NCF Nation: Stephen Hill

Georgia Tech has receivers, the Jackets just don’t have any career receptions among them this year. Problem? Depends who you ask. Receiver Jeff Greene seems to think they’ll be just fine without Stephen Hill and Tyler Melton. Greene played in 12 games last year as the Jackets’ top backup. I caught up with him recently to get his take on the position.

Here are the highlights of our conversation:

[+] EnlargeJeff Greene
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireJeff Greene was a backup last season, but this year he'll play a more prominent role as a starting receiver for Georgia Tech.
A lot of fans have been wondering how the receivers will fare without Stephen Hill this year, but expectations are pretty high for you. How do you see your role changing?

Jeff Greene: It’s pretty much just getting an opportunity to go out there and start at the receiver position. Everyone is saying how we haven’t had a catch yet from our receiving corps, and just going out there with the right mindset and trying to make that first play.

How much do you think you guys have improved this summer?

JG: We’ve improved a lot in the weight room and out there on the practice field this summer working with the quarterbacks on our routes and timing. As a whole we’ve improved a lot.

What’s it like being a receiver in such a run-based offense?

JG: Everybody says you won’t get the ball and everything, but really in our offense you can be in one-on-one coverage basically every game, and usually we’re bigger than the cornerbacks so it’s a good matchup between the receivers and DBs every game.

How excited are you to make a name for yourself this year?

JG: Right now I’m very excited to just run out there and make plays and do what I can to make the team better.

What do you think you guys are capable of as a group this year?

JG: Right now our goal is to win every game, go out there, give it our all, give good effort, and hopefully be in that ACC championship at the end of the year.

You guys have a pretty good secondary returning. What’s it been like going against those guys every day?

JG: Oh it’s always a challenge going out there against the DBs. We’re going at it back and forth, but we’re helping each other get better.

How tough has the competition been between the receivers this summer?

JG: Oh it’s always been a tough competition. No one is thinking we already have that No. 1 spot locked up, so we’re trying to make plays and come out on top at the end.

Coach Johnson has talked repeatedly about how it’s going to be important for you guys to pass the ball more efficiently. What do you see that makes you think you guys are capable of doing that this year?

JG: This year we go out there with the mindset that when the ball is in the air, it’s yours, and being able to go up and get the ball no matter where the quarterback throws it, you have to make them look good, so keeping our focus on the ball.

What do you think about Virginia Tech’s defense?

JG: We watched film on them, they’re a good defense and we just have to be on our Ps and Qs against them, don’t take anybody lightly and go 100 percent.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- There was a point in mid-September last year when Georgia Tech -- yes, that offense -- was leading the country in passing efficiency.

It turned out to be a fleeting moment.

[+] EnlargePaul Johnson
Kevin Liles/US PresswirePaul Johnson still hasn't settled on who will replace receiver Stephen Hill, who bolted early for the NFL.
Quarterback Tevin Washington was much more efficient in the first half of the 2011 season than he was in the second, and that’s something coach Paul Johnson is looking to improve upon this fall. He’ll have to do it, though, without leading receiver Stephen Hill, who left early for the NFL draft.

The Jackets are in good company.

As Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech prepare to face each other on Labor Day in their respective season openers, both do so having to fill big shoes on offense from a player who left early for the NFL. In Atlanta, Johnson is still unsure who will start at receiver. In Blacksburg, coach Frank Beamer is looking for two or three running backs to help compensate for the loss of 2011 ACC Player of the Year David Wilson. Both coaches said this week that a handful of young and talented players are waiting in the wings, but their lack of game experience is a concern.

“To me, we’ve got to get in there and kind of narrow it down how many we’re going to work with,” Beamer said. “But the way I feel about the position, we’ve got a lot of talent, it just hasn’t played very much. That’s not necessarily a good thing, but the other side of it is, the further you get away from the football, the more you can use your talent and get in there and play quickly. At tailback, wide receiver, it’s easier than, say, an offensive lineman. But there are just question marks there.”

Beamer singled out redshirt freshman Michael Holmes as the most likely answer at this point, and he also mentioned Trey Edmunds, true freshman J.C. Coleman, Tony Gregory (who sat out this spring with a knee injury), and true freshman Chris Mangus.

“Michael Holmes is kind of like Logan Thomas last year,” Beamer said. “He hasn’t done it, but you think he’s going to be OK. That’s the way I feel with Michael Holmes. I think he has a chance to be very good. Guys have done it in high school and are used to carrying it and used to scoring. Usually that carries over.”

Johnson is hoping the same applies to his wide receivers. Hill was Georgia Tech’s big-play threat with 28 catches for 820 yards and five touchdowns. He led the nation with 29.3 yards per catch. Johnson mentioned sophomores Jeff Green and Darren Waller, who both played last year as true freshmen. Neither had a catch, but both contributed on special teams. Chris Jackson, a former Alabama transfer, will enter fall camp as the likely starter, but junior Jeremy Moore is also an option after missing all of 2010 with an injury and playing sparingly last year.

If the Jackets are going to be a better team in 2012, they must be more effective the few times they do decide to throw it.

“I think we just have to be more consistent and keep people healthy,” Johnson said. “At one point Tevin lost a little confidence. Hopefully being a senior that won’t happen, and quite honestly, the competition got better. We’ve got to be able to finish and maintain that, no matter who you play.”

This year, it starts with Virginia Tech in what will be one of the most important games of the season for both teams.

Video: Draft prospects recall high school

April, 26, 2012
4/26/12
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Michael Brockers, Quinton Coples, Stephon Gilmore, Stephen Hill, Luke Kuechly, Ryan Tannehill, Courtney Upshaw, Russell Wilson and Jerel Worthy talk about their playing days before NCAA football.
We’ve already taken a look at what the recruiting needs were for the Atlantic Division. Let’s shift our attention to the Coastal Division. Here’s a look at where each school’s biggest holes will be in 2012 or are anticipated to be in the near future:

DUKE


Offensive skill positions: After last year’s rare class that didn’t include either a quarterback or running back, both positions are needed in this group. Quarterback Thomas Sirk -- the MVP of the 57th annual Florida Athletic Coaches Association North-South All-Star Football Classic last December -- has already enrolled in school while Shaquille Powell -- a PARADE All-American running back from Las Vegas -- has committed to the program. In addition, with David Cutcliffe’s offense, wide receivers and tight ends also are a priority.

Kicker: Will Snyderwine, who earned first team All-America honors as a junior before struggling through a sub-par season in 2011, graduated, but Duke has a commitment from Ohio native Ross Martin, considered the No. 2 placekicking prospect in the country by ESPN.com.

Safety: With the transition to a 4-2-5 alignment that utilizes three safeties, this becomes an annual point of emphasis. The Blue Devils lose All-American Matt Daniels to graduation.

GEORGIA TECH


Defensive line: This is the most glaring need in the current class. The Yellow Jackets have to replace senior starters Logan Walls (DT) and Jason Peters (DE), but return Izaan Cross (DE) and solid backups T.J. Barnes (DT), Emmanuel Dieke (DE) and Euclid Cummings (DE). The Jackets are expected to sign about 18 players in this year’s class, and five of them should be defensive linemen.

Wide receiver:This is another glaring need after the departures of Stephen Hill, who decided to leave early for the NFL draft, and Tyler Melton. Darren Waller and Jeff Greene, who both played last season as true freshmen, have lots of potential, but the position still needs depth.


MIAMI

Defensive backs: There’s still a lot of depth with this group, and the return of Ray-Ray Armstrong and Vaughn Telemaque helps, but the Canes have to replace two starters in the secondary and have six commits in the current class to help do that.

Defensive line: The Canes have to replace Adewale Ojomo, Micanor Regis, Andrew Smith and Olivier Vernon from last year’s two-deep. The defensive end position was a particular focus in this class.

Receiver: This position lost a lot with the departures of Tommy Streeter, LaRon Byrd and Travis Benjamin. Allen Hurns is now the veteran of the group, along with redshirt senior Kendal Thompkins. There are five receivers currently committed in this class.

Quarterback: Beyond Stephen Morris, Miami has a lot of questions at the position and not a lot of experience. True freshmen Gray Crow and Preston Dewey are already on the roster, along with redshirt sophomore Ryan Williams.

NORTH CAROLINA

Defensive line: This is one of the biggest areas of concern after the departures of Quinton Coples and Tydreke Powell.

Receivers: Larry Fedora’s offense will make good use of this group, but he needs to replace standout Dwight Jones.

Linebackers: This group was thin to begin with in 2011, and now the Heels need to replace outgoing senior Zach Brown. Kevin Reddick is now the main man.

Safety: UNC will have to replace two starters in Matt Merletti, Charles Brown and Jonathan Smith, so this position will have to be rebuilt for the future.

VIRGINIA

Defensive back: This should be the main priority in this class. The Cavaliers will lose four DBs, including two starting safeties in Rodney McCleod and Corey Mosley, and standout cornerback Chase Minnifield. They’ll also miss Dom Joseph, who came in for the nickel packages. Demetrious Nicholson, who started as a true freshman last year, is suddenly the veteran of the group.

Offensive line: The Hoos will have to replace their starting center and left guard. Redshirt freshman center Cody Wallace could get a promotion, and sophomore right guard Luke Bowanko started in the bowl game. They’ve got some big bodies waiting in the wings, but they’ll have some questions to answer here this spring.

Kickers: This position needs to be rebuilt, as the Cavaliers lose Robert Randolph, who finished sixth all time in scoring at UVa, kickoff specialist Chris Hinkebein, and four-year punter Jimmy Howell. The position is wide open heading into the spring.

VIRGINIA TECH

Running back: This one is a no-brainer, as the Hokies have lost four players here in the past two years. David Wilson and his backup, Josh Oglesby, were the latest to depart, and Tony Gregory just had ACL surgery and is out for the spring. The staff likes Michael Holmes, who redshirted last year, and J.C. Coleman enrolled last week.

Receiver: The Hokies will miss Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin, and next year’s class has three seniors in Dyrell Roberts, D.J. Coles, and Marcus Davis. The future of the position is young, and the staff is still going after several uncommitted players pretty hard.

Defensive line: This year’s class already includes at least five committed defensive linemen, and the Hokies will be particularly thin at noseguard. They had some players graduate early who didn’t play a lot, but at least provided depth.

Linebacker:The Hokies have four committed, and are still chasing another just to build the depth. The staff missed on some recruits at this position last year and would like to make up for it in this class.
Georgia Tech junior wide receiver Stephen Hill will forego his senior season of eligibility and enter the NFL draft, according to a release from the school.

From the release:
Hill caught 28 passes for 820 yards in 2011, helping the Yellow Jackets to an 8-5 record and their 15th consecutive bowl bid. Hill, who caught five touchdown passes including one against Utah in the Hyundai Sun Bowl, led all FBS players in yards per reception (29.3).

“This was a life decision,” said Hill. “I came to the decision after talking with my family. I’m ready to move forward and work on getting better. I want to thank the coaching staff for helping me get to this level. I am thankful for Georgia Tech, my professors and definitely, the fans.”

Hill was on the preseason watch list for the Biletnikoff Award. He was named the ACC Receiver of the Week on Sept. 6. Phil Steele’s publications named him third team All-ACC.

“Stephen feels that he is ready for the NFL and I know that is a dream of his,” head coach Paul Johnson said. “I hope that he is drafted high and does well as a professional.”

“I love Georgia Tech,” Hill said. “I am going to miss my teammates and I wish them well next season and beyond. I hope they bring home an ACC championship next season.”

Halftime: Georgia Tech 28, Duke 14

November, 19, 2011
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It's not much of a surprise that Georgia Tech got off to a slow start at Wallace Wade, as it's a tough place for teams to get excited to play in because of the lack of a crowd. Georgia Tech has also been eliminated from the Coastal Division race already, and they played like it early on.

The Yellow Jackets and had a few three and outs, but they have since gotten into a bit of a rhythm and have taken advantage of some mismatches with their receivers. Duke's defense has allowed two too many big plays, particularly in the passing game, but Georgia Tech's offense has been a group effort. Receiver Stephen Hill had one catch for 56 yards, and Embry Peeples had one catch for 46 yards.

Even with Orwin Smith sidelined with an injury for this game, the Yellow Jackets have found plenty of other options. Both teams have struggled on third downs, and Duke could do a better job protecting quarterback Sean Renfree. Georgia Tech's defense, though, could also use some adjustments in the second half. Duke's running game has improved recently, and they're gaining about six yards per carry on Georgia Tech. There's no reason for Georgia Tech to squander this lead, but there's also no sign of Duke letting up in the second half.

ACC power rankings: Week 5

September, 26, 2011
9/26/11
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Power Rankings: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Welcome back, Clemson and Georgia Tech. Two programs which had losing seasons last year are 4-0 and look capable of returning to the ACC championship game, where they met in 2009. The big game this weekend will be in Blacksburg, where Virginia Tech will host Clemson in a battle of two of the league’s three remaining undefeated teams. Much like the latest bowl predictions, there have been some major changes in the power ranking this week. You’ve got a new leader, ACC fans:

1. Clemson (4-0, 1-0 ACC; Last week: No. 3): The Tigers’ offense has gotten most of the credit, but it was a key defensive play -- Rennie Moore’s sack on FSU quarterback Clint Trickett -- that helped seal the win for the Tigers on Saturday. Clemson has now defeated back-to-back ranked opponents, but will play its first road game of the season when it travels to Virginia Tech this weekend.

2. Georgia Tech (4-0, 1-0; LW: No. 5): North Carolina’s defense gave Georgia Tech the most problems of any opponent this season, but the Tar Heels couldn’t stop receiver Stephen Hill, and the Jackets found a way to win their first Coastal Division game. The reason for the inconsistency here and in the bowl projections is because Chick-fil-A officials would probably choose the Hokies' fan base and their travel money over the hometown team, even if the Jackets win the head-to-head in the regular season.

3. Virginia Tech (4-0, 0-0; LW: No. 2): This has to be one of the least convincing undefeated teams left in the country, but it is still undefeated. An interception, a missed field goal, a fumble -- all mistakes that could prove costly against better competition, which starts on Saturday. We’ll find out more about the Hokies against Clemson, but their consistency is what has separated them in the past.

4. Florida State (2-2, 0-1; LW: No. 1): It was an impressive performance by backup quarterback Clint Trickett in his first career start, but he didn’t get enough help from his teammates in the loss to Clemson. This is not the end for the Noles. Once healthy, this is a team that can still make a push for the Atlantic Division title, but now they need Clemson to trip up twice.

5. North Carolina (3-1, 1-1; LW: No. 4): The Tar Heels had a chance to win, but poor execution on their final drive negated the opportunity. Much like FSU, UNC is still a good team that can contend for the division, but now the Heels have to hope Georgia Tech loses twice. UNC can’t afford to let this one beat them twice when they face East Carolina this weekend.

6. Wake Forest (2-1, 1-0; LW: No. 8): The Deacs had a bye week, but they move up on account of the poor performances by Miami and Maryland. Wake Forest lost a respectable game to Syracuse in overtime and has a conference win. The Deacs could take another step towards bowl eligibility this weekend with a win against Boston College, but they have to do it on the road.

7. Miami (1-2, 0-1; LW: No. 6): With the game on the line, Miami couldn’t score from two yards out. That calls into question Miami’s desire, its heart and its toughness. Miami fans will blame quarterback Jacory Harris, because he was the one holding the ball, but he didn’t lose the game for the Canes. Then again, he didn’t win it, either. Bottom line: There’s no excuse for Miami letting this one get away.

8. Maryland (1-2, 1-0; LW: No. 7): It was a pitiful performance by the Terps. They were beaten soundly in a 38-7 loss to Temple that looked worse than the final score. Temple running back Bernard Pierce said “there were rude things said” by Maryland during pregame warm-ups. Pierce got the last word with his school-record five rushing touchdowns. Yeah, Maryland beat Miami. But that’s not carrying much weight anymore.

9. Duke (2-2, 1-0; LW: No. 11): The Blue Devils looked good in their win against Tulane and have now put together back-to-back wins. That should give them some confidence heading into this weekend’s road trip to FIU. Duke’s defense, which had gone five quarters without allowing a touchdown, has shown significant improvement, and the offense is rolling again under quarterback Sean Renfree.

10. Virginia (2-2, 0-1; LW: No. 10): The Hoos’ loss to Southern Miss was evidence that this program isn’t quite ready for a bowl game in Mike London’s second season. Part of the problem is at quarterback, where Michael Rocco threw three interceptions. Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis didn’t throw one. Virginia needs to rebound this weekend with a win against Idaho.

11. NC State (2-2, 0-1; LW: No. 9): The Wolfpack’s defense is riddled with injuries, but that can’t explain the three turnovers on offense, the seven sacks allowed, or the fact they rushed for minus-26 yards. A home game against a ranked Georgia Tech team looks daunting, and a bowl bid already looks out of reach.

12. Boston College (1-3, 0-1; LW: No. 12): The Eagles rallied together for their first win of the season and in the process made the statement that they haven’t given up. The next step is to get their first conference win, and they’ll have home-field advantage on Saturday against Wake Forest.

ACC helmet stickers: Week 4

September, 24, 2011
9/24/11
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I'm not going to lie. It would be easier to take these away this week. Florida State takes the Tomahawks away for poor performance on the field. Maryland, NC State, Virginia and Miami -- I want one back. Onto your top five performers for Week 4:

Georgia Tech WR Stephen Hill: He had a huge game in the Jackets' 35-28 win over North Carolina and helped Georgia Tech take an early lead in the Coastal Division standings. He finished with six catches for 151 yards and one touchdown, and his one-handed catch in the first half was one of the best plays of the season. It was his third 100-yard receiving game of the season.

North Carolina tailback Giovani Bernard: It was an impressive performance depsite the 35-28 loss, as his 55-yard touchdown run tied the game with 7:22 left. He finished with 155 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries, and he caught five passes for 47 yards. On third-and-15, Bernard took a short pass and turned it into a 19-yard play.

Boston College: Group effort, group sticker, as the Eagles' 45-17 win over UMass was their first win of the season. Quarterback Chase Rettig threw three touchdown passes, and BC's linebackers returned two fumbles for touchdowns. BC controlled this game from start to finish and left no doubt it was the better team.

Clemson's offense: Clemson has now had four straight 400-yard games for the first time since 2009. The Tigers' new offense is clicking under Chad Morris, and they racked up 455 yards and 26 first downs against a top-notch defense. Clemson ran 86 plays to FSU's 53. Quarterback Tajh Boyd accounted for four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing), and completed 23 of 37 passes for 344 yards in the 35-30 win over Florida State. It was the most passing yards ever against the Seminoles. And the Noles couldn't stop freshman phenom Sammy Watkins, who had eight catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns.

Florida State backup quarterback Clint Trickett: Amazing job. In his first start, on the road, in front of 82,000 fans, Trickett played well enough to win in his first career start. He threw for 336 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in the 35-30 loss. Nothing to be ashamed of on his part. He played so well there should be a quarterback controversy in Tally if there isn't.
Upset? What upset?

Georgia Tech showed no signs of a letdown in this convincing win, and the Jackets are off to a 2-0 start and looking much better than they did a year ago. That's thanks in large part to the evolution of the passing game, which took yet another step forward today against Middle Tennessee. Quarterback Tevin Washington is a different, more confident player than he was a year ago when he was forced into the starting role after Joshua Nesbitt was injured. Now he's playing like he owns the offense. He accounted for two passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns. Receiver Stephen Hill also had a great game with three catches for 126 yards and a touchdown.

Georgia Tech will face better teams as the season progresses, but if this is how the Jackets are playing in November, the rest of the ACC should be on upset alert.

ACC's Players of the Week

September, 6, 2011
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Every week, the league offices in Greensboro, N.C., announce the top performers of the week based on votes by members of the media. Every week I will pass them on. Here are the ACC's Players of the Week for Week 1, as released and written by the ACC:

OFFENSIVE BACK – Danny O'Brien, Maryland, QB, So., 6-3, 215, Kernersville, N.C.

Danny O’Brien led Maryland to a 32-24 win over Miami by going 31-of-44 for 348 yards and a touchdown, as well as running for 37 yards. It was the third 300-yard passing game of the sophomore’s career. He completed 6 of 7 passes for 72 yards and a touchdown on the game’s opening drive, and after four series, was 19-of-26 for 228 yards. O’Brien spread the ball around, hitting six receivers on the night. His 385 total yards were the third most in the FBS in the opening weekend.

OFFENSIVE RECEIVER -- Stephen Hill, Georgia Tech, WR, Jr., 6-5, 206, Lithonia, Ga.

Stephen Hill recorded a career-high 181 yards and two touchdowns on four receptions in Georgia Tech’s 63-21 win over Western Carolina last Thursday, averaging 45.3 yards per catch. Hill became the first Yellow Jacket to catch two touchdown passes in a game since 2007 as Georgia Tech racked up 365 yards passing -- the most in the Paul Johnson era on the Flats.

OFFENSIVE LINEMAN -- Anthony Mihota, Virginia, C, Sr., 6-4, 285, Fredericksburg, Va.

Mihota had a total of 16 knockdown blocks on 67 plays in helping UVa roll up 240 rushing yards and 256 passing yards in a 40-3 win over William & Mary. The strong offensive line play helped Virginia hold a 15-minute advantage in time of possession.

CO-DEFENSIVE LINEMAN -- Brian Slay, NC State, DT, Jr., 6-3, 290, Ashburn, Va.

A junior defensive tackle from Ashburn, Va., Slay played 45 snaps in only his second career start, and recorded six total tackles (four primary) and two sacks for losses of seven yards. Slay also caused a fumble and recovered two, taking one 52 yards for a touchdown, the fourth-longest fumble return in school history and the longest in 16 years. Slay’s touchdown return, the second of four NC State touchdowns set up directly by turnovers, came midway through the third quarter and gave NC State a 23-7 lead.

CO-DEFENSIVE LINEMAN -- Joe Vellano, Maryland, DT, Jr., 6-2, 285, Rexford, N.Y.

Joe Vellano played a pivotal role in Maryland’s 32-24 win over Miami. The junior recovered two fumbles, the first of which led to a field goal and the second of which he scooped up and ran in 30 yards for a touchdown. The return for a touchdown came with 0:47 left in the second quarter, giving Maryland a 20-14 lead and the momentum heading into halftime. Vellano also had two tackles on the evening while manning the interior of the line.

LINEBACKER -- Luke Kuechly, Boston College, LB, Jr., 6-3, 237, Cincinnati, Ohio

Junior linebacker Luke Kuechly recorded 19 tackles in Boston College’s 24-17 loss to Northwestern. The Cincinnati, Ohio, native has now tallied 10 or more tackles in 23 consecutive games which is the longest active streak of double-digit tackles in the country. Kuechly also recorded his fifth career interception with just over nine minutes to play in the first half and returned it 23 yards to the Northwestern 2-yard line. BC scored its first touchdown of the season two plays later.

DEFENSIVE BACK -- Cameron Chism, Maryland, CB, Sr., 5-10, 190, Washington, D.C.

Cameron Chism made a number of big plays for Maryland, none bigger than intercepting Miami quarterback Stephen Morris on fourth-and-3 and returning it 54 yards for a touchdown with under a minute to play. The score increased Maryland’s lead from a single point to 32-24. Chism also had a hand in another defensive score when he forced a fumble that Joe Vellano scooped up and ran in 30 yards for a TD just before halftime. The senior finished the game with six tackles, including one tackle for loss.

SPECIALIST -- T.J. Graham, NC State, WR, Sr., 6-0, 180, Raleigh, N.C.

Graham, a senior wide receiver and kick returner from Raleigh, returned three punts for 88 yards against the Flames, including a game-changing 82-yard return for a touchdown. That return was the 11th longest in school history and his second career punt return for a touchdown. Graham also returned four kickoffs for 99 yards, including one for 44 yards that put the Pack in business at the Liberty 33-yard line. Two plays later, Curtis Underwood scored on a 33-yard run. For the game, Graham had 88 yards on punt returns, 99 yards on kick returns, and a reception for seven yards, giving him 194 all-purpose yards.

ROOKIE -- Kevin Parks, Virginia, RB, Fr., 5-8, 195, Salisbury, N.C.

Parks enjoyed one of the best debuts by a running back in UVa history. The Salisbury, N.C., native rushed for 114 yards on 16 carries (7.1 average), and scored three touchdowns (19, 1, 26), the most rushing TDs by a Cavalier in the program’s history. It marked just the sixth time a UVa player has scored three TDs in season-opening game.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 1

September, 4, 2011
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Every week there are lessons to be learned, insights into the conference and how the season might unfold. Here’s the first edition of what will be a weekly series of what we learned in the ACC:

[+] EnlargeChase Rettig
AP Photo/Mary SchwalmQB Chase Rettig and Boston College, like several ACC teams, had a forgettable opening game.
1. It was an underwhelming start to the season. There were no disastrous performances. Both top 25 teams -- Florida State and Virginia Tech -- won convincingly. In the big picture, though, it was a ho-hum start to the season for the ACC, as the conference lost its only true tests of the weekend against opponents from other BCS conferences. Wake Forest squandered a 15-point lead against Syracuse and Boston College was defeated by Northwestern’s backup quarterback. Duke lost to an FCS team -- the third straight season that has happened in the ACC -- and Clemson trailed Troy in the first half, and NC State trailed Liberty. There were some scares along the way, and some sloppy play, but in the end, the ACC won more than it lost. It just wasn’t all that memorable.

2. Duke still looks like Duke. The Blue Devils have now lost to FCS Richmond three times in the past six seasons. Richmond had recently lost its head coach and Duke was supposed to be the better, more prepared team in David Cutcliffe’s fourth season, but didn’t look it. The expectations were higher this season for quarterback Sean Renfree and a talented group of receivers, but the bowl talk rang hollow as Duke struggled in every phase of the game.

3. North Carolina is to be taken seriously under interim coach Everett Withers. There was no doubting the Tar Heels’ talent this year. The big question was how the team would respond to losing its head coach just a week before summer camp began. So far, so good. It was a strong debut for Withers and his first-year starting quarterback Bryn Renner. The Tar Heels took care of business and showed that once again, they can overcome off-field distractions and obstacles. If UNC continues to play the way it did against James Madison, there’s no reason they can’t contend for the Coastal Division title.

4. Georgia Tech can pass the ball. Stop the presses. One of the most shocking storylines of the opening week was that Georgia Tech passed the ball more than it ran it. This from the nation’s leading rushing offense in 2010. The Yellow Jackets piled up 662 yards of total offense in a romp against Western Carolina, and 365 of those were passing yards. Tevin Washington and Stephen Hill showed the potential to open up the Jackets’ playbook this fall if they can continue that success against higher-caliber teams and everyone can hold onto the ball.

5. Russell Wilson’s shadow will be tough to shake. NC State quarterback Mike Glennon had a tough day at the office. He was sacked four times and never quite got into a rhythm. In the second quarter, he was hit so hard he fumbled, and Liberty turned it into a 32-yard touchdown. He kept his poise, and it wasn’t a poor performance, it just has to get better, and those around Glennon need to do more to help him out. If it wasn’t for the defense, though, and Liberty losing the ball seven times, NC State could’ve opened the season with a thud.

ACC helmet stickers: Week 1

September, 3, 2011
9/03/11
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I've only got five of these to give, but I'll make an exception if there is a deserving performer from the Monday night game between Maryland and Miami. NC State DT Brian Slay, who did a great job filling in for injured star J.R. Sweezy, just missed the cut. Don't forget, in the blog version of helmet stickers, coaches, teams, units or individuals can be awarded a helmet sticker. Here are your top five performers for Week 1 in the ACC:

North Carolina QB Bryn Renner: In his first career start, Renner threw for 277 yards and two touchdowns to help the Tar Heels to a 42-10 win over James Madison. Renner completed 22 of 23 passes and tied a school record with 14 straight passes. Renner also set an ACC record for highest single-game completion percentage (95.7) and finished just shy of the NCAA mark (95.8 percent) set by Tennessee's Tee Martin against South Carolina in 1998. He also ran for a touchdown early in the fourth on a quarterback sneak.

Virginia Tech RB David Wilson: He had 16 carries for 172 yards and three touchdowns in the Hokies’ 66-13 romp of Appalachian State. On the Hokies’ first offensive play, Wilson ran 20 yards almost untouched for a touchdown, and continued that trend all afternoon. Five of his carries went for at least 15 yards and he averaged 10.1 yards per carry.

Florida State’s defense: The Seminoles pitched a shutout against ULM, and the defense recorded four sacks -- ahead of last year’s pace when it led the nation in sacks. It was the first shutout in a season opener since Sept. 6, 2008, and the first since the 31-0 win over Wake Forest in 2010. ULM was held to just 99 rushing yards.

Georgia Tech’s passing game: Georgia Tech's 365 yards passing were the most since having 373 against The Citadel on Sept. 12, 1987. It was the first time the Yellow Jackets threw for more than 300 yards passing in the Paul Johnson era and the second time a team coached by Johnson has thrown for more than 300 yards. Quarterback Tevin Washington threw for 271 yards and three touchdowns, and receiver Stephen Hill had four catches for 181 yards.

Virginia’s defense: There were a lot of top performers in this one, including an impressive debut by running back Kevin Parks, but the Hoos held William & Mary to just three points and 169 total yards, and forced two turnovers. It was a dramatic improvement from last season, and the fewest yards allowed since 100 against Duke in 2006.
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 asked, I answered. Readers (particularly @AsylumGodfather) were calling for more position rankings, so the receivers are up next. This could be the strongest position group in the conference, and one of the more difficult to rank, so I looked back on a few stats to help me separate them, including how some of these guys did against their best competition (i.e. Danny Coale versus FSU, wow). Here’s the final verdict of which teams in the ACC have the best combination of depth and talent:

1. Virginia Tech: With Jarrett Boykin and Coale returning, the Hokies’ passing game has a chance to flourish this fall. Boykin, Coale and Dyrell Roberts were the team’s top three receivers last year for the second straight season, combining for 113 catches, 1,882 yards and 11 touchdowns. Add to that Marcus Davis, D.J. Coles, E.L. Smiling -- it’s a bottomless cup of depth and talent.

2. Duke: Conner Vernon has 128 catches in his first two collegiate seasons and Donovan Varner ranked fourth in the ACC in pass receptions (60) and seventh in yardage (736). Their combined 274 receptions are the most of any active duo in the ACC. They are the top two returning leaders in catches per game, and Vernon is the ACC’s returning leader in receiving yards per game. The Blue Devils also have sophomore Brandon Braxton (14 catches), who could make a name for himself as the third option this year.

3. Florida State: Every Seminole who caught a pass last season returns. Bert Reed, Taiwan Easterling and Rodney Smith return with a combined 50 career starts. Reed ranks second among all returning ACC receivers with 141 career receptions. Willie Haulstead had 38 catches last season, Smith had 31, and there’s plenty of rising talent like Christian Green.

4. North Carolina: Like Florida State, North Carolina returns all of its receivers, including two who redshirted last season. Dwight Jones, who had 946 yards and 62 receptions, leads the group, but Erik Highsmith (25 catches, 348 yards and three touchdowns) must be accounted for as well. Defenses also can’t forget about Jheranie Boyd, who is a deep threat.

5. Miami: The Canes will miss the production of Leonard Hankerson, but they don’t have to if one or two of the other players show more consistency. Travis Benjamin has big-play capabilities and averaged 17.3 yards on his 43 catches last season. There is no shortage of other options with LaRon Byrd, Aldarius Johnson, Tommy Streeter, Allen Hurns and Kendal Thompkins. Which one will rise to the occasion?

6. Clemson: It was the DeAndre Hopkins show last season, and he should again highlight the Tigers’ passing game. As a true freshman, Hopkins had 52 catches, the most by a first-year player in school history. Jaron Brown returns with 10 career starts, and the Tigers also have Marquan Jones (21 catches) and Bryce McNeal (19).

7. Maryland: The Terps have to replace their top two receivers from a year ago in Torrey Smith and Adrian Cannon, and no clear frontrunners emerged this spring. Quintin McCree leads all returners with 16 catches, followed by Kevin Dorsey (15), Ronnie Tyler (13), Kerry Boykins (10), and Tony Logan.

8. Boston College: True freshman Bobby Swigert led the Eagles last year with 39 catches and four touchdowns in five starts. The Eagles are hoping to get a significant boost from the return of Colin Larmond Jr., who missed all of last season with a knee injury, but the young group should be better regardless because of the experience gained last season.

9. Virginia: The Cavaliers will miss Dontrelle Inman, who averaged 16 yards per catch on 51 receptions, but returning starter Kris Burd finished fifth in the ACC last season in pass receptions (58). The group will also get a boost from the return of Tim Smith, who missed almost all of last season with an injury, and Matt Snyder (30 catches) and Ray Keys (three catches).

10. NC State: NC State has to replace its top two receivers from a year ago, and T.J. Graham is the team’s leading returning receiver with 25 catches. Steven Howard, Jay Smith and Quintin Payton all have experience, and redshirt freshman Bryan Underwood, Tobias Palmer and Everett Proctor have also been competing for playing time.

11. Wake Forest: Chris Givens (35 catches, 13.7 average), Michael Campanaro (10 catches) and Danny Dembry are the lead candidates to start, but the Deacs are missing a spark like Kenny Moore (2007) and D.J. Boldin (2008) provided. There were too many dropped passes in the spring game, so this group has some work to do in summer camp.

12. Georgia Tech: Yes, Georgia Tech throws the ball, just not often enough or efficiently enough to be anywhere but last place on this list. Stephen Hill led the Jackets last year with 15 catches for 291 yards and three touchdowns. He should show progress this fall now that there’s no pressure on him to be the next Demaryius Thomas. If he doesn’t show more consistency, the Jackets could turn to Daniel McKayhan, Tyler Melton or Jeremy Moore.
A quick look at Georgia Tech's 14-7 loss to Air Force in the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl on Monday.

How the game was won: Georgia Tech unraveled with three fumbles in the third quarter, and sealed its fate with an interception on the Air Force 2-yard line in the fourth. The Falcons’ ability to pass the ball was a difference in the game, but the four turnovers were too much to overcome. Georgia Tech’s defense played remarkably well for three quarters, but Daniel McKayhan, filling in for injured starter Jerrard Tarrant, fumbled twice on punt returns, and his second turnover led to an Air Force touchdown and the Falcons’ 14-7 lead. In addition to the two fumbles on punt returns, Georgia Tech quarterback Tevin Washington also lost the ball on the Falcons’ 7-yard line and ended an 18-play, 77-yard drive. His interception with less than a minute remaining ended any hope at a comeback.

Turning point: The final play of the third quarter was McKayhan’s second fumbled punt return. Joshua Freeman recovered it on Georgia Tech’s 14-yard line, and Air Force scored four plays later for the 14-7 lead. At that point, the Falcons had all of the momentum.

Stat of the game: Four turnovers for Georgia Tech. It changed the game and was too much for the Jackets to overcome.

Player of the game: Air Force quarterback Tim Jefferson. The Falcons threw about twice as much as their regular-season average, and Jefferson made some key throws throughout the game to sustain drives and eat the clock. Despite being a triple option team, Air Force was hardly one-dimensional. Jefferson completed 11 of 23 passes for 117 yards, and added 25 rushing yards.

What Georgia Tech learned: The Yellow Jackets need to be able to pass the ball to come from behind. It didn’t help that leading receiver Stephen Hill was suspended, but even with Hill in the game, Georgia Tech’s passing has struggled all season. Air Force was able to line up in the shotgun and run an effective two-minute drill better than Georgia Tech. Pass protection and route running weren't where they needed to be, and Correy Earls had a big drop on third down in the final minute. Air Force deserves credit for an incredibly athletic play on the interception.

What it means: The ACC is off to a bad start in its bowl season, and Georgia Tech has now lost six straight bowl games. Not only have the Jackets failed to beat the big boys – LSU and Iowa – but now they couldn’t beat an unranked Mountain West team. The loss gave Georgia Tech its first losing season in 14 years.

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