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Monday Mailbag 9/8

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We're talking fallout from the Tulane game, looking ahead to the Georgia Southern game, and more!

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

There are three teams on our schedule (Miami, Pitt, and Georgia) who have a dominant running back. Given our issues on defense, do we have even the slightest chance of stopping that person or are we going to have to score 50 points to win those games?

We do have a chance to stop them, no doubt, but I think you might see the scheme a bit different than we've gotten used to. Expect a lot more 4-3 looks, and a lot more plays where they commit one or more linebackers to the backfield, either in rushing the passer or stuffing the run. Also, be prepared for a lot of Cover 1 and Cover 0 looks that end up in a couple of big plays in the passing game. This defense is still plenty capable of stopping what's in front of it, just like last year, but not without schematic sacrifices.

Based on the play of our team to date, do you still expect Tech to win 9 games? If so, why? If not, what is your new expectation?

I'm not sure what I expect at this point. They do still have a ceiling around the 9-win mark, but I'm pretty uncomfortable about the upcoming Virginia Tech game, which I thought would be one of those 9. Let's just say that 9 is well within reach if the team continues to develop, and I refuse to count this team out prematurely, but I'm also mentally preparing myself for something worse.

Did you see our DLine tightening up, or am I just wishfully thinking? How do you think they will do against GSU (I know zip about what kind of offense they run, other than it’s not like ours any longer)?

I think you probably saw them tighten up in the run game a bit. Off the top of my head, I don't remember Tulane specifically getting a lot up the middle in the run game, which is a good sign. If they can clog up the middle on run plays, then Nealy and Davis will do a lot in support on the outside, which they did in the Tulane game (The Green Wave had just under 100 yards on 25 carries, which is a pretty decent defensive mark).

To be quite honest about GSU, I'm a little concerned. Their new coach came from Sam Houston State, where he ran a very potent offense that looked a lot like Auburn's. In his first two games, they had the nearest of misses after controlling the whole game against NC State, and then scored 83 points against Savannah State. Yes, the Wolfpack was 3-9 last year and winless in conference play. Yes, FCS Savannah State was 1-11 last year with losses by scores of 77-9 to Georgia Southern, 66-3 to Troy, and 77-7 to Miami.  Still -- that system is potent when it's working, and the first couple of weeks with our young defense has me aware that there's a notable chance that this game goes poorly. I still expect a win, and I think there's a decent chance that we're overestimating them heavily (and we cover the 21-point spread); but at this point, I'm taking nothing for granted.

We had three potential starters out of the game at Tulane. Will they be back and will they start against GSU?

I believe the injury report comes out Thursday, so we'll have to see. Missing this game was starting S Isaiah Johnson, key backup OL Nick Brigham, and reserve QB Brady Swilling. Of those, Brigham was listed with a concussion, which is totally hit-or-miss depending on severity, and Johnson was listed with hamstring issues, although he was going to try to play until late last week. I'm guessing Johnson plays, Brigham stays out with the injury, and Swilling stays out with "walk-on reserve" status.

CJ Leggett: It seems like we could use him if he's at least better than Matt Connors. What's his status health wise and is he good enough to not be redshirted?

I think he ran into some health issues in camp when he would have been getting valuable reps and suffered for it. I think Connors' experience in the system trumps the upside of Leggett's ball carrying abilities. He won't hit any home runs, but then again they don't need him to. Through two games, Connors has a single carry for 4 yards. I think he remains the third-string guy that you can bank on not screwing anything up, and I think they end up saving Leggett's eligibility.

How many of the issues we have seen thus far, how much can be attributed to youth vs lack of talent? Are we just messing up because we are not focused/just lack experience or are we bad waiting to meet a better team?

I think the two are sorta related. It's not that our players are bad coming out of high school, it's that they get a lot better as they grow and gain experience. Note one Jeremiah Attaochu, whose four years saw 3, 6, 10, and 12.5 sacks, respectively. He was still growing and learning, and ended up having more production in his third year than in his first two combined by that measure. When you're not pulling in a bunch of 4- and 5-star recruits, you don't have a bunch of guys who are physically ready to play All-ACC-level football from day one. It's an adjustment and growth process. That's not to say they're total garbage as freshmen and sophomores, but that it'll take a couple of years to go from "serviceable" to "impressive".

Why can't we scout? It seems that since Ted Roof took over as DC last season we make great half time adjustments and simply stumble through the first half on D. Why is this? Do we not have a game plan going into the first half? This seems to have been the case for the first 2 games this season. How can we be solid on defense all game?

This is a great question, and I'm not sure I have a great answer. I don't know that the issue is that we can't scout our opponents. I'm guessing it has more to do with seeing how our players react to theirs, and seeing how they attack our schemes and players versus other opponents. I have definitely noticed that we give up fewer points after halftime, which is a pretty backwards occurrence. As for why that happens, I don't really have a great answer.

My GT Professor, who so wisely predicted last week's score, was a little more off this time – he said GT would win 34-28. I said 31-20. We were both off by 11! Should I take the withdrawal and drop his class, even though I need it to graduate?

I recommend pulling a serious power move here and making a bet with your professor that involves your final grade in the class. Establish yourself as the dominant and see if that guy will put his money where his mouth is.

Has the recruiting industry gotten so out of hand to be "beyond the Pale," or does the popularity of CFB and the NFL justify seeking the child prodigy at QB, the expense to the family, and the dedication of a 10-12 year old for the rest of his young life?

After looking up the phrase, I don't know that it's "beyond the pale" so much as just stupid on the part of the coaches. Offering kids scholarships as 7th graders and freshmen in high school is just a publicity stunt and is irresponsible more than anything. It's hard enough to properly evaluate kids as juniors and seniors in high school, and it's stupid to waste time evaluating them as freshmen or even middle school kids. Not to mention that they could experience career-ending or career-threatening injuries, or they could stop developing while all the other kids keep growing and catch up. I just think it's a waste of time and a publicity stunt, and setting themselves up for a terrible situation.

Now that we’ve seen a little more of what we are capable, how do you think we will fare vs uga, clempson, VT, and Miami?

I would feel an awful lot better about Miami if we had them a few weeks later. They just don't look very good so far, between their loss to Louisville and this week's 41-7 win over Florida A&M. It's clear that the team is fairly one-dimensional with Kayaa at the helms, at least for right now. They might be better when they get Kevin Olsen back, but their offense doesn't scare me right now. Virginia Tech's win at the Horseshoe was an impressive one, but on the 9 non-scoring drives they only put up 72 yards on 41 plays (about 1.75 yards per play), and they turned the ball over 3 times. Then again, on their four touchdown drives, they ran 33 plays for 227 yards (nearly 6.9 yards per play). I also don't like playing them on the road. We can address Clemson and uga more as we get closer, but needless to say I'm not particularly excited about those matchups either. Clemson might be vulnerable with their quarterback situation what it is right now, but they'll also have a bunch of the season under their belts at that point and should be a lot more comfortable. uga looked pretty good against Clemson, but I think that was exaggerated by Clemson's defensive exhaustion towards the end. Not to say uga wouldn't have won were the defense rested, but that they wouldn't have won by 24 points.

Long story short here, I'm not feeling any better about any of them than I was a couple of weeks ago. That much is for sure.

When CPJ said in his press conference that "this team needs to grow up," what do you think he meant by that?

I think he's pointing to the inconsistency we're seeing at times in how the team plays, and some of the sloppy mistakes being made. I don't think it was said in a condescending, "these guys are being really stupid" kind of way so much as a "our inexperience means they need to play like they're older than they are if we're to reach the goals we have." To be honest, I agree. There's so much youth across the two-deep on both sides that some of them will have to play like veterans if they're to win 8 or 9 games. I think they can, but whether they will or not, we'll see.

I would assume that currently FSU, Louisville and VPI are the teams to beat in the ACC. After two weeks of football how would you rank all the teams in the ACC from top to bottom?

Ah, yes, the classic power rankings question. Wes is actually doing his own rendition of these, I believe, but I'll give you some general tiers off the top of my head...

Top tier: Florida State -- As someone famous once said, "To be the man, you gotta beat the man. WOOOOO"

Next Tier (no particular order): VPI, Louisville, Clemson -- Some cracks in the armor but still dangerous, even on a national level.

Middle Tier (no particular order): Pitt, Miami, Georgia Tech, Duke, North Carolina, Boston College -- In true, classic ACC fashion, a bunch of teams that can hold their own but may or may not show up on any given Saturday. Not smart to bet money on their games.

Bottom Tier (no particular order): Syracuse, NC State, Wake Forest, Virginia -- Of these, Virginia had the best performance by keeping it close with top-10 UCLA at home in Week 1.  Syracuse needed 2OT to beat Villanova at home, NC State has a combined 2 wins by 13 points over Georgia Southern and Old Dominion, and Wake beat Gardner-Webb by 16 after they flat-out lost to Louisiana Monroe.

The defense doesn’t worry me too much because they are young and a couple key guys are coming back from injuries. On the other hand JT is a great runner but his arm is lacking some serious accuracy unless it is a short slant or HB pass. Are you as terrified as I am when he drops back now? Because he doesn't seem to be a good decision maker when he is throwing.

I don't mind him throwing at all actually. I think his fundamentals are a lot more solid than Vad Lee's ever were. I think Saturday's interception was just a bizarre play that started after the clock struck 0:00 in the third, and saw a bunch of players (on both sides) stop mid-play before Thomas panicked in the face of an unfair pass rush and bombed one into triple coverage. (I say unfair there because our offensive line had mostly stopped after they heard a horn on the scoreboard behind them.) He had a couple other issues throwing the ball, but those were more related to not having time to set his feet due to poor protection. I liked a lot of what I saw from him throwing the ball last week and just think this week was a tough one. Hopefully the norm is more of what we saw against Wofford.

With GT giving up about 5ypc, how do you see your defense doing against GS this weekend, and what do you guys need to change to slow them down?

Without knowing exactly how the GSU offense operates, my guess is that the defense does what some do to our offense. I'm thinking Ted Roof loads up the box, tries to stifle the run with 6-7 guys on most plays, and forces GSU to beat us by passing. Can the Eagles do that? I have no idea. If they start to though, our defense likely backs off a bit, which wouldn't be a good scenario for Tech.

When's the last time, if ever, Tech beat Tulane and ATL beat the Aints in the same weekend/season?

My goodness, they don't make encyclopedias for this type of stuff. A quick search, though, shows that Bill Curry's Yellow Jackets won in New Orleans in October of 1982, about two months before the Falcons defeated the Saints at home. Does that count? (Hint: no.)

Thanks for everyone's questions. We'll do it again next week!