Oct. 10, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
Sifting through the remains of Georgia Tech’s win Saturday over Maryland and then looking ahead . . . the Yellow Jackets are going to want to defend the run better, and that mission will begin at Virginia.
Considering the fact that only one starter in the front seven – first-time starter and redshirt freshman inside linebacker Quayshawn Nealy – was recruited to play in a 3-4 defense, the Jackets performed more than admirably overall in dispatching the Terrapins 21-16.
The Jackets were missing three linebackers, including two starters and a backup who would’ve probably started if he were healthy. In fact, Tech opened in a 4-3 (with defensive linemen Logan Walls, Jason Peters, Izaan Cross and Christopher Crenshaw on the field.
Crenshaw was listed as a DE, but appeared to be playing a DE/OLB hybrid. It was his first career start, too, and the same goes for OLB Malcolm Munroe. That’s three new starters. I’m not sure why OLB Stephen Sylvester didn’t start. He played later. Explanations aside, the bad guys ran the ball more authoritatively than head coach Paul Johnson and defensive coordinator Al Groh would like.
The Terps rushed 41 times for 246 yards, and backup quarterback C.J. Brown’s 77-yard scoring gallop in the fourth quarter triggered a comeback that became nearly too close for comfort. Plus, a week earlier, N.C. State rushed for 195 yards on 38 carries.
It’s hard for a layman to know how big a difference the type of defense makes for players who are playing it, but there’s probably something to it, especially for defensive ends and linebackers.
Crenshaw bit inside on that long run, and Brown went right around him on the right side. The Terps got a key block on the edge, and since most of the secondary had also fallen for a fake inside handoff and crashed toward the line of scrimmage, Brown was off to the races.
Johnson said after the game that he anticipated starting inside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu and backup outside linebacker Brandon Watts back for the Virginia game. If healthy, there’s a good chance one of them would’ve been in Crenshaw’s spot on that play.
“When it comes to run defense in particular . . . if somebody messes up or doesn’t do exactly what he has to do, you can see the running back or the quarterback bust a long one,” Cross said. “It’s just one small thing that can mess up a defense. That comes with repetition and knowing exactly what you have to do on every play.”
Nealy, who had played previously chiefly in passing situations for injured starter Daniel Drummond at inside linebacker, tied for third on the team with a combined five tackles and assists, and had an interception.
For several defenders, including freshman linebacker Nick Menocal, the Maryland game was a big case of trial by fire.
With that in mind, the Jackets did extra well. As Johnson said after the game, when you allow but 16 points, the defense has put in a good day’s work; you expect to win most games when that happens.
“Coach Johnson always talks about . . . one after another, they get harder and harder,” Nealy said. “The mindset is just keep on truckin’ . . . keep on going.”
Drummond may not make it back from his leg injury in time to play against the Cavaliers. No matter who lines up, Nealy nailed it with his comments.
“Quayshawn did a very good job. He stepped up,” Cross said. “I didn’t feel like there was any drop-off. In my opinion we saw an improvement from the linebackers.”