Sept. 4, 2010
By Jon Cooper
It may not have been a long time between tackles for Izaan Cross games-wise, but it sure seemed like it to him.
“It seems like forever since the Orange Bowl. It felt good to get back out there,” said the true sophomore defensive end, whose last tackle before Saturday came against Iowa. “I was tired of hitting my own teammates and tired of going against guys like (Tech offensive tackle) Nick Claytor all the time.”
Cross made up for lost time in Georgia Tech’s 41-10 season-opening victory over South Carolina State, chalking up six tackles, four of them solo. The five stops were his single-game high, surpassing his previous best of three made last Oct. 31 at Vanderbilt, and put him halfway to matching his total output from his freshman season, when he made 10 tackles in 13 games.
The difference between his freshman season and sophomore debut understandably was dramatic.
“Last year I was kind of just trying to get my feet wet,” said the Flowery Branch High School graduate and GHSA 3A Defensive Player of the Year as a senior in 2008, when he recorded 115 tackles, 20 tackles for loss and 13 sacks. “It was the big transition from high school to college. This year I feel like I should be able to make a few more plays.”
A year of experience isn’t the only difference for Cross in 2010. His role also has changed, as he now lines up at right end in Tech’s new 3-4 set.
Making things even tougher on Saturday was that he frequently went mano-a-mano with the Bulldogs’ powerful senior tackle Johnny Culbreath, a second team FCS All-American in 2009.
“He’s aggressive but my overall day was pretty good,” said Cross. “I could have done the little things better with my footwork but overall as a game I don’t think I did too bad.”
Head coach Paul Johnson had mixed emotions as well.
“He made some plays. He got cut off some. Until you watch the tape it’s hard to evaluate those guys,” said Johnson Saturday after the game. “We lost contain on the pass rush several times or we would have had a couple of sacks. I guess I’m a cup half-empty guy. I want it to be done right all the time. But he needs to be a good player for us. I think he’s got a lot of ability.”
Even without his coach’s analysis, Cross knows he had technical problems, primarily with his footwork. A bigger technical difficulty for him on Saturday was with his own helmet, which came off on several plays in the first half.
“I had a problem. I don’t think I had enough air in it,” he said. “We got it fixed later on during the game but it was a little bit too late. I made one tackle with my helmet off but it was fun. I wasn’t really worried about it.”
With his helmet issue fixed, Cross is determined to get things right on the defensive front. He and the Yellow Jackets, who allowed 178 yards on 39 carries (an average of 4.56 per carry, although 55 came on one play) face a big task next Saturday in Lawrence, Kansas, against the Big 12’s Kansas Jayhawks. Kansas offensive linemen average 6-4, 303 pounds. Techs starting D-line averages 6-3, 286. But he won’t let size — or the lack of it — on the D-line be an issue.
“Every team we play, their offensive linemen are going to be bigger than us,” he said with a laugh. “We’re not small but they’re probably going to be taller than us. We’re not worried about that. As long as we got our technique, our footwork, we should be fine.”