent, which was the best of his career. He ranks third among all FSU linemen with 37 career starts, including 23 consecutive.

10. Landon Walker, Clemson: He has played in 39 games (35 starts). Last year he had 30 knockdowns, at least one in every game, and had five and a team-high 87 percent grade against Auburn.
Ranking offensive linemen is not easy. But hey, either is being an offensive lineman. Here are your best "big uglies."

1. North Carolina: Three starters and one part-time starter return from last year’s team, and this line could be the biggest and best since Butch Davis was hired. Guard Jonathan Cooper (22 starts), center Cam Holland (20) and tackle James Hurst (12) have combined for 54 career starts. Travis Bond has four starts and is the leading candidate to take over at the other guard position.

2. Miami: The Canes return nine of their top 10 offensive linemen including four starters from last year, and Joel Figueroa was granted a sixth season of eligibility. Even with the coaching change, the Canes should be strong up front. Center Tyler Horn is a veteran, Brandon Washington is a difference-maker, and there’s enough competition that Seantrel Henderson spent most of the spring as a backup.

3. Clemson: First-year offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell has four returning starters to work with in Landon Walker, Antoine McClain, Dalton Freeman and David Smith. They also have top reserve Mason Cloy, who has 19 career starts and has played in 38 games. There is plenty of depth for a dependable rotation.

4. Virginia Tech: All four returnees started every game last year, and there is enough depth that the Hokies should be able to rotate the most players up front they ever have. It’s a veteran group led by Blake DeChristopher, Andrew Lanier, Jaymes Brooks and Greg Nosal.

5. Florida State: Despite the losses of Rodney Hudson and Ryan McMahon, there’s experience up front. This fall, the starting lineup will consist of tackle Andrew Datko, left guard Bryan Stork or David Spurlock, center Jacob Fahrenkrug, right guard Spurlock or Stork, right tackle Zebrie Sanders. Just how good they’ll be remains to be seen as the majority of them were out with injuries this past spring.

6. NC State: The Pack lost Jake Vermiglio and will be without injured left guard Andrew Wallace for about half of the season, but Zach Allen, Camden Wentz and R.J. Mattes are returning starters. There’s also a lot of talent waiting to emerge with young players like Duran Christophe, Rob Crisp, Tyson Chandler, Torian Box and Andy Jomantas.

7. Virginia: Four players return with a combined 64 career starts in Anthony Mihota, Austin Pasztor, Oday Aboushi and Morgan Moses, who started the final seven games of the season as a true freshman. Pasztor is in his fourth season as a starter and has 32 career starts.

8. Boston College: Despite the losses of Anthony Castonzo, Thomas Claiborne and Rich Lapham, the Eagles are almost settled up front, it’s the experience behind the starters that’s reason for concern. The No. 2 offensive line is comprised entirely of redshirt freshmen. Mark Spinney returns at center, the projected starting guards are Nathan Richman and Ian White, who started three games as a freshman, and the tackles are Emmett Cleary and John Wetzel.

9. Maryland: It’s been an injury-prone group the past two seasons and that didn’t change this past spring. Left tackle Justin Gilbert, one of the top linemen on the team, reinjured the same knee he had ACL surgery on and will be out until October. R.J. Dill was also injured this spring, though he played in the spring game, and Justin Lewis was rehabbing from offseason surgery. Pete White also missed practices, so the group needs to solidify the two-deep roster.

10. Georgia Tech: The Jackets return three starters in guard Omoregie Uzzi, guard Will Jackson and tackle Phil Smith. Sophomore Jay Finch played extensively last season and Ray Beno and Nick McRae were key reserves. Redshirt freshmen Catlin Alford and Morgan Bailey could also work their way into the rotation. Uzzi will be the leader of the line, but they were outplayed by the defense this spring.

11. Wake Forest: Four starters are back, but the Deacs will sorely miss the experience and leadership of former center Russell Nenon. Garrick Williams started the final three games of 2010 -- two at guard and one at center, but he struggled with the snaps towards the end of spring and isn’t where the staff needs him to be yet.

12. Duke: The Blue Devils should take another step forward this season under offensive line coach Matt Luke, and they need to -- Duke’s running game was last in the ACC last year and 104th in the country. Brian Moore replaces a three-year starter at center, but given his experience at right guard the past two seasons, it should be a smooth transition. That will leave a hole, though, at the right guard position, where Laken Tomlinson and John Coleman are the top candidates.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Now that that national championship game is over, ESPN.com is officially putting a cap on the 2008 season. We're kicking it off today with a bowl edition of helmet stickers. The ACC won four of its 10 bowl games, with Virginia Tech, Florida State, Maryland and Wake Forest earning postseason victories.

Here are the ACC's top performers during the bowls:

Virginia Tech's backups: Offensive guard Jaymes Brooks, linebacker Barquell Rivers and defensive end Nekos Brown filled in for Tech's missing starters and the Hokies didn't miss a beat. Brooks played all 78 snaps as the Hokies put up nearly 400 yards of total offense. Brown and Rivers helped limit the high-powered Cincinnati offense to just one touchdown and Rivers had a key stop on fourth-and-goal at the 1 to help seal the game.

Virginia Tech tailback Darren Evans: Evans ran for 153 yards and a score, earning FedEx Orange Bowl MVP honors in the Hokies' 20-7 win over Cincinnati.

Virginia Tech's defense: The Hokies grabbed four interceptions, held Cincinnati to 71 yards rushing and 310 yards of offense. They didn't allow any touchdowns after the first drive.

UNC wide receiver Hakeem Nicks: In what became the final game of his career, Nicks caught eight receptions for 217 yards and three touchdowns, including ESPN's No. 1 bowl play of the season -- a behind-the-back catch. It was a standout performance in a losing effort, as the Tar Heels fell, 31-30, to West Virginia in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

Florida State kicker Graham Gano: He averaged 48.2 yards on five punts and had three downed inside Wisconsin's 5-yard line to earn MVP honors. Gano placed three first-quarter punts inside the 4-yard line, including two at the 1.

Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder: He threw for 199 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in the 42-13 romp over Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl. It was a dramatic improvement from the last 10 games of the regular season during which he threw six touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

Maryland running back Da'Rel Scott: After being benched for 2 1/2 quarters for a curfew violation, Scott came in and ran 14 times for 174 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns in the Terps' 42-35 win over Nevada. His 49-yard touchdown run with 12:21 left put Maryland ahead 35-28, and Scott became the seventh back in Maryland history to top 1,000 yards.

Wake Forest offensive lineman Jeff Griffin: After starting 11 games at right tackle, Griffin moved to right guard and graded out at 94 percent (65 offensive plays, 61 plays graded positive), led the team with 18.5 knockdown blocks and didn't have one missed assignment. Wake Forest rushed for a season-high 239 yards and outrushed Navy 239-221 in the 29-19 win over Navy in the EagleBank Bowl. Griffin paved the way for Kevin Harris to rush for 136 yards, the most by a Demon Deacon this season. Wake Forest did not allow a sack.

Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner: He completed all 11 pass attempts against Navy for 166 yards and one touchdown. He also rushed seven times for 29 yards. Trailing Navy 19-14 with 12:30 to play in the game, Skinner drove the Deacons 80 yards in nine plays and finished it off with an 8-yard touchdown pass to tight Ben Wooster. Skinner was named the game's MVP.

Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers: Bowers had three tackles for loss, the most ever by a Clemson freshman in a bowl game. He finished with five total tackles and three quarterback pressures in the Tigers' 26-21 loss to Nebraska. He was named Clemson's MVP of the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl by the media attending the game.

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

MIAMI -- The two offensive stars in Virginia Tech's first FedEx Orange Bowl win never figured to play such prominent roles on the team this season.

 
  Mark Zerof/US Presswire
  Virginia Tech running back Darren Evans had 28 carries for 153 yards and a touchdown in the Hokies' 20-7 win over Cincinnati.

Sophomore quarterback Tyrod Taylor was slated to redshirt before he became the starter in the third week of the season. Redshirt freshman Darren Evans never expected to be the main ball carrier and probably wouldn't have if Kenny Lewis didn't suffer a season-ending injury.

Fate works in funny ways. Taylor softened the Cincinnati offense up with his scrambling and passing skills in the first half, and Evans bulldozed his way game MVP honors in the second half, when he rushed for 101 of his 153 yards.

The two have suddenly made the perennially low-scoring Hokies look like a menacing offense. The team scored 30 in the ACC title game against Boston College and rolled up 398 yards over a veteran Cincinnati defense in Thursday night's 20-7 win.

"We couldn't listen to what other people were saying when they said we couldn't move the ball or that we had no passing game," Evans said. "We just had to go out and do what got us here and play with a lot of intensity."

Cincinnati was a team that had contained mobile quarterbacks Pat White and Matt Grothe in the Big East this season. But Taylor befuddled the Bearcats much of the first half with his speed and ability to keep his eyes upfield. He completed 11 of 16 passes for 125 yards in the half and juked out two defenders on his way to a 17-yard second quarter touchdown run.

"He's very elusive," Cincinnati defensive tackle Terrill Byrd said. "He's going to be a very good quarterback in the near future. He did a good job tonight doing what he does best."

Taylor got thrown into the fire as a freshman when he replaced struggling starter Sean Glennon. His passing skills still needed a lot of work, though, so the Hokies' coaching staff planned on giving him this year on the sidelines to improve. Instead, after Glennon was ineffective early, Taylor came back into the starting unit. Taylor had his own problems and missed time with an ankle injury, but he rebounded to win ACC title game MVP honors.

"It was unfortunate that things happened at the beginning of the year to take his redshirt off him," tight end Greg Boone said. "But I think we rallied around him as a team and kept this thing moving forward."

Leading 10-7 at halftime, the Hokies turned to what they traditionally do best to open the second half: pound the ball. That meant handing the ball 18 times to the 6-foot, 210-pound Evans, who plowed through gaping holes created by the offensive line. Virginia Tech had the ball almost the entire third quarter and won the time-of-possession battle by more than 19 minutes.

Evans ran for 1,112 yards and 10 touchdowns this season after coming in with modest goals.

"We had a lot of talent, so I thought the ball would be spread out a lot more," he said. "I thank the coaches a lot, because they put a lot of confidence in me, keeping me out there the whole season like that. They could have easily been switching and rotating running backs in, and I appreciate that."

Said Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer: "To me he played faster as the year went along, and I think that came with confidence and getting more carries from that tailback position. And I thought here at the end, he really played fast.

"I like big old guys that run fast, too."

The Hokies' offense won't ever be confused for Florida or Oklahoma, who will take this same Dolphin Stadium field a week from now. Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly said his senior-laden defense, which was one of the best in the Big East all season, didn't play bring its usual effort to the postseason.

"They didn't score 50 points against us; it was 20 to 7," Kelly said. "We had hats in position that normally make plays. If we're playing Pat White and West Virginia ... we would have given up 250 yards to their run game. We just didn't tackle the way we needed to."

Still, it's hard not to be impressed with how far the Virginia Tech offense has come this season -- and how much better it can be in the future.

Along with the Taylor and Evans, the Hokies' top three wide receivers in the Orange Bowl were freshmen, plus Evans' top backup, Josh Oglesby. The entire starting offensive line from Thursday night returns in 2009, including freshman guard Jaymes Brooks, who played admirably while replacing academically-ineligible senior Nick Marshman.

"There are no guarantees in this business -- you've got to get down to it," Beamer said. "But I do feel like we've got a lot of good players in our program and a lot of them are young, and a lot of them have got more time at Virginia Tech."

And when next season starts, no one will be surprised to see Taylor and Evans as the Hokies' two most prominent offensive stars.

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

MIAMI -- The biggest question going into tonight's FedEx Orange Bowl seems to be: Is Cincinnati ready for this kind of stage?

The Bearcats had a great regular season. Then again, if you look at their schedule, you'll see that they didn't beat any elite teams. Their best wins came over Pitt and West Virginia. While Virginia Tech, at 9-4, wouldn't qualify for the nation's upper echelon this year, either, at least the Hokies have lots of big-game bowl experience.

We'll find out shortly how much that all matters. But I can tell you that coach Brian Kelly, his staff and players have sounded extremely confident going into this game that they're well-prepared and have the right game plan.

And make no mistake, playing Virginia Tech requires a different game plan than most weeks.

"Their style of defense and what they do is extremely unique to a spread offense," Kelly said on Wednesday. "As you know, its base roots are in the eight-man front. So ... there's a lot of different things that go along with preparing for Virginia Tech's defense than other defenses that you see during the year. It might look the same, but I can tell you, for a guy that's been in the spread offense for a long time, there's a lot of different things that I have to prepare our offense for that we don't see during the year."

Watch for Cincinnati to try some wide receiver screens to Mardy Gilyard. They made a living off that play in the regular season, but it remains to be seen whether it will work against a fast Hokies defense.

The flip side is, did Virginia Tech see a similarly prolific spread offense this season in the low-scoring ACC? Coach Frank Beamer certainly seems to have a healthy respect for the Bearcats.

"Offensively .. they know what they're doing," Beamer said. "They operate efficiently. (Tony) Pike, he gets the job done and he's very efficient. I don't think he's fast, but he's nifty, and he buys time and gets the ball out there to his good receivers."

A key matchup tonight will be Cincinnati's interior defensive linemen, led by Terrill Byrd and Adam Hoppel, against new starting right guard Jaymes Brooks, a freshman with virtually no playing experience. The middle is the place to get pressure on quarterback Tyrod Taylor, too, because the Bearcats don't want their defensive ends running up the field and leaving room for Taylor to scramble.

"It takes away from some of the different pass rush moves you can use," defensive end Connor Barwin said. "He feels pressure probably better than anyone we've faced, and he gets out of there quickly."

There's plenty more to say about this matchup, and I'll be saying a lot more as we go along. Stay tuned and enjoy the game ...

What to watch on New Year's Day

December, 31, 2008
12/31/08
3:48
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Here are a few things to keep an eye on in the ACC's New Year's Day bowls:

1. The Replacements. Junior Nekos Brown will fill in for defensive end Jason Worilds, redshirt freshman Barquell Rivers replaces linebacker Brett Warren, and Jaymes Brooks, who has played four career snaps, will fill in for starting right guard Nick Marshman, who is academically ineligible.

2. Clemson's secondary vs. Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz. Michael Hamlin and the rest of the Tigers' secondary will be without former assistant coach Vic Koenning for the first time, and how they respond will be important. Ganz is 13th nationally in total offense with 299 yards per game and 14th nationally in passing efficiency, but the Tigers are ninth in the nation in pass efficiency defense by holding opposing quarterbacks to a 100.03 rating.

3. Brian Kelly vs. Frank Beamer. This is a matchup between a veteran and a talented up-and-coming coach. Kelly is 22-5 in his second season at Cincinnati and has the Bearcats in their first BCS game. Beamer is 176-89-2 in his 22nd season at Virginia Tech, but is 0-2 in the Orange Bowl.

4. Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor. He has rushed for 100 yards or more three times this season, and will need his feet to escape a Cincinnati defense that thrives on pressuring quarterbacks.

5. Clemson's record-breakers. Running back James Davis needs just 112 rushing yards on Thursday (his birthday) to become Clemson's all-time leading rusher. He already has 49 career touchdowns, also second in school history and just one short of Travis Zachery's record. Clemson receiver Aaron Kelly needs just 23 receiving yards to become the school's career leader and he already has the ACC career record for touchdowns.

6. Virginia Tech's field position. In close games, field position is critical, and Cincinnati punter Kevin Huber gives the Bearcats the edge. Cincinnati is No. 1 in the country in net punting with 41.51 yards per game. Huber averages 44.89 yards per punt to rank seventh in the nation.

7. Clemson's new and improved offensive line. This had been the root of the Tigers' problems for three quarters of the regular season, but now that they're healthy and have found the right combination, it has freed the top playmakers to make plays. Clemson is 4-0 when it starts an offensive line composed of Thomas Austin and Mason Cloy at guard, Landon Walker and Chris Hairston at tackle, and Bobby Hutchinson at center. That is slated to be Clemson's starting lineup on the of¬fensive line in the Gator Bowl.

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Virginia Tech must be doing something right. The Hokies are one of just three programs (Florida and Florida State are the others) who will be participating in a bowl game this year for the 16th straight season.

But when it comes to bowl results, Frank Beamer figured that Virginia Tech must be doing something wrong. The Hokies have lost their last two postseason games despite being favored over Kansas in the 2008 FedEx Orange Bowl and Georgia in the Chick-fil-A Bowl two years ago. They've dropped four of their last five bowl contests and their last four BCS appearances.

"We've been to, I guess, 16 straight, and we've really kind of had the same procedure for a long, long time, and we've won some bowl games," Beamer said at Wednesday's coaches' news conference. "But in the last couple years we didn't win. So, after the game last year, we went back as a football staff and said, 'If we can get back to a bowl game, what do we need to do differently?'"

The Hokies (9-4) have changed things up in Miami this week. The players have had a midnight curfew every night, whereas in the past they've been allowed to stay out later in the days leading up to the game. For the first time during a bowl week, Beamer is moving his team out of the designated team hotel the night before the game. Virginia Tech left its cushy digs at the Westin Diplomat and headed away to a quieter, undisclosed location Wednesday night for more of a regular game feel.

Beamer said the team did more full-speed drill work and scrimmages in Blacksburg before coming to Miami, unlike in the past when he gave the upperclassmen some time off.

In the end, Beamer said, winning bowl games often comes down to the team being in the right mindset. Last year's squad may have relaxed a bit after beating Boston College in the ACC title game to get here, he said. This year, he senses more of a focus on beating Cincinnati.

"Hopefully our minds are right, and I do believe this is an important ballgame to this football team," he said.

Virginia Tech will have some challenges to overcome in this game. Two defensive starters -- end Jason Worilds, the team's sacks leader, and linebacker Brett Warren, the Hokies' second-leading tackler -- are out with injuries. Freshman Barquell Rivers will replace Worilds, while junior Nekos Browns will step in for Warren.

Of even bigger concern is the loss of starting offensive guard Nick Marshman to academics. Freshman Jaymes Brooks, who has played only four snaps all season, will take his place against an athletic and aggressive Cincinnati defensive front.

"He's done OK," Beamer said when asked how Brooks has practiced. "He's going to be a good, good player. He's very athletic, with good size, good pop. He just hasn't played very much."

This may or may not be the year the Hokies get back on the bowl winning track. But Beamer said that shouldn't take away from the accomplishment of reaching this stage yet again. He said he was thinking about that while watching past Orange Bowl highlights at Tuesday's luncheon for the teams. This is a young Virginia Tech squad that was 6-4 at one point this season and didn't expect to get here.

"When it's all said and done, it's important to this football program, to our players, to our coaches, to our fans that you're successful in that last ballgame, and it's not every day you get a chance to be successful in an Orange Bowl," Beamer said. "Sometimes I think we take these bowl games a little bit for granted, but I'll tell you, going through this year and not being sure that you could win enough to get to a bowl game, I don't think we ever need to take these things for granted. "

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