Oct. 25, 2005
– HEAD COACH Chan Gailey
What kind of feeling do you get when you watch film from last year’s Clemson game?
“I haven’t watched any film. Obviously, it was a great ending to a game but I haven’t even thought about that game this week.”
How different is Clemson from last year?
“They’re pretty different. They are moving the ball around a lot more and throwing it to the outside instead of running it up the middle. They’re working hard to try and get the ball to (Aaron) Kelly and (Chansi) Stuckey. Defensively, they were basically an eight-man front last year but they now have a seven-man front and use more secondary blitzes.”
Three or four years ago, they were known for the no-huddle offense. Why do you think they’ve gotten away from that?
“I think that personnel dictates a lot of what you can do. Having Whitehurst at quarterback, that’s not his forte so they’re not going to do as many quarterback draws and sweeps. They still use a lot of the no-huddle principle but they’ve gotten from the fast-break from the huddle and getting up to the line quickly. That means you’re not going to see as many draws because they’ve had to adjust based on their personnel. There’s not a lot of quarterbacks like the guy that used to play for them, Woody Dantzler, so they did what they had to do to win with him and they have to do the same thing with Whitehurst.”
Can you talk about Stuckey and his abilities to make people miss?
“He’s a very good football player and very elusive. Tackling will be at a premium this week. We can’t afford missed tackles against a team like this, especially against him in particular.”
Is it hard to keep getting better at tackling when you can’t always go full-speed during practice?
“You can practice form-tackling but you can’t do it at full-speed. We try to work on our technique and also on the fundamentals.
Has the playing time between P.J. (Daniels) and Tashard (Choice) worked like you thought it would?
“I think so. To be honest you, I couldn’t tell you how many minutes each one of them has played but I do know that P.J. started out very strong. We’ve been trying to get Tashard more chances to play and with the (P.J’s) injury, he got to play a lot. I think as time goes on, those two will get to play a good deal and if they stay banged up, we’ve got other guys that can go in and play for us.”
Is Tashard the kind of player that can be as a lead back?
“No question. If he had to carry it 30 or 40 times in a game, there’s no question that he could do it. There’s only one football, though, and no matter how many people want it, only one player is going to get it on the field. Regardless of whether you’re the quarterback, receiver, or running back, you have to have that confidence that you’re going to be able to do something with the ball every time you touch it. Not everyone can get in on every play so there’s a certain amount of give and take that comes with paying this game and it’s important to under the team concept. I think our two guys have handled it pretty well.”
Can you talk about Clemson and the fact that they’re your cross-division rival?
“The reason for that is because most of our recent games have been so close. It seems like our last 10 games have been decided by seven points or less so it becomes a rivalry when all the games are close and hotly contested.
Do you compete against them in recruiting?
“We sure do. I would say that we compete for three or four of the same guys every year.”
Does winning close games like last year’s give your team an advantage in future games during the season?
“I think that any time you win a close game, you have confidence that you can win the next close game. I really believe that. Winning breeds confidence and losing breaks that confidence so you have to build it back up.”
Why do you think that Reggie (Ball) hasn’t taken many sacks this year and do you attribute that to him having to throw the ball away more?
“I don’t think that you can pinpoint that. One thing that can be an unfair statistic for a quarterback is their completion percentage because a lot of times, Reggie will scramble around to buy some time and will end up throwing the ball away because we’ve stressed to him the importance of not taking sacks. I think he’s done a good job of that and he understands why he needs to throw the ball away in certain circumstances. We also try to keep him on the move. It’s easier to stand still and throw the ball for a higher percentage than it is to throw it on the move. His completion percentage has taken a hit because of what we’re trying to do to eliminate some sacks.”
Given the tough stretch of games that you have coming up in the next five weeks, how important it this week’s game in setting up the rest of your season?
“I’m not into setting up the rest of the season with a game. I know the importance of this game because it happens this week and it’s therefore the biggest game of the year for us. You’re probably tired of hearing that, and the players are tired of hearing it because every coach says it, but is it a lie? I don’t believe it is. If you lost this one and won the last the last four, this week’s game wouldn’t have set the tone.
Has having this weekend off helped in healing bumps and bruises?
“Yes. We’ll have a lot more guys on the field today than if we would’ve gone out and played a game this past weekend. What you’re hoping is that you’ve healed enough so that you’re healthier for this game and the next game.”
What is the status on some of your injured players?
“Both Joe Anoai and Djay Jones are doubtful for this week. Eric Henderson is getting better every day. He would’ve tried to play this past week if we had played Miami but there might have been more of a chance for a setback. The extra week has really helped him.”
If Anoai is unable to play but Henderson is, can you move Adamm (Oliver) to tackle and is that a way to get Darrell (Robertson) on the field?
“In some situations, we can move Adamm, but not in all situations. It’s about trying to put the best people on the field to do what they do depending on the offensive situations and sets. We’re trying to see what the match-ups are.”
Is there a big difference between having Davis and Merriweather on the field?
“Well, Davis was playing very well, but I think that you’re better off if you only have to worry about one player instead of two. I hate it for James but it’s one of those situations when someone is banged up and can’t play. I’m sure Merriweather will take advantage of the opportunity.”
Do you expect them to play (Tye) Hill against (Calvin) Johnson during the whole game?
“I don’t think so. They’ll do that the majority of the time because they have issues with coverage if you put him in the slot because they would have to change a couple of guys to get lined up and take care of their responsibilities.”
Do you think that Hill is their best cover guy?
“I’m not sure. I think No. 15 (Sergio Gilliam) is a guy that’s 6’3″ and matches up pretty well in regards to size. It would be interesting if they tried to do something with him because of the fact that he’s a 6’3″ corner.”
Tashard Choice Sophomore, Running Back
After having sat on the bench at Oklahoma, what has it been like for you at Tech?
“It’s a great feeling to be able to go through practice and prepare knowing you’re going to be able to contribute in some way. That’s been real key, being a part of the team on the field.”
How did you spend last weekend?
“We had practice on the weekend, but we had time off our feet to get our legs back and watch more film on Clemson.”
Was it strange to suddenly have to start preparing for another team than the one you were supposed to play?
“It was a little funny. When the game got cancelled and everything changed around, we just had to put our minds on Clemson that day.”
Do you wish you had played a game last weekend so you could continue the momentum?
“If we had to play, we would have been OK. But this gave us a chance to get rested a little more. That Duke game was a big win for us, but we just have to go back out and perform this week.”
The postponement takes away your bye week, and now you finish with five games in five weeks against pretty strong teams. Is this a defining stretch for you?
“We understand this is a big stretch for us. But week in and week out, we just have to come with out best effort and not let up. We understand that this will determine our season, so we have to be focused.”
What do you see on film from Clemson?
“On defense, they’re a really tough team. Their defensive ends are very good, and they have a good defensive strategy as far as putting their players in the right positions at the right times. You’ve got to go out and try and control the ball and put ourselves in a good opportunity to score.”
What have you heard about the game last year at Clemson?
“I was able to watch some of the game on TV even though we had a game that day also. The other players just told me that this is a great rivalry. Last year, with the way the game ended, you could just see how much emotion goes into this game and how much each team wanted to win.”
Does having you and P.J. Daniels both healthy and productive help you through this five-game stretch?
“The fact that we go into each game with everybody prepared to play the game helps us. [P.J. and I] have two different styles of running, and hopefully if he comes out, I can do something to keep the offense going. We complement each other and help the team in different ways.”
How has it been being close to home?
“The main thing is having my family and friends around, and being around home makes things a lot more convenient. Having people I know come to the games has been key. I like playing for Tech, it’s a great school, and I’m just thankful to be back here.”
How much has Calvin Johnson changed to you?
“When I first got here, Calvin was real quiet. He’s been the type of player that leads by example. But now he talks more in the huddle. He’s such a great player, you want to push yourself like he does.”
Do you get home often?
“I see my Mom a lot more. She works just up the street from Tech. She’ll come by the school once a week maybe. I don’t get home on the weekends much because we have games and practice. She’ll come around the campus and visit for a little while.”
How different is this program from Oklahoma
“Oklahoma is not in a big city. It’s in a football, college town. There are no pro teams, so the Sooners are the biggest thing there.”
Have you been surprised by their struggles this year?
“I’ve been surprised a little. I stay in contact with some of them. They have big plans at the beginning of the year. They’ve struggled a little, but they’ll get back on their feet.”
Dennis Davis Senior, Cornerback
Have you watched film on Clemson? What have you seen from Stuckey, No. 2?
“We’ve watched a lot. We got a jump on them after the [Miami] game was cancelled. He’s a great receiver. I remember him from last year. He’s a playmaker type of guy. They use him a lot for short passes and have him make the defender miss. We’re going to have to tackle well once he gets the ball.”
You’ve had some success this year against young quarterbacks. How different is it going against [an experienced] guy like Whitehurst?
“He’s got a lot of experience, and he’s got experience with us. We’re going to have to do the same things we’ve been doing – keep the pressure on him and try to get him to make some mistakes, make him uncomfortable in the pocket and make him throw the ball quick.”
Do you see this game as a big game in determining the rest of your season?
“Definitely. This is the biggest game on our schedule right now. It’s going to be a great game, especially with the rivalry between us. That’s all we can think about right now.”
You now have five games in five weeks against quality opponents. Do you see this as a difficult stretch run?
“It’s in the back of our minds. But we can only take it one game at a time and focus on Clemson right now.”
You’ve had some tackling problems in the secondary this year. How have you addressed that as the season goes along?
“We practice tackling every day, and we try to get better at it every day. Take the extra step when you get there and little things like that. There’s not much you can do now with contact limited in practice until the end of the season. We’ve just got to concentrate more on the back end.”
It seems like every game with Clemson comes down to the final minute. Is this game more important from a rivalry standpoint than other conference games?
“We definitely know that it’s going to be a tight game, a good game. Whoever makes less mistakes is going to win a game like this. Historically, a lot of these games have been decided by a touchdown or less, so we need to mind our P’s and Q’s this week to come out with a win.
“We have some guys that know each other on the Clemson team. It’s not quite like Georgia, but we definitely like to have the bragging rights after this game.”
Have you seen anything on their offense that you can exploit?
“They’re pretty strong at every position. We always want to try and stop the run and make them pass the ball. As far as a weakness, we haven’t really seen anything like that.”
What are your memories of last year?
“Oh, good and bad. That’s the game where my shoulder came out and I eventually had to have surgery. But we won the game, and it was a great feeling after the game.”
Had you given up hope in that game?
“We never gave up hope, never. I remember Reggie going up and down the sideline making sure everybody stayed in the game. But he really didn’t need to. We were focused on winning that game, we didn’t want to take no for an answer. It was just and exciting game.”
Darrell Robertson Sophomore, Defensive End
Has it been like you thought it would be (at Tech)?
“It’s been a great experience for me coming from a local high school to a school close by, having family and friends come out and see me play.”
Would you care to share with us your nickname?
“Coach (Jon) Tenuta calls me ‘Stick.’ When I first got here, I was probably 200 pounds dripping wet. But now things are a lot different, but Coach Tenuta still calls me ‘Stick.'”
What would you say you weigh now?
“Probably about 235. Coach Tenuta says I can be anywhere from 255 to 260 and still keep the same speed. That’s the goal I’m going for.”
Is there somebody you watch?
“I watch [Dwight Freeney, Indianapolis Colts] a little. But the player I like to watch is Eric Henderson. He’s a great role model. He teaches me a lot about technique and how to do this and that. He’s a great person to learn from first-hand.”
With last week’s game postponed, you have five quality games in five weeks. Have you looked at that stretch and thought about how it might determine your season?
“I haven’t really looked at that. We just want to take it one game at a time and focus on the opponent at hand, and that’s Clemson.”
Do you know anybody on Clemson’s team?
“I don’t really know anyone personally, but I’ve heard of a lot of them, local players from Atlanta that play for them.”
Does this game seem like a rivalry game to you?
“Each year, this game gets bigger and better. Last year was the late touchdown by Calvin Johnson. It’s amazing how close the games have been over the years. Both schools compete for high school players each year.”
How much confidence do you get having won that game last year and having won a couple of close games this year?
“It’s a great feeling to win any game. One week you can be up and next week you can be down.”
What have you seen from Whitehurst, the Clemson quarterback?
“He’s just a great quarterback. He reads defenses well and makes smart plays on the field.”
Have you seen Eric Henderson this week. Does he seem like he’s ready to get back out on the field?
“Eric is always ready to get back on the field. He wants to play through any kind of pain he can, because that’s how much he loves the game.”
How often are you dropping back in pass coverage?
“It varies. Depending on what play is called, it could be me, or it could be the other defensive end. It just depends on how the game is going. Probably anywhere from five to seven times. Last week, I was able to [intercept a pass], so that was one of the high points of my career so far.”
Did you do any pass coverage at all in high school?
“Not really. There was a week or two when my coach put me at linebacker to see how I would do, just for fun. I was a defensive end in high school and never dropped back in coverage. It’s been totally new for me, but it’s been a fun experience.”
Do you get a sense the quarterback is surprised?
“It’s always surprising to see a defensive end drop back in coverage. You really can’t see him. We try to sneak in and out, try to make the quarterback throw a bad pass or an interception.”
You seem to get your hands on a lot of balls in pass rush. Where does that come from, apart from the fact that you’re tall?
“Our defensive line coach (Giff Smith) always teaches us to get our hands up. It’s like a quick three-step drop, get your hands up and try to bat the ball down. We just try and make a play on the ball.”
Are there other improvements you’ve made in your game this year?
“I’ve improved overall on how to read the offense that’s coming at us. Now I can see what’s coming and that allows me to play faster.”
How did you get here in the recruiting process?
“It basically came down to three schools – Georgia Tech, Stanford and Florida State. For a long time, I was committed and going to Florida State. But in the last minute, I realized what was best for me and my family. So I decided to come to Georgia Tech. It was a number of things. My friends and family can come and watch our games. I can go home for a hot meal. There were a lot of factors that tied into it. It was almost a last-minute decision by me and my family.