Monday, October 09, 2006

What have we learned?

So, what have we learned at the "half-way point in the regular season?

1. Reggie Ball has grown as a player. Reggie is making better decisions, making fewer mistakes, and just plain "making plays". He is providing real senior leadership. So, is his fire to win stronger? No. The guy has as much passion and fire as anyone that has played on the flats in awhile, and he has had that passion since day 1. He has just grown as a player and is learning the game. He's more patient and he trusts his mates more than ever. He's not getting as frustrated as quickly. He's maturing for sure................. There is certainly another factor - Patrick Nix has utilized his talents more effectively in the play-calling. Now, Reggie is never going to be Donavan McNabb, but who is? He's fullfilling his potential and he has a passion for the game. Kudos to Reggie.

2. Patrick Nix has made an absolute difference in the offense. We are averaging many more points than last season and scoring over 30 no longer seems like a rare possibility. He is utilizing our variety of weapons in CJ, Choice, Reggie, Cox, Grant, James Johnson and others. Now, would the offense be clicking like this under the pure Gailey offensive system? I don't think so. Would it be scoring more points than last season? I do think so with CJ being CJ and Reggie maturing and Choice in the backfield and a more mature O-Line. However, Nix has taken things to a new level and it's exciting. It's not perfect, but it's more exciting. Defenses have a lot more to think about with the Nix offense than they've had in year's past. Interestingly Nix has quite the opposite philosophy to Chan Gailey when it comes to time-of-possesion versus points. He said so at today's lunch bunch, indicating that scoring 3 TD's is more important than winning the overrated TOP stat. I like that - if you can score those 3 TD's.......................Kudos to Patrick Nix.

3. The O-Line deserves credit. Tech is averaging 5.0 yards per carry and is #2 in the conference in rushing behind Clemson. That success only happens when your O-Line is getting the job done. They are. They're not the giant earth-moves, but they are pretty big, pretty mobile, pretty fast and pretty darn effective at scheme blocking. Kudos to the O-Line. Obviously Tashard Choice is finding himself with back-to-back 100 yard games. He gets a ton of credit too, but it's hard to separate talented rushing performances from the successful blocking that allowed it. Suffice it to say it's been a nice combination.

4. Jon Tenuta defenses are wicked. His defensive schemes continue to confound opponents and totally confuse QB's. Teams are only averaging 72 rushing yards/game and that's always been goal #1 - stop the run. It continues to work. Each year he plugs in new studs and the show rolls on. Lose James Butler. Ok. Lose Chris Reis. Ok. Lose Gerris Wilkinson. Ok. Lose Dawan Landry. Ok. I could go on. Plug in Michael Johnson. Plug in Philip Wheeler. Plug in Jamal Lewis. Plug in Vance Walker. Plug in Daryl Richard. The shows rolls on..............

5. The Team Freak Show. So who will win Tech team freak of the year? Who are those robo-athletic-gravity defying freak-a-zoids that make plays? I think there are three clear nominees. There is the the one-and-only Calvin Johnson, Neo, Spiderman, the Truth. It's really not fair to the other contestants. However, in the spirit of things we must mention two others............. first Philip Wheeler. His own mates call him the "Calvin Johnson of the defense", yet another homage to CJ living on a higher plane. Philip Wheeler has proven that he has an uncanny ability to find the ball, stay on his feet and flat out hammer opponents. He's flying everywhere and has been described as a missle. Rightly so. He is building his own highlight reel and the ACC is taking notice. He has a serious inside line on ACC 1st team and maybe even national All-American consideration......................... Lastly, you have Michael Johnson. The game this weekend cemented him as a major force physically, athletically and in primetime. He's got the metrics - 6'7" or so, 250lb or so, chiseled. His head looks like it is floating about a foot above his shoulders. To think, he could play for another 2 years AFTER this season. Wow..... and I don't know if you picked up on the character of the kid this weekend. In Chan Gailey's postgame press conference he said that Maryland's 104 yard kick-off return was the result of ONE coverage breakdown, but he didn't name names. Michael Johnson did however. He took full blame, saying that he was the guy who was at fault and that it hurt his heart to let his mates down. He said that gave him extra motivation to make those plays at the end of the game. You have to like the character of a kid like that, standing up and saying I messed up but I'm going to make amends. Kudos to the freaks..........

6. Special teams are a mystery. Very shaky early in the season, giving up big plays, then tightening up prior to Maryland game. Just when we thought progress was being made - bamm!!!! A 104 yard kick-off return by Maryland, a botched fake kick and two missed field goals by Travis Bell. The only true brightspot all year has been the punting of Durant Brooks. There is much work to do here. Personnel? Schemes? Focus? Experience? I don't know the answer but our special teams coach seems to be headed in the right direction. He's got a long way to go. The heart is willing, but the translating heart into the movement of feet into the proper position hasn't been consistent this season.

7. D-Line doing it's thing. How do you grade the D-Line? Well, rushing defense for starters. Check - 3rd in the league at 73 yards/game. That looks solid. Sacks. 4th in the league with 16. Solid. Big plays? How about the last two plays against MD? Pretty solid too. So what's missing? To me it seems that our D-Line hasn't gotten the same consistent push and pressure on QB's like year's past. However, that has improved with each game. I'm disappointed that we haven't heard Daryl Richard's name as much as expected. However, let's face it, defensive tackles have the job to occupy one or more O-Line-man and create missle lanes for our talented linebacking core. Think Walls and Missles. Philip Wheeler and K-Mike are successful to a large degree because of the DT's ability to stuff the line. So overall Kudo's to the D-Line.

8. Secondary finding themselves - How do you describe our secondary? I give them a solid B- grade on the season. They've clearly been beaten on some plays, but they seem to have bend-but-don't break results. They're the owner of a slightly odd statistical match - 3rd in the league in pass efficiency defense, but 3rd from last in the league in "pass defense". The difference - "pass defense" is yards/game given up only, while pass efficiency defense takes into consideration a more complete picture, including INT's, TD's given up, completion %, etc. So they've given up lots of yards (2nd most in the ACC), but have only given up 4 passing TD's (2nd in league). In addition, they're only giving up 5.4 yards / passing attempt (2nd in the league). It is also important to note that we have faced a good passing team in Notre Dame, 2 spread offense teams in Troy and Samford, and ended up with big leads against Samford / VaTech - and that means going to the air to try and catch-up. Throw in what seems like an ever-shifting personnel group, between injuries, inexperienced players and exploiting match-ups and you have to tip your hat and say - keep up the good work.

9. Coach Gailey is either a superior evaluator of talent or is a superior developer of talent or both. Think about it. The popular recruiting services have had Chan Gailey's recruiting classes at the bottom of the ACC for 3 years running

2006.............. Rivals 11th out of 12 in the ACC................ Scout 10th of 12
2005.............. Rivals 11th out of 12 in the ACC................ Scout 10th of 11
2004.............. Rivals 9th out of 11 in the ACC.................. Scout 8th of 11
2003.............. Rivals 6th out of 9 in the ACC.................... Scout 6th of 9
2002.............. Rivals 7th out of 9 in the ACC.................... Scout 7th of 9

And yet with those "terrible" recruiting classes we continue to win. We continue to compete. It sort of really raises the question - what would Coach Gailey do with a recruiting class ranked in the top 20? What would he do with about 3 or 4 top 20 classes in a row? Well, looks like we're going to find out with his first nationally recognized class that will sign in January. Things are only looking up for the Jackets.

10. Chan Gailey is a leader. There are Jacket fans who will NEVER accept Chan Gailey. But then there are always fans who have no patience and understanding in what it takes to BUILD a program. There are people who boo players and coaches during games. There are "fans" who would rather see a team lose so they could see a coaching change. Ridiculous. Bottom-line - there are lots of jerks out there and the squeeky wheels tend to be heard the loudest. Anyone who continues to say that Chan Gailey is not a good coach is just spinning their wheels. The important contribution to our program he has made is leadership - not coaching. He is a God-fearing man and not afraid to say it. Kids and their parents gravitate to his personality. He is not afraid of bringing in assistants that are sharp, smart and know what they are doing. He's not afraid to make changes when necessary. You may have wanted this year's offense in year's past, but folks - this is the first season we have a comfortable back-up QB situation. As inconsistent as Reggie Ball has been, we couldn't afford to be without him in years past. Now we have that luxury. Now we can afford to run him more. Coach Gailey recognized that the time was right to put Patrick Nix IN POSITION TO SUCCEED. Giving up the playcalling is leadership. But doing it in a way that's given Nix the BEST chance to succeed - that's REAL leadership. The changes to improve recruiting - that's leadership. He had to say goodbye to a good friend on the staff, but it was the right change for the program - and look at the results. Coach Gailey has adapted. He's BUILT a program.

11. This team has real character - I hate putting these cliche type comments in here. However, when your program has had a history of losing games they shouldn't, making mistakes when they shouldn't and generally not dealing well with prosperity, winning against Maryland was a milestone. Beating VaTech was big, beating Maryland was bigger - mentally. That is the game we have lost every year in the Chan Gailey era, and yet Coach Gailey has built the program and provided leadership to get the kids focused on the right things. Working through mistakes, perservering, and "gutting one out" are marks of high character. This team's got it. Kudos to those things deep within your guts. Kudos to every kids willingness to win a game on the last play. This team seems to have it.

12. Has the team "turned the corner"? Ah, that age old question. Truth is, you can't answer that question until last seconds click off on the last game of the season. Will that game be in San Francisco or Nashville prior to December 25 or will that game be played in January in Florida or wherever you find a major bowl? These things are only really determined in hindsight, upon reflection, after the last snap is complete. For now enjoy the ride. There is something different about this team. There is something different about this episode of the ACC. There is golden opportunity, but the journey is far from over. Obstacles and challenges await. So far so good, but the mission has not been completed. Destiny is in our hands. The prize is completely in our control for a change..................... Winning in Jax is the prize. Kudos to Chan Gailey and the team for proving that you had what it takes all along, that you were building something meaningful..............

Atlantic Coast Conference

(As Of October 8)
School Conference Pct. Overall Pct.
NC State 2-0 1.000 3-2 .600
Clemson 3-1 .750 5-1 .833
Wake Forest 1-1 .500 5-1 .833
Boston College 1-1 .500 4-1 .800
Florida State 1-2 .333 3-2 .600
Maryland 0-1 .000 3-2 .600
School Conference Pct. Overall Pct.
Georgia Tech 3-0 1.000 5-1 .833
Virginia Tech 2-1 .667 4-1 .800
Miami 1-1 .500 3-2 .600
Virginia 1-1 .500 2-4 .333
North Carolina 0-3 .000 1-4 .200
Duke 0-3 .000 0-5 .000