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September 11, 2008

ACC: Georgia Tech set to face another hurdle

MORE PREVIEWS: Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC

Georgia Tech's chances of competing for an ACC title this season seemed unlikely for two major reasons.

First, the Yellow Jackets supposedly were going to need time to adjust to new coach Paul Johnson's option attack. Second, Georgia Tech probably wouldn't get much help from a schedule that included trips to Boston College and Virginia Tech in the first three weeks of the season.

The Yellow Jackets already made it through their first road trip with an undefeated record. And they've made it more and more apparent that the adjustment process is tougher for defenses trying to stop the option than for offenses trying to run it.

"(This is) an offense certainly new to this league," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said, "and all of us are going to need time to adjust to it."

Sophomore running back Jonathan Dwyer has averaged 7.6 yards per carry to help Georgia Tech rank 15th in the nation in rushing. The Yellow Jackets ran for 162 yards on 40 attempts last week against a Boston College defense that allowed 75.6 rushing yards per game and 2.4 yards per carry last season.

Georgia Tech faces an even greater challenge Saturday against Virginia Tech, which ranked fourth in total defense last season after leading the nation in that category in 2005 and '06.

That's why Johnson isn't exactly getting carried away with his team's early season success. "If we don't get a lot better quickly this week, it's going to be short-lived," he said. "Everybody knows how hard it is to go into Blacksburg and play. Coach Beamer again has a very athletic team. Defensively, I don't know if there's anyone who runs any better than they do."

While the matchup between Georgia Tech's offense and Virginia Tech's defense figures to garner most of the attention this week, this game could come down to how well the Hokies' offense fares against the Yellow Jackets' defense.

Georgia Tech led the nation in sacks last season and ranks ninth in that category this season. Ends Michael Johnson and Derrick Morgan team with tackles Vance Walker and Darryl Richard to give Georgia Tech a defensive line that ranks among the best in the nation.

"They're very, very good up front," Beamer said. "They're a very good football team."

By Saturday afternoon, we should know just how good.

  • BEST MATCHUP
  • North Carolina coach Butch Davis vs. Rutgers coach Greg Schiano. This matchup could prove particularly interesting to Miami fans. Schiano served as defensive coordinator on Davis' staff at Miami in 1999 and 2000 as the Hurricanes began their return to glory. After Miami went 11-1 in 2000, Davis got hired by the NFL's Cleveland Browns and Schiano took over Rutgers' program. Davis now is back in the college ranks trying to help North Carolina recapture the success it enjoyed in the 1990s under Mack Brown. Although North Carolina went 4-8 last year, many preseason observers labeled the Tar Heels as a team on the rise. A road victory over his former pupil Thursday night could help Davis put a stamp on his new program.

    ACC SCHEDULE
    THURSDAY
    North Carolina at Rutgers, 7:30 p.m.
    SATURDAY
    N.C. State at Clemson, noon
    California at Maryland, noon
    Navy at Duke, noon
    Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech, 3:30 p.m.
    Chattanooga at Florida State, 3:45 p.m.
    Virginia at Connecticut, 7:30 p.m.

  • PLAYERS TO WATCH
  • Clemson T Landon Walker, G Mason Cloy and G David Smith. This trio is expected to give Clemson three freshman offensive linemen in its starting lineup for the first time since 1943. Clemson last started three freshman offensive linemen in a game only because the upperclassmen were drafted to serve in World War II. Cloy already had entered the starting lineup last week to replace injured starter Barry Humphries at right guard. Walker will take over at right tackle for Chris Hairston, who suffered a knee injury in a motor scooter accident. The three redshirt freshmen will join junior C Thomas Austin and junior T Cory Lambert in the lineup for Saturday's ACC opener against North Carolina State.

  • WHO'S HOT
  • Clemson FS Michael Hamlin already has compiled 23 tackles and three interceptions this season. Duke K Nick Maggio is 3-for-3 on field-goal attempts so far this season. Duke kickers went a combined 3-for-11 on field goals last season. Florida State sophomore QB Christian Ponder threw three touchdown passes with no interceptions last week in his first career start. Georgia Tech's Dwyer is averaging 7.6 yards per carry and has reached the 100-yard mark in each of his first two games. Maryland RB Da'Rel Scott leads the ACC in rushing with 320 yards on 37 carries. Miami's defense held a high-powered Florida offense to nine points through the first three quarters of a 26-3 loss to the Gators last week. Wake Forest QB Riley Skinner has completed 74.7 percent of his attempts with five touchdowns and no interceptions. Wake Forest K Sam Swank is 5-for-5 on field-goal attempts and made a game-winning 41-yarder with three seconds remaining in a 30-28 victory over Ole Miss last week.

  • WHO'S NOT
  • Clemson WR Aaron Kelly has caught seven passes for 43 yards and no touchdowns. Kelly finished the 2007 season with 88 receptions for 1,081 yards and 11 touchdowns. Georgia Tech K Scott Blair is 1-for-5 on field-goal attempts. Maryland K Obi Egekeze has missed all four of his field-goal attempts this season. Maryland QBs Jordan Steffy and Chris Turner have combined to throw five interceptions and one touchdown pass. Miami RB Graig Cooper has rushed for 53 yards on 19 carries after averaging 5.5 yards per attempt last season. Virginia Tech QB Sean Glennon has thrown three interceptions and one touchdown pass.

  • WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
  • "I'll just say this one statement. Sometimes when you do things and people see what type of person you really are, you turn a lot of people off. Now, whatever you want to get out of that, I won't say it again. But it helped us. It helped us more than you'll ever know." Miami coach Randy Shannon, discussing Florida coach Urban Meyer's decision to kick a field goal in the closing seconds of a 26-3 victory over the Hurricanes last week.

    "Right now, we're just a bunch of hype." Maryland DT Jeremy Navarre to The Washington Post after a 24-14 loss to Middle Tennessee.

    "You cannot get used to this at all. It's a sick feeling. I mean I want to throw up now." Duke LB Michael Tauiliili after a 24-20 loss to Northwestern.

    "It was a great team win for us. I don't know when we played better as a team, maybe since the (2005) ACC Championship Game." Florida State defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews after a 69-0 season-opening victory over Division I-AA Western Carolina.

    "While we're figuring out this quarterback situation, I'm not going to talk about it anymore. I've asked (Glennon and Tyrod Taylor) not to do interviews this week. I don't think we need to be talking. I think we need to turn all our attention toward Georgia Tech, a team that presents problems." Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer in The Roanoke (Va.) Times.

  • ETC.
  • Clemson QB Cullen Harper suffered a first-degree sprain of the AC joint on his throwing shoulder in a season-opening loss to Alabama, but offensive coordinator Rob Spence downplayed the injury this week. "We haven't really expressed any concerns with him being limited in any way," Spence said. North Carolina State QB Russell Wilson is expected to return to action this week. He sat out last week's win over Division I-AA William & Mary after sustaining a concussion in the opener against South Carolina. Miami RB Javarris James will miss two to four weeks with a high ankle sprain. Florida State played 22 true freshmen last week against Western Carolina. The victory allowed Bobby Bowden to remain tied with Penn State's Joe Paterno as the winningest coaches in major-college football history with 374 victories each. The California-Maryland game will pit two of the nation's top rushers. Scott is ranked fifth in the nation with 160 rushing yards per game, while California's Jahvid Best is seventh with 155.5 yards per game.

    MORE PREVIEWS: Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC

    Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.



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