NCF Nation: Jonathan Dwyer

You can find all of the NFL combine tests results here, but I thought I'd point out a few highlights -- and some lowlights -- for some of the former ACC players who participated the past few days.

[+] EnlargeFord
AP Photo/Michael ConroyJacoby Ford had the fastest time in the 40-yard dash of any player at the combine.
C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford showcased their blazing speed, as Ford posted the fasted 40-yard dash time (4.28) and Spiller was second among running backs (4.37). Kam Chancellor had a ball bounce off his hands and Crezdon Butler appeared "stiff in space" according to our Scouts Inc. report. Former Georgia Tech defensive end Derrick Morgan didn't do anything to jeopardize his spot as a high first-round pick, but safety Morgan Burnett missed the 40-yard dash with a hamstring injury.

• Steve Muench of Scouts Inc. on Virginia CB Chris Cook:
Virginia CB Chris Cook turned some heads at the Senior Bowl, and he's doing the same in Indianapolis. At 6-2 and 212 pounds Cook posted an unofficial 4.43 seconds. That's an excellent size-speed combination for a safety and rare to see in a corner. Cook also recorded a jaw-dropping 11-0 broad jump.

• Muench on former Virginia Tech linebacker Cody Grimm:
Virginia Tech's Cody Grimm is an interesting prospect. Grimm appears instinctive and relentless on film, but he played outside linebacker in college and is just not big enough to line up there in the NFL. He measured just 5-10^ and 203 pounds and would be a better fit at safety, where he would have the potential to develop into an adequate reserve and special-teams contributor. Grimm's 4.54 time in the 40 is encouraging because the average time for safeties last year was 4.63 seconds and in 2008 was 4.55 seconds.

• What to make of Jonathan Dwyer? He was listed as one of the 10 most polarizing players in the combine by Bruce Feldman:
There were a bunch of fast backs in Indy; Dwyer was not one of them. His size is good (228 pounds) and he looks dynamic on film, but some skeptics will wonder if much of that is due to the frenetic nature of the triple option scheme he played in at Tech. He didn't test as a particularly explosive guy, and he looked shaky in the position drills and didn't seem comfortable as a receiver.

• Here's an excerpt from Todd McShay on former FSU safety Myron Rolle:
Purely from a football standpoint, Rolle has the tools of a potential third-round pick who could be developed into an adequate starter two or three years down the road. However, while NFL teams love the Rhodes scholar's intelligence and work ethic, there is a growing concern regarding his long-term dedication to football. Rolle is in a truly unique situation and has a lot of convincing to do between now and the draft.

• The Sporting News listed Miami's Jimmy Graham, Maryland's Bruce Campbell and Clemson's Jacoby Ford among its offensive combine winners. Russ Lande of TSN listed Derrick Morgan and Virginia Tech's Jason Worilds among the defensive winners, but it doesn't sound good for Duke's Vince Oghobaase.

• Campbell really turned some heads with his 40 time. Chad Reuter of wrote:
Campbell also has 36.5-inch arms and bench-pressed 225 pounds 34 times. Said one scout said, "He has the best body of anyone I've ever seen."

• Of course, the question is whether he can block. Said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, "If there's a star so far in the combine, it's him. What he's going to have to overcome is the tape."

• Reuter on Miami's Graham:
Miami (Fla.) tight end Jimmy Graham ran a 4.56, according to Graham played only one season of football for the Hurricanes, but his basketball background intrigues scouts and his blistering 40 time could lift Graham as high as the second round.

What to watch in the ACC this spring

February, 15, 2010
Here's a breakdown of three issues facing each program heading into the spring:


Spring practice starts: March 18

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

• How linebacker Mark Herzlich progresses. Herzlich, who was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma cancer last May, has been going through winter conditioning with his teammates, and he plans on participating in spring drills. How quickly he regains his form will be worth watching, as he and sophomore Luke Kuechly could give the Eagles one of the most formidable linebacking corps.

• The quarterback battle. After one season, Dave Shinskie has the most experience on the roster, but he’ll get some competition from Josh Bordner and Chase Rettig, two early enrollees. There were times last season when Shinskie looked like the future of the position and there were others when he looked like any other freshman.

• Defensive linemen. For the second straight year, BC is looking for some stability up front. The Eagles have to replace left tackle Austin Giles and defensive end Jim Ramella. They return Kaleb Ramsey, Giles’ backup, and Brad Newman, Ramella’s reserve, but some young faces are likely to be seen in the rotation.


Spring practice starts: March 7

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:

• Life without C.J. Spiller officially begins. The backs behind him had a pretty good year, so there’s no need for full panic mode. Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington actually combined for a higher yards per carry average (6.1 to 5.6 yards). Clemson will also be looking to replace Spiller’s lost kickoff return yardage. The Tigers had a 13-yard advantage in average starting field position, as their start was their own 37-yard line compared to opponents’ 24-yard line. Ellington is a candidate in the return game.

• Kyle Parker’s batting average. No, really. How well Parker does this spring with the baseball team will help determine whether he remains Clemson’s quarterback or turns to the MLB draft. He didn’t have a great 2009 season, but he was still the fastest player to 25 home runs in school history. It remains to be seen this spring if he’ll become a high enough draft choice to give up college football.

• Secondary shuffling. It seems like eons ago since Crezdon Butler and Chris Chancellor weren’t the Tigers’ starting corners, as Butler started 40 straight games and Chancellor started 42. Butler finished his career second in school history in interception return yards. Now it’s time for a new duo. Will Marcus Gilchrist move to corner, which he’s capable of doing? Might Rashard Hall move to safety with DeAndre McDaniel?


Spring practice starts: Feb. 14

Spring game: March 27

What to watch:

• Quarterback competition. Somebody has to take over for the graduated Thaddeus Lewis, but his backup – Sean Renfree – will miss the spring with a torn ACL. Redshirt freshman Sean Schroeder should be heavily in the mix to be the starter, pending Renfree’s recovery.

• Defensive line makeover. It’s wide open. Charlie Hatcher is entrenched at nose guard, but it’s really anyone’s game. The staff might move redshirt senior Wesley Oglesby, who played the majority of his career at defensive end, inside. Other options are defensive tackle Sydney Sarmiento, a redshirt freshman, and Curtis Hazelton, who played sparingly last season.

• Johnny Williams’ move from wide receiver to cornerback. He had 31 catches in 2009 – the fourth-best on the team. Now they need his help in the defensive backfield. Duke will lose starter Leon Wright and his 10 career interceptions, and the pass defense, which allowed 215.75 yards per game, could use a boost.


Spring practice starts: March 16

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:

• Christian Ponder’s return from shoulder surgery. Ponder is expected to practice this spring, though it could be on a limited basis, at least early. He’s ahead of schedule, but the coaches won’t subject him to any risks now. Yes, E.J. Manuel is talented and played well at the end of the season, but make no mistake – Ponder is FSU’s starter and a potential Heisman Trophy candidate.

• The defense under first-year coordinator Mark Stoops. His secondary, in particular, will be interesting to watch, as will how quickly he can help the front seven generate a pass rush and plug the middle. Stoops has been a secondary coach, and the Noles lost three starters there. The fourth, Ochuko Jenije, could be pushed to retain his job.

• New faces, new opportunities. In addition to the fab freshmen who are coming in, FSU has a handful of unfamiliar players already on the roster who played sparingly or not at all. We'll see how they fit in this spring. RS-So DT Anthony McCloud and RS-So RB Debrale Smiley are both junior college transfers and former teammates. Physically, freshman linebacker Jeff Luc is already a man, but how quickly can he mature on the field? Two young wide receivers worth watching are Rodney Smith and Willie Haulstead.


Spring practice starts: March 29

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

• The defensive transformation. The Jackets will switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4 under first-year coordinator Al Groh. In addition to learning the new scheme, the staff has to figure out who goes where. Linebackers might play defensive end and vice versa, safeties might play outside linebacker. It’s anyone’s guess as to how this team lines up in the spring.

• The replacements. From Georgia Tech’s coaching staff to the new faces who will be tasked with filling in for the Fab Four -- Jonathan Dwyer, Derrick Morgan, Morgan Burnett and Demaryius Thomas -- the Jackets will need some “Hello My Name Is” tags this spring.

• The offensive line. Three offensive linemen redshirted who could start, and Georgia Tech might need them to, especially if guard Joseph Gilbert decides to transfer to pursue his MBA. The Jackets lose two starters on the offensive line, and Gilbert, who graduates this spring, would be a third if he leaves. Center Sean Bedford and tackle Austin Barrick return as seniors.


Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

• The quarterback competition. Chris Turner has graduated, leaving Jamarr Robinson the top option going into the spring, but he has limited experience. The staff liked what he did when Turner was injured, but Danny O’Brien, Miami (Ohio) transfer Clay Belton and C.J. Brown will all be given an opportunity. Look for O’Brien to start the spring at No. 2 on the depth chart.

• Cornerback: Cameron Chism is the only returning starter in the secondary, but right now the staff has fewer concerns about the safeties. Maryland will have to find some bodies at corner, and Dexter McDougle, who redshirted as a true freshman last year, is one option. Michael Carter and Trenton Hughes, who was the third corner last year, are also among a handful of candidates.

• The offensive line. Losing Bruce Campbell to the NFL hurt, but the Terps also lost starter Phil Costa. Justin Gilbert, a redshirt sophomore, could inherit Campbell’s job. And there’s always Mr. Versatility -- Paul Pinegar. He has helped the Terps at both tackle spots and left guard, and this spring he’ll likely be given a shot at center.


Spring practice starts: Feb. 23

Spring game: March 27 (tentative)

What to watch:

• Tight end/offensive line: Jimmy Graham is gone, and the Canes don’t return any tight ends with any experience other than Richard Gordon, who was injured the majority of last season. Miami signed four tight ends in this recruiting class, but none of them were early enrollees. Miami has to replace three starters up front, including both tackles and the center.

• How the two young quarterbacks perform: The health of Jacory Harris was precious last year, as he had nobody behind him with any experience after the transfers of Taylor Cook and Cannon Smith. The depth has improved a bit with A.J. Highsmith, who played sparingly last year, and Stephen Morris, one of the early enrollees.

• Upgrade on the d-line? Progress up front began with the hire of Rick Petri as defensive line coach, and it’s up to Petri to help the Canes become better pass rushers. Miami will depend upon its two mainstays -- Allen Bailey and Josh Holmes. The right end position was a group effort last year, and Miami has to replace Joe Joseph and Eric Moncur.


Spring practice starts: March 15

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:

• Quarterback T.J. Yates. It’s his job to lose, and the coaching staff still has confidence in him, but Bryn Renner is waiting in the wings, and Braden Hanson will also be given an opportunity. The staff is looking for the offense to improve its passing efficiency and cut down on turnovers.

• The offensive line. It was a patchwork effort in 2009, thanks to injuries and inexperience, and will be a major key in how much UNC improves offensively this year. The Heels have to replace two starters, and Jonathan Cooper is likely to move from guard to center, and right guard Alan Pelc will miss spring drills while recovering from shoulder surgery.

• Defensive line tweaks. There aren’t many questions on a defense that should be one of the best in the country, but somebody has to replace Cam Thomas and defensive end E.J. Wilson. Tydreke Powell is the frontrunner to take over at defensive tackle and Quinton Coples at defensive end. Both were backups last year at their respective positions.


Spring practice starts: March 9

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

• Backup quarterback Mike Glennon. Russell Wilson is the starter, but he’s going to be playing baseball all spring. Keep an eye on his backup to see if Glennon can make it any more of a competition in Wilson’s absence.

• Chris Ward at punter. No, it’s not usually, the highlight of the spring, but in this case, it’s necessary. Ward is it -- he’s their only option right now, and it’s a position the Pack struggled with last year. Ward was expected to be the starter last season, but he was inconsistent. He’s definitely got the talent to be the guy.

• The recovery of linebacker Nate Irving. After being severely injured in a one-car crash last summer, Irving is hopeful he can go through spring drills. He has been lifting with the team and running with the sports medicine staff, but it’s still uncertain how limited his contact will be.


Spring practice starts: March 15

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:

• Quarterback competition. Marc Verica is the only one with any experience, and first-year offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor hasn’t been in Charlottesville long enough to evaluate any of the candidates. That’s what the spring is for, and true freshman Michael Strauss is the lone incoming quarterback on campus, so he’ll have a head start on the playbook. Of the four quarterbacks Virginia signed in this year’s class, Strauss is the only one listed as a true quarterback. The Cavs also have Ross Metheny, who redshirted last year, and Riko Smalls, who redshirted in ‘08 and was No. 2 on the depth chart when Verica was out with a concussion.

• Coaching transition. First-year coach Mike London has hired almost an entirely new staff, and they’ll bring changes in philosophy and scheme. London has said he wants to get the defense back to the traditional 4-3, and revert to the tradition of featuring the tight ends, offensive linemen and running backs.

• Running back. The Cavs will have the help up front, but they need to replace their four leading rushers in Mikell Simpson, Rashawn Jackson, Vic Hall and Jameel Sewell. The staff will look at true freshman Kevin Parks, but also have Torrey Mack and Dominique Wallace, who had just seemed to be coming on at Southern Miss when he was injured and missed the rest of the season.


Spring practice starts: March 31

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

• Revamped defensive line. The Hokies have to replace three of four starters up front. The only defensive ends with significant playing time are Chris Drager, who the staff wanted to move back to tight end, and Steven Friday. Redshirt freshmen will be given a chance – Duan Perez-Means, Tyrel Wilson, James Gayle and J.R. Collins – but they’ve never played. Isaiah Hamlette is the only other end who’s played and that was a skinny minute. At defensive tackle, Antoine Hopkins will be the frontrunner to replace Cordarrow Thompson.

• Darren Evans’ comeback. Evans, the team’s leading rusher in 2008, is working his way back from a season-ending ACL injury, and one of the biggest questions in Blacksburg is how the staff will divide the carries in such a talented backfield that includes Ryan Williams. With two returning 1,000-yard rushers, will David Wilson decide to redshirt? The spring will help him in that decision.

• The evolution of Tyrod Taylor. He’s going to be a senior, and with so many questions on defense heading into the season, the offense will be leading the way. This should be a breakout year for Taylor, who by now should have mastered the offense and should consistently be a passing threat to compliment his running abilities.


Spring practice starts: March 16

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

• The quarterback competition. It’s the most glaring hole the Deacs have to fill this spring, as they’re tasked with replacing the winningest quarterback in school history, Riley Skinner, and his backup, Ryan McManus. Redshirt sophomores Ted Stachitas and Skylar Jones, and sophomore Brendan Cross, will compete with rookie Tanner Price for the top spot.

• Offensive line. The Deacs will take a huge hit here, as seven players in the two-deep depth chart were redshirt seniors, including all four tackles. Three starters have to be replaced.

• The interior defensive line. Nose guard Boo Robinson and John Russell have graduated, and Russell’s backup, Michael Lockett, was also a redshirt senior. The Deacs are in good shape at the ends, but will need some help inside.

ACC, Russell Wilson, Darren Evans, Marc Verica, Boo Robinson, Phil Costa, Jamarr Robinson, Mike Glennon, David Wilson, Jimmy Graham, Jamie Harper, Michael Carter, Sean Renfree, Mikell Simpson, Austin Barrick, E.J. Wilson, Jacory Harris, Joe Joseph, Skylar Jones, T.J. Yates, Sean Bedford, Jonathan Dwyer, John Russell, Nate Irving, Thaddeus Lewis, E.J. Manuel, Ryan Williams, C.J. Spiller, Eric Moncur, Bruce Campbell, Demaryius Thomas, Rashawn Jackson, Cannon Smith, Tyrod Taylor, Ryan McManus, Chris Turner, Dave Shinskie, Cordarrow Thompson, Richard Gordon, Christian Ponder, Johnny Williams, Morgan Burnett, Riley Skinner, Derrick Morgan, Jameel Sewell, Allen Bailey, Mike London, Mark Herzlich, Taylor Cook, Leon Wright, Ted Stachitas, Jim Ramella, Jonathan Cooper, Mark Stoops, Cameron Chism, A.J. Highsmith, Braden Hanson, Bryn Renner, Paul Pinegar, Austin Giles, Kaleb Ramsey, CHris Chancellor, Andre Ellington, Luke Kuechly, Cam Thomas, Marcus Gilchrist, Chase Rettig, Michael Strauss, Tanner Price, Anthony McCloud, Debrale Smiley, Brendan Cross, Antoine Hopkins, Bill Lazor, Brad Newman, C.J. Brown, Charlie Hatcher, Chris Drager, Chris Hazelton, Chris Ward, Clay Belton, Crezdon Butler, Danny O\'Brien, DeAndrew McDaniel, Dexter McDougle, Dominique Wallace, Duan Perez-Means, Isaiah Hamlette, J.R. Collins, James Gayle, Joseph Gilbert, Josh Bordner, Josh Holmes, Justin Gilbert, Kevin Parks, Kyle Paker, Michael Lockett, Ochuko Jenije, Quinton Coples, Rahsard Hall, Rick Petri, Rodney Smith, Roko Smalls, Ross Metheny, Sean Schroeder, Stephen Morris, Sydney Sarmiento, Torrey Mack, Trenton Hughes, Tydreke Powell, Tyrel Wilson, Wesley Oglesby, Willie Haulstead

ACC recruiting rewind

February, 2, 2010
You would think that with how well the ACC has fared in recruiting the past four years, it would have eventually made a bigger push on the national landscape during the season. Miami has had three top-10 classes, and Florida State has had two. Overall, the trend in the ACC has been that Florida State, Clemson, Miami, Virginia Tech and North Carolina have led the conference on the recruiting front. Three of those teams have appeared in's final Top 25 ranking in each of the past four years (UNC has been there three of the past four.) Only the Hokies, though, have had it translate into postseason success -- so far. There was a common thread, though, amongst the other programs -- a coaching change or, in Florida State's case, coaching questions.

[+] EnlargeJohnson
Paul Abell/US PresswireAldarius Johnson was one of 12 ESPNU 150 players in Miami's No. 1-rated 2008 class.
It was impossible to predict, though, that players like former Miami quarterback Robert Marve would transfer, or that former FSU linebacker Marcus Ball would have off-field troubles and ask for his release.

Here's a reminder at how highly ranked several teams in the ACC have repeatedly finished since 2006, according to's Scouts Inc. rankings. You can click on the year to go to the full ranking. I mentioned a few of the top players in each class who were facing high expectations at the time, or players who weren't facing many expectations and have since proved otherwise (see: Virginia Tech).


No. 6 FSU (Myron Rolle)
No. 13 Clemson (C.J. Spiller, Jamie Cumbie, Ricky Sapp)
No. 17 Miami (Kylan Robinson)
No. 23 Maryland (Pha'Terrell Washington, Drew Gloster)
No. 24 Virginia Tech (Rashad Carmichael, Nekos Brown, Kam Chancellor)
No. 25 UNC (Aleric Mullins, Johnny White)


No. 9 Miami (Robert Marve, Allen Bailey)
No. 11 UNC (Quan Sturdivant, Marvin Austin)
No. 14 Georgia Tech (Jonathan Dwyer, Derrick Morgan, Josh Nesbitt)
No. 15 Virginia Tech (Tyrod Taylor, Blake DeChristopher, Barquell Rivers)
No. 18 Clemson (Willy Korn, Scotty Cooper, Marcus Gilchrist)
No. 25 Florida State (Brandon Paul, Markish Jones)


No. 1 Miami (Sean Spence, Jacory Harris, Aldarius Johnson)
No. 2 Clemson (DaQuan Bowers, Kyle Parker, Jamie Harper)
No. 12 FSU (Zebrie Sanders, E.J. Manuel, Nigel Carr)
No. 15 Virginia Tech (Ryan Williams)
No. 20 NC State (Mike Glennon, Brandon Barnes)


No. 7 Miami (Ray Ray Armstrong, Mike James)
No. 8 FSU (Greg Reid, Jacobbi McDaniel)
No. 13 UNC (Bryn Renner, Donavan Tate, Jheranie Boyd)
No. 18 Virginia Tech (Jayron Hosley, David Wilson, Logan Thomas)
No. 19 Clemson (Tajh Boyd, Bryce McNeal)
Earlier this week, I spoke to Georgia Tech's Anthony Allen about his upcoming role in the Jackets' offense now that leading rusher Jonathan Dwyer has decided to leave school early for the NFL. On Wednesday, coach Paul Johnson said Allen will enter this spring as the B-back. Here are the highlights of my interview with Allen, who could be Georgia Tech's next 1,000-yard rusher:

How did you take the news that Dwyer was leaving and how do you see this affecting your role?

[+] EnlargeAnthony Allen
Mike Zarrilli/Getty ImagesGeorgia Tech's Anthony Allen rushed for 618 yards and six touchdowns in 2009.
Anthony Allen: The first thing, I was happy for Jon. He gets the opportunity to go to the NFL and do some big things with the rest of his life. Another part of me would say it’s a good friend leaving the program, a good player who’s dedicated to the team, dedicated to the school. As far as my role goes, it opens an opportunity for me to compete. We’ve got some good backs back there competing for that B-back position. We can get some more touches, do some more things next year.

Did Dwyer talk to you about his decision? Did you know it was coming?

AA: Oh yeah, I knew it was coming. With us being the same position, running backs, we hang out sometimes, but me and Jon definitely talked about it. I asked him questions about me leaving, and he asked me questions about him leaving. I knew what he was going to do, what his heart was leaning towards.

Did that influence you at all to stay?

AA: Oh, I don’t want to make it seem like, ‘Oh, Jon’s, gone, so I’m going to stay.’ I don’t want to make it seem like that, but it definitely played a part in my decision.

What do you think you’re capable of next year? Have you even thought about individual goals?

AA: You always think about individual goals. I’m waiting to see what’s going to happen after spring time, when we get into camp and everything. When I see what exactly I’ll be doing, I’ll make my goals from there, but I know when I get the ball in my hands I’m going to try to make something happen with it.

Is there any chance of you playing any A-back, or is it pretty much a given that you’ll be a B-back?

AA: I don’t even know. The coaches aren’t back yet. I haven’t met with Coach yet to talk about next year. I’m kind of taking this week to relax a bit. Of course when Coach comes back in we’ll talk about what we’re going to do for next year and we’ll find out.

Do you think you guys could be as productive offensively without Dwyer and, what is it, two starters on the offensive line?

AA: I mean of course, that’s how college football goes. You lose players and you get more in. It’s just a matter of us staying consistent.

What was up with the rumors I heard about you possibly leaving early?

AA: I sent my stuff in to the draft board. I had my two years of tape from Louisville, along with this year. I was just weighing the possibilities, if I went into the draft what would go on, but I talked to my family about it, and of course we decided to stay in school.

Are you willing to share what they said?

AA: I didn’t want to leave the Georgia Tech fans after just one year. I wanted to come back and of course get my degree and everything like that.

I mean the draft advisory board.

AA: Oh, you’re talking about them. [He laughed.] I said all I want to know is what round y’all are projecting me in. Let me know if it’s going to be in the first two, and if it’s not, then I’m straight. If you tell me it’s not the first two rounds, I’m good. I don’t need to know any more.

With all of the depth back there, do you want to be the guy, or will it be a group effort?

AA: We’ve got some great backs. I’m a big guy, but I played the A-back position. Coach is going to do whatever he can to get the best guys on the field. If you watch tape from his early years at Georgia Southern and Navy and everything, he’s always had a main B-back and a guy who came in to relieve him, and his A-backs rotated. I feel we’re going to do the same thing this year, regardless of who’s at the B-back position.
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson isn't one to dwell on what he lost -- his leading rusher, leading receiver and top defender -- to the NFL draft.

Paul Johnson
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesPaul Johnson is confident the Jackets will have another 1,000-yard rusher in 2010.
In fact, Johnson said he's confident the Jackets will have another 1,000-yard rusher in 2010. That's just what the B-backs do in his spread-option offense, and that's where Anthony Allen will start spring practices.

“I would be really, really stunned if our B-back next year doesn’t gain at least 1,000 yards," Johnson said. "I think he will, they have every year I’ve been coaching and a lot of different guys have played that position through the years. I don’t take anything away from Jonathan [Dwyer], we’re going to miss him, but it will be somebody else’s responsibility to step in there. We have some young guys on defense that will step in and play. Will there be another Derrick Morgan? I don’t know. How many first-round defensive line picks has Georgia Tech had since they’ve been playing? You replace them and move on.

“What you hope to do is have consistency," Johnson said. "Maybe instead of a first-round pick, maybe you have three third- or fourth-round picks and there’s more that way. You just keep getting better. The neat thing about college football is every team is different; they change every year. Guys are going to come and go. You enjoy them while they’re playing and you miss them when they’re gone, but you move on."

The Jackets will move on, but Johnson mentioned a few areas they need to focus on this spring in order to become better:

  • Passing efficiency
  • Offensive line play
  • Better tackling, allowing fewer big plays
  • Third-down defense

"And that's just off the top of my head," Johnson said.

The good news for Georgia Tech is that this should finally be a year when Johnson has the maximum 85 scholarship athletes to work with. The Jackets will only lose six scholarship seniors, plus the four juniors who decided to declare early for the NFL draft.

"It's still not a lot," Johnson said.

He's still working on finding a defensive coordinator, but said he's less interested in the scheme than finding somebody who can fix it and teach it. Overall, Johnson said he was proud of this year's 11-win season which ended with an ACC title and appearance in the Orange Bowl. There's still more to play for, though.

"We won't be satisfied until we win them all," he said. "That's the goal."
For a while, it seemed like neither team wanted to win the FedEx Orange Bowl. But after an odd sequence midway through the fourth quarter, Iowa's offense once again came up big in the clutch. The Hawkeyes held on for a huge win, improving the Big Ten's bowl record to 4-3, its first winning mark since 2002. Georgia Tech's loss drops the ACC to 3-4 in the postseason.

How the game was won: After dominating the first half everywhere but the scoreboard, Iowa had enough offense down the stretch to stymie Georgia Tech and the celebrated triple option offense, which took way too long to get going. Norm Parker's defense completely shut down Josh Nesbitt, Jonathan Dwyer and company for a half and Iowa's offense overpowered Georgia Tech down the stretch. Following several bizarre blunders by both teams in the fourth quarter, the Hawkeyes (11-2) rode freshman running back Brandon Wegher and an inspired offensive line to the clinching touchdown.

Turning point: Iowa surprised everyone by running a fake field goal from the 4-yard line midway through the fourth quarter, only to fail miserably. But Dwyer committed an even bigger mistake on the next play, nearly taking a safety and preventing Georgia Tech from getting into an offensive rhythm. Dwyer's huge loss set up a punt, and Iowa marched down the field for a touchdown with 1:56 left.

Player of the game: Ricky Stanzi deserves a ton of credit for making huge plays in his first action since Nov. 7, but I'm giving this to a defensive player. Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn once again proved to be a force throughout the game, stuffing the run and dropping Nesbitt for two sacks. Clayborn was the face of the team in its first signature win at Penn State and its last against Georgia Tech. And, he's coming back in 2010.

Stat of the game: Georgia Tech (11-3) entered the game without punting for 22 consecutive possessions. The Yellow Jackets went three-and-out on their first four possessions and punted six times in the first half. Iowa held Georgia Tech to 156 total yards, just 32 in the first half.

Unsung hero of the game: If you told Kirk Ferentz before the season that Wegher would be his leading rusher in a BCS bowl game, he would have told you to take a hike. But Wegher stepped up in a big way for the ailing Adam Robinson, gaining 113 yards and a 32-yard touchdown on 16 carries (7.1 ypr).

What it means: It's a huge win for Iowa and the Big Ten, which restores national respect after being college football's piņata ever since Ohio State's first national-title flop. Iowa completed a storybook season by winning in its own style, with suffocating defense and just enough offense from Stanzi and his weapons. Parker showed why he's one of the best defensive coaches in the game: Iowa limited Georgia Tech to just one offensive touchdown. Georgia Tech once again looked mortal on offense in a bowl game, and while the Yellow Jackets fought hard, they made too many mistakes against a more disciplined Iowa team.


Fourth quarter lives up to hype

January, 5, 2010
MIAMI, Fla. -- This is what was expected from both of these teams -- a decisive fourth quarter. Both Georgia Tech and Iowa have had to come from behind all season long, so it's a fitting finale to both of their seasons, as Iowa leads 17-14 with 12:30 left to play.

This is the offense that earned Georgia Tech its No. 9 ranking heading into this game. Jonathan Dwyer, Josh Nesbitt and Anthony Allen all in sync and moving the ball. Georgia Tech's offensive line showed improvement on the Jackets' last scoring drive, and everyone started to play with a greater sense of urgency and purpose. And suddenly Georgia Tech has regained control of the clock. Had Scott Blair made that field goal, the score would be tied right now, but if the Jackets' D can force Ricky Stanzi into one of his infamous mistakes, Blair's will be forgotten. Because both teams are so good in the fourth quarter, chances are the game will be determined by a key mistake or turnover.
FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt needs just nine yards to reach the 1,000-yard rushing mark, and I think we can all agree he's going to get it tonight against Iowa in the FedEx Orange Bowl. And when he does, it will be pretty significant.

That will make Nesbitt and Jonathan Dwyer the first ACC duo since 1993 to rush for 1,000 yards in one season, and the first in school history to accomplish the feat. The last time the ACC had a pair of 1,000-yard rushers on the same team? UNC's Curtis Johnson (1,093 yards) and Leon Johnson (1,012) in 1993.

Dwyer currently has 1,346 rushing yards. Dwyer and Nesbitt are the only two in school history to combine for 2,000 yards in one season and they've done it in back-to-back years (2008 and 2009).

FedEx Orange Bowl keys: Iowa

January, 5, 2010
No Big Ten team has waited longer for its bowl game than Iowa, which finally hits the field tonight against No. 9 Georgia Tech in the FedEx Orange Bowl (Fox, 8 p.m. ET).

Here are three keys for the Hawkeyes in the game:

1. Run the ball well on first down to take pressure off of Stanzi: It's time for Iowa's offensive line to rise to the challenge. The Hawkeyes can keep Georgia Tech's offense off of the field by effectively running the ball to set up the play-action pass to Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos. Iowa has been one of the nation's worst first-down rushing teams, but if it gets into manageable second and third downs, it can do quarterback Ricky Stanzi a big favor. Stanzi struggled with slow starts even when he was playing every week, so he can use all the help he can get from the run game because he hasn't played since Nov. 7.

2. Strong performances from the defensive tackles: The defenses that have the best success against the triple option receive big plays from the big guys inside. Iowa defensive tackles Karl Klug and Christian Ballard aren't huge space eaters, but they move very well and can generate push off of the line. Klug and Ballard need to take away the lanes between the tackles and force Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt into some quick decisions. All of Iowa's defensive linemen need to shed blocks and prevent Nesbitt and Jonathan Dwyer from getting into the secondary.

3. Own the fourth quarter: The final 15 minutes has been Iowa's time to shine this season. Stanzi is at his best down the stretch, and the Hawkeyes' downfield passing attack usually comes to life in crunch time. Iowa needs to avoid a slow start, as Georgia Tech could grab the lead and kill the clock with its offense. But if Iowa has a chance down the stretch, you have to like the Hawkeyes' chances. They've outscored opponents 114-55 in the fourth quarter this season. Georgia Tech isn't too shabby in the fourth quarter, either, outscoring foes 109-83.
A winning bowl record is on the line for both the ACC and the Big Ten as No. 9 Georgia Tech takes on No. 10 Iowa in the FedEx Orange Bowl on Tuesday night (Fox, 8 p.m. ET). Georgia Tech makes its first Orange Bowl appearance since 1967, while Iowa hopes for a better showing in Miami after getting crushed by USC 38-17 in the 2003 game.

As kickoff approaches, bloggers Heather Dinich (ACC) and Adam Rittenberg (Big Ten) break down an intriguing matchup that has largely flown under the national radar.

Tim Larson/Icon SMIGeorgia Tech has a lot of weapons on offense, including running back Jonathan Dwyer.
Heather Dinich: Well, Adam, it's almost time for the showdown of the two conferences whose recent bowl history has been suspect at best. Both the Big Ten and ACC have 3-3 records this postseason entering the Orange Bowl. Consider this game the tiebreaker. It’s been one of the most difficult games of the season to predict, but I think Georgia Tech's offense will come through as it has all season, the ACC will finish with a much-needed winning bowl record and the Big Ten will fall to 3-4 in the postseason. Besides, the Big Ten only has three teams with winning bowl percentages (granted, Iowa is one of them), so why should this year be any different?

Adam Rittenberg: You're right about the records, HD, but I'd like to challenge the ACC or any other league to go through the Big Ten's bowl lineup. No other lineup comes close in terms of difficulty with matchups and locations. I doubt the ACC would enjoy facing USC in its backyard every Jan. 1, especially after stumbling in all those Orange Bowls. I definitely agree with you about picking this game. It ain't easy (more on that later). Let's talk more about the game's premier matchup, Georgia Tech's triple option offense vs. Iowa's fundamentally sound defense. The Hawkeyes are very solid in all three phases of their defense, especially the front seven with Adrian Clayborn, Broderick Binns, Pat Angerer and others. Veteran defensive coordinator Norm Parker has had about a month to prepare for the triple option, and it still might not be enough time to stop Jonathan Dwyer and Josh Nesbitt.

Do you think a team has a major advantage with more time to prepare for Georgia Tech's offense, or are the Yellow Jackets simply too good on that side of the ball?

Dinich: As Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said, there is simply no way for Iowa – or any other team for that matter – to simulate what Georgia Tech can do, in terms of the precision, speed and playmakers who will execute it on Tuesday night. Yes, there is some advantage to having more than a week to prepare -- both Clemson and Miami devoted some of their summer camp to getting a head start on that conference game and it paid off (especially for Miami). The key is how long it will take Iowa’s defense to get comfortable with it? Norm Parker will have his players as prepared as they can be, and Iowa has the discipline it will take to stop them, but my question is whether or not the Hawkeyes have the offense to keep Georgia Tech off the field. The best defense against the Jackets is for Iowa to sustain its own drives and control the clock. Do the Hawkeyes have the offensive line to make that happen?

Rittenberg: That's an excellent question, Heather. Iowa's offensive line gets a lot of accolades, and the group boasts two first-team All-Big Ten performers in tackle Bryan Bulaga (Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year) and guard Dace Richardson. But most of us who have watched Iowa all season agree that at times, the line has underachieved. It's far from a bad O-line, but Iowa certainly has the potential to stall. According to ESPN's Stats & Information group, Iowa averages just 3.3 yards rushing on first down, which is seventh worst in the country. The Hawkeyes should have backs Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher on the field Tuesday night, and Richardson's return from injury will be huge, but they'll need to run the ball decently to set up the play-action passing attack. The line also needs to keep Derrick Morgan away from Ricky Stanzi, which won't be easy.

I was struck by something you wrote Monday, about Georgia Tech not being a catch-up team. That description fits Iowa, which has rallied in eight of its 10 victories. Iowa has been a pretty average team in the first three quarters, but a great one in the fourth.

Should Georgia Tech grab the early lead, how do you see things playing out?

Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIREIowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi's Hawkeyes have come from behind in eight of their 10 victories this year.
Dinich: If Georgia Tech starts fast, it could be a long night for Iowa. On the flip side, though, it could make for one heck of an interesting fourth quarter. We both know Iowa has been one of the most exciting teams in the country to watch in the final minutes, but Georgia Tech has come from behind in seven of its last eight games, including in the ACC championship, when it trailed Clemson 34-33 in the fourth quarter. In fact, they had to come from behind to beat Clemson both times this season. I’ll be honest, I have no idea who’s going to win this game, but I think how Iowa’s defense starts will go a long way in revealing that answer to that. So what’s your final prediction on this one, Ritt?

Rittenberg: Ah, so they are a catch-up team. You trying to trick me, HD? As you know, Georgia Tech has several NFL-ready players and an offense that seems to be working well in other bowl games (Air Force, Navy). But having been around Iowa a lot this season, I can say there's something special about this Hawkeyes team, which just won't go away and continues to find ways to win games. The combination of Parker with a month to prepare and Stanzi's return to the lineup gives Iowa enough confidence to pull out another thriller, in come-from-behind fashion, of course. Iowa wins this one, 28-27. What say you?

Dinich: Haha yes, always trying to baffle the Big Ten. :) But really, if Iowa is the hot team early, that means they've figured Georgia Tech out, and the Jackets won't be able to overcome that, especially knowing how they've struggled defensively. That being said, I think Paul Johnson controls the clock, Stanzi gives up a gift or two (not five) and GT wins, 28-24. And knowing my picks and the ACC, that adds up to a win for the Hawkeyes.

What a win over Iowa could mean

January, 4, 2010
When Georgia Tech takes the field against Iowa on Tuesday in the FedEx Orange Bowl, it will be the program’s first appearance in the prestigious bowl since 1967, the final game coached by legendary Hall of Fame coach Bobby Dodd.

There is more at stake this week, though, than just the Jackets’ first opportunity to win a major BCS bowl in 43 years:
  • The Yellow Jackets have a chance to be the ACC’s encore and give the conference a winning postseason bowl record for the first time since 2005. (The ACC is 10-16 over the past three bowl seasons.) The ACC entered the new year on a roll with marquee wins from Virginia Tech and Florida State.
  • A win would improve the ACC’s record in BCS bowls to 3-9, and mark the first-ever back-to-back wins in the Orange Bowl.
  • With 11 wins, Georgia Tech is one win shy of tying a school and ACC record for wins in a season.

“I think it would be great to get a bowl victory for us, and the ACC,” B-Back Jonathan Dwyer said. “That’s what we’re here to do, we’re here to represent for Georgia Tech and the conference. We’re going to try to win the game and go home happy.”

A-back Roddy Jones is already looking ahead to what it could mean in 2010.

“It would be huge for our program,” Jones said. “It would kind of springboard us into next year, and it would be a statement on a national level. To play in a BCS bowl game and get a win is always a big step for your program.”

Especially considering how quickly Georgia Tech has made strides under coach Paul Johnson in just two seasons. The Jackets enter Tuesday’s game ranked No. 9 in the BCS standings, and have a chance to maintain the position or improve upon it in the preseason polls with a win over Iowa. How high they start the season will depend in part upon who stays and who leaves early for the NFL. It will also depend on how much confidence voters have in their defensive line, should standout defensive end Derrick Morgan leave early, as he is expected to do.

“I think it would put an exclamation point on this year and jump start you for next year,” said Johnson. “Like it or not, a lot of the preseason rankings for the following year are done off of bowl games, so it’s important in that way.”

And several others, as well.
From a macro level, there's very little mystery about the Georgia Tech offense.

The Yellow Jackets run the football 82.5 percent of the time, and have great success in doing so, ranking second nationally in rushing average (307.2 ypg). Iowa knows exactly what's coming from Georgia Tech on Tuesday night in the FedEx Orange Bowl (Fox, 8 p.m. ET), and while figuring out the triple option isn't easy, the Hawkeyes defenders can dig in to stop the run.

"We've going to have to do a really good job with our front four," Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz told me. "In a lot of games, certain players only have to really focus on one part of the attack, but these guys do a great job of making all 11 guys play at their best. They've got good players who are very well coached. It's going to be a heck of a challenge for our defense."

How has Iowa fared against the run this season? For the most part, very well.

The Hawkeyes rank 30th nationally in rushing defense (122 ypg), allowing only eight touchdowns on the ground and none in the first five games. Iowa's defensive line of Adrian Clayborn, Broderick Binns, Karl Klug and Christian Ballard is quite possibly the most recognizable group on the team.

But there are misperceptions about this Iowa team. One, which I'll explore later in the blog, is that the Hawkeyes run a boring and conservative offense. That's dead wrong.

Another claims that Iowa has a lockdown run defense. It's true in most games but off base in others.

The Hawkeyes were very effective in limiting the run against good teams and good backs like Penn State (Evan Royster) and Wisconsin (John Clay). But they also allowed 190 rush yards to Iowa State, struggled to stop Michigan's ground game for a stretch in the second half and couldn't keep a one-dimensional Ohio State offense in check on Nov. 14.

Iowa can't expect to totally shut down Josh Nesbitt, Jonathan Dwyer and the Tech rushing attack Tuesday, but it will need a better showing than the one in Columbus.

Here's a game-by-game breakdown of Iowa's rush defense:

FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- There shouldn't be any reason for Georgia Tech fans to fear a repeat of what happened last year in the Jackets' bowl game -- an embarrassing 38-3 loss.

Georgia Tech was ranked No. 14. It had finished the regular season with back-to-back wins against Miami and rival Georgia, and had high hopes heading into the Chick-fil-A Bowl against LSU, which had lost three of its last four regular season games.

But LSU outscored the Jackets 28-0 in the second quarter and led 35-3 at halftime. Georgia Tech lost three turnovers. Its special teams were a disaster. And nobody on this year's roster has forgotten it. Instead, they've used it as motivation.

“The main thing about that whole bowl game, it got us to where we are today,” B-back Jonathan Dwyer said. “That whole bowl experience that happened last year, it humbled us to the fact that we have to go and play hard week in and week out. That got us here to the Orange Bowl. That loss made us a whole better team.”

They've proven that all season long in the ACC, and enter the Orange Bowl with an 11-2 record, one win shy of tying a school and ACC record for wins in a season. Now it's time to snap a four-game bowl losing streak and prove it to the rest of the BCS.

FedEx Orange Bowl preview

January, 4, 2010
Here's a quick breakdown of Tuesday night's matchup between Georgia Tech (11-2) and Iowa (10-2):

WHO TO WATCH: Georgia Tech’s defensive front seven. Much has been made about the matchup between Georgia Tech’s offense against Iowa’s defense, and deservedly so, but if the Jackets don’t get Iowa off the field, it could be a long night. Paul Johnson has said he wants to stop the run and make Iowa one-dimensional. In their only two losses of the season – against Miami and Georgia – the best defense against the Jackets was simply keeping Georgia Tech’s offense off the field. Georgia Tech isn’t a catch-up team. They’re much better when they’re controlling the clock, and Georgia Tech’s defense will have to help.

WHAT TO WATCH: The turnover battle. Georgia Tech had three costly fumbles in its loss to LSU last year in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. The Jackets have cut down on their fumbles this year and have a plus-seven turnover margin, while Iowa has a plus-six. They key, though, is Iowa’s 19 interceptions. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi will return from an ankle injury that kept him out of the final two regular-season games, and while Stanzi has the uncanny ability to morph into one of the best quarterbacks in the country in the fourth quarter, he also has a tendency to give the ball away. Stanzi has 15 touchdowns and 14 interceptions this year. Still, Georgia Tech’s secondary has been somewhat accommodating at times this year.

WHY WATCH: Because it’s been a long, long time since Georgia Tech was in a bowl game that meant this much (since 1967), and because the Jackets have the chance to cap off the ACC’s first winning bowl season since 2005. It could also be the final collegiate game for a handful of impressive Georgia Tech juniors, namely Demaryius Thomas, Jonathan Dwyer and Derrick Morgan. This game also features two coaches who were named Coach of the Year in their respective conferences in Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz.

PREDICTION: Georgia Tech will punt. Iowa’s defense is good enough to at least force them to do that. (The Jackets enter this game having not punted in 22 straight possessions – since the Nov. 14 game at Duke). The Yellow Jackets will have a tough time stringing together any 11-minute drives in this game (see: Virginia). But in the end, Paul Johnson will make the necessary adjustments on the fly, and simply put – regardless of how the defense plays – Georgia Tech will find a way to score more points. The Yellow Jackets will redeem themselves from last year’s Chick-fil-A Bowl loss with a 28-24 win over the Hawkeyes.

Nesbitt for Heisman in 2010?

December, 17, 2009
It was about a month ago that Georgia Tech quarterbacks and B-backs coach Brian Bohannon told Josh Nesbitt that if he returned and continued to work hard, Nesbitt could put his name “in a spotlight that he never imagined.”

He could, but in order for that to happen, the current perception of what the Heisman Trophy means has to change in 2010. For Nesbitt not to be in the conversation simply because he’s the heart of a run-based offense means the definition of the Heisman Trophy is “out of whack,” Bohannon said.

“I think that’s crazy,” Bohannon said. “The Heisman is defined as being the best player -- it’s not the best thrower, it’s not the best runner, it’s the best player, and who does the most for their team. Truthfully, I think the Heisman has been taken a little bit out of context, because it’s whoever is going to win the national championship, whoever is the best player on their team. I don’t know if it’s truly what it’s supposed to be -- not to take anything away from Mark Ingram or any of those guys, they’re great players -- but I think sometimes it’s who’s on a national championship team or has a chance to play for the national championship. That’s who ends up with the Heisman. I’m not sure that’s what it’s supposed to be. It’s supposed to be the best player in the country, whether they throw it or run it.”

[+] EnlargeJosh Nesbitt
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Georgia Tech's Josh Nesbitt is 9 yards away from rushing for 1,000 yards this season.

And Nesbitt, obviously, tends to run it. He broke the school single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 991.

Georgia Tech threw the ball 159 times this year. Only Navy and Air Force made fewer pass attempts. Could the Heisman Trophy winner play for an offense that ranks 115th in the nation in passing offense? Nesbitt is not ranked among the NCAA’s 100 leaders in passing efficiency because it requires a minimum of 15 attempts per game.

But he’s one of the main reasons Georgia Tech is in a BCS bowl, why the Jackets are No. 2 in the country in rushing offense, why they control the time of possession in almost every game, and why Georgia Tech is No. 11 in the country in both scoring offense and total offense.

Passing not required.

“He’s taken this offense on his shoulders,” Bohannon said. “When we needed that 86-yard drive, he was not going to be denied. ... He doesn’t say much, but those other kids, they’re jumping on his back right now.”

Nesbitt’s biggest area of improvement over the past year has been running the option. He has a better understanding of it, and is more mentally prepared for the play at each snap. Bohannon is still looking for a higher completion rate (Nesbitt is at 47.7 percent). Nesbitt has been inconsistent, but when he’s on, he’s on. Nesbitt has been responsible for 37 plays of at least 20 yards, including 29 passes and eight rushing attempts.

Nesbitt enters the FedEx Orange Bowl 9 yards shy of 1,000 rushing yards. He has thrown for 1,689. Entering 2009, 48 players in NCAA history have run and passed for 1,000 yards in the same season. Among quarterbacks, he ranks fifth nationally in rushing (76.2 ypg).

“Shoot, he ran for 1,000 and he threw for 1,000,” said B-back Jonathan Dwyer. “That happens every blue moon. He should’ve been in the race and next year he definitely should be a front-runner for the Heisman.”

Dwyer, though, could steal some of Nesbitt’s votes, should they both be in the mix.

Dwyer will admit this much: his chances at winning the Heisman Trophy in 2010 will play a part in his decision on whether to return next season or jump early to the NFL.

“That would be great to be a Heisman candidate, and most definitely that’s something I will think about,” Dwyer said. “I haven’t made a decision on what I’m going to do. I have no clue where I’m going to be.”

He's paid enough attention, though, to know what it takes to win the coveted award.

“It comes down to your team winning games and you making plays,” Dwyer said. “Individuals can go out there and have some spectacular moments, some Heisman moments, and your team has an opportunity to be a national championship contender, you have a chance to be the Heisman winner. That’s pretty much what it takes. It’s a very tough accomplishment to make.”

And one that will be even tougher for Nesbitt -- depending, of course, on your definition of the Heisman.