As Ben mentioned last week, the Mailbag feature is taking a new shape for the course of football season. This fall, the staff won't be answering every question asked, but multiple opinions will be given on the questions that do get answered. Also, keep in mind that the format below isn't yet a permanent one -- we're still working out what the best option is moving forward for how to present this. (Podcast, perhaps?)
The following were some of the questions submitted this week, and a few writers' takes on those issues. Enjoy!
Q: Aside from an emergency (player injury), do you think that any true freshmen who did NOT play against Alcorn State will play this year? Or will they all be redshirted?
Joey Weaver: The guy that sticks out in my mind is Mikell Lands-Davis. He dressed on Thursday night but didn't make it into the game. If that unit starts to struggle at all, chances are we'll see him. If that unit doesn't struggle at all, there's still a decent chance we'll see him. The other one we'll probably end up seeing is Quaide Weimerskirch once he's fully healed up. He's the bruiser-type B-Back of the future, and I think they want him to get some reps and contribute this season.
Tyler Duke: I believe the group you saw against Alcorn State is the only freshmen that will play this season unless there's an injury like you stated. The only player that sticks out to me that could play even without injury is Christian Philpott. If Tech receivers are struggling to get open and produce in the passing game, I think the ultra-talented Philpott could potentially get the call to be a playmaker on the outside for the Jackets.
Kieffer Milligan: No, at this point everyone who hasn't played will likely redshirt barring an injury situation. CPJ has already played a record number of true freshmen, and I don't think he wants to burn any more redshirts if he doesn't have to.
Q: Do you foresee Notre Dame cracking the top 10 by Week 3 for our matchup?
JW: They're #11 in the preseason AP Poll and Coaches' Poll, so after the win over Texas, this really becomes a question of whether someone ahead of them will lose in Week 2 and fall enough to make this happen. I don't think it will -- I think the loser of Oregon-Michigan State will probably stay in the Top 10 either way, and nobody else has any business losing their games this weekend.
TD: Well, they already cracked it this week in the AP Poll at #9. They're at #11 in the Coaches' Poll, and I'm imagine they'll jump the loser of Oregon-MSU to get in the top 10 before the showdown in South Bend.
KM: Yes, they are currently #9.
JW: This is what I get for writing up my answers early... /sigh
Q: Georgia Tech looked dominant in Week 1. Several of our opponents had similarly dominant performances against better opponents (Notre Dame, Clemson, & uga, specifically). How do the results of those games affect your perception of those opponents and how we'll perform against them? Do any of you believe those schools are still being overhyped?
JW: Clemson and uga were playing against inferior competition, and pretty much did what you'd expect them to in those positions. (Granted, Clemson handled Wofford better than Georgia Tech did last year...but I'm not really interested in drawing a conclusion from that.)
Notre Dame, on the other hand, looked pretty good against Texas. That always looks really good on paper and seems to be a "statement" of sorts. That said, I'm not totally convinced that Texas is truly top-level competition this year, or at least early in the year. Their offense has been an unmitigated disaster on a number of occasions under Charlie Strong. Consider this: they scored 10 points or fewer in 5 of 13 games last year. That means that this makes for 6 of 14 games under Strong that the team has failed to surpass 10 points. Nearly 50%? That's insane.
To confirm all this, I went back and watched the first half of the game from Saturday. (I'm told the second half was more of the same.) What I saw from Notre Dame was a team that was tough on the O-Line and D-Line, and very athletic, particularly on offense. However, what I also saw was a Texas team whose offensive line was completely ineffective, whose secondary was failing badly in zone coverage, and whose front 7 was really struggling to defend against the run.
The Notre Dame hype train is effectively unstoppable at the moment that it starts rolling, and especially so when they do something to gain national attention like this weekend's win over a team with a household name. But, again, I'm not so sure that it was as incredible of a performance as some would seem to think. I still like Georgia Tech's chances in South Bend in two weeks.
TD: Notre Dame was very impressive. Texas isn't very good, but they're still a Power-5 school with tons of talent, and the Irish completely dominated them. That's the only school that changed my perception in any way out of the ones you mentioned. That game in week 3 is going to be HUGE for both teams. The winner should be instantly considered playoff contenders. Georgia basically did what they were supposed to do. Marshall being healthy helps them, but the defense didn't look nearly as strong as advertised. Clemson wasn't overly impressive against Wofford, and Mike Williams going out really hurts them offensively. I also wouldn't say Wofford is any better than Alcorn State really.
KM: I took a long look at the Notre Dame-Texas game, and I will be writing about it in the film preview next week. In short, Notre Dame didn't dominate as much as they seemed to, and Texas is GARBAGE right now. Notre Dame still shouldn't be taken lightly, however.
Clemson and uga were playing lower-tier opponents, and I didn't see anything from either team that I didn't already know. We will know more about these teams when they player higher-quality opponents. I still think Clemson is overhyped, but I thought that before the season and their game against Wofford did nothing to change my mind.
As a side note, I will say that I am less frightened about the UNC game after their dismal performance this week on offense. They may turn it around, but that was awful.
Q: What is on Tech's "to do" list next week against Tulane, other than get the win? Discuss two or three areas that need improvement and what is a reasonable expectation for changing those in game two.
JW: I think one of the big things will be to continue to develop passing chemistry so that it's a point of confidence heading into South Bend. Going back to 2009 and 2010, I can distinctly remember wanting to look away and just have someone tell me how bad it was any time the ball was being thrown. (The difference is that, in that case, the weak point was more of the guy who was throwing it, rather than the one catching it.) Obviously, Justin Thomas throwing the ball is much more pleasing to the eye than Josh Nesbitt or Tevin Washington were, but for 2015 in particular, the question still remains of who he's throwing to, and whether they're in sync.
The challenge of getting this done against Tulane? Doing it without showing too much of the playbook for others' film purposes.
TD: I have three areas on the "to-do list."
- The first area is perimeter offense. This covers perimeter passing game as well as establishing the run on the outside. While both of these areas were solid in game one, they could've been better. I want to see the receivers get more separation, and I want to see some better blocking on the outside to allow the A-Backs and JT to get some room.
- The second area is pass rush. Again, this wasn't necessarily bad in game one, but it could've been better. Tanner Lee is in no way a mobile QB, so the defensive line should have a nice opportunity to meet the hype train that has been surrounding them all off-season.
- The third area is special teams. This one is all across the board. No bad snaps, better kickoff coverage, and better returning. The guys behind Golden looked iffy returning kicks, and they'll need to be better because Golden is going to get some breaks back there from what I've heard. Special teams will start to become very important after this Tulane game. It has to get better.
KM: My "To Do" list for the Tulane game:
- No injuries
- Fix Marcus Marshall's ball security issues
- Get at least 1 sack while only rushing 4
- Get Matthew Jordan some playing time
- Control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball for the entire game
Q: What did you think of the defensive performance against Alcorn State?
JW: The numbers won't show it, but I was fairly impressed. The starters weren't in for that much of the game, but the parts they were in for saw some solid play. People may complain about a lack of pressure or something, but I think a lot of that has to do with a run-happy quarterback and not wanting to be over-aggressive (to guys could leave room to run) when he couldn't beat them by throwing anyways. I liked the interception from Chris Milton a lot, and I really liked what I saw from A.J. Gray. Interested to see what they do against higher-level competition.
TD: I thought the starting unit was good, but they didn't impress me all that much. The front seven seemed to do its job for the most part, but the pass rush needs to be a little earlier getting there against an inferior opponent. The secondary didn't allow much, but they seemed to be playing some fairly soft coverage which may have been intentional. I'll get a better judgement against the pro-style attack of Tulane.
KM: I was encouraged, even thought the competition wasn't the stiffest. I'd like to see more pressure coming off the edge, but we got decent pressure up the middle and on blitzes. Alcorn State also didn't try any passes deep downfield, so there wasn't much opportunity to get to the QB. That said, the defense did seem to get in their QB's head a bit, as he made some panic throws that often fell incomplete. We didn't do enough of this last year, so that more than anything was encouraging to me.
Q: With the unfortunate loss of James Conner (RB, Pitt) to MCL surgery, how does your early Heisman Ballot change, and who is the next man up as beast RB in the ACC?
JW: It doesn't change my early Heisman ballot at all, actually. I think it does change the balance of power in the ACC Coastal a little bit, but the Panthers have the depth to replace him. Qadree Ollison still went for 207 yards on only 16 carries (nearly 13 yards per carry) Saturday against Youngstown State. I think the thing Pittsburgh needs to be worried about more than their running game is their defense -- the FCS-level Penguins racked up over 400 yards of offense, including several long touchdown plays that got them back into the game late. (Giving up big plays? Sounds like an awful formula for trying to beat Georgia Tech.)
My next man up as a strong RB in the ACC? I'm looking at UNC's Elijah Hood, who may or may not ever pan out that way, but has the potential to. Matt Dayes at N.C. State is another one to pay attention to who might break out.
TD: I wouldn't say my ballot changed much mainly because I wasn't giving Conner any chance. That has nothing to do with his skill, but I didn't expect Pitt to be very good, and the Heisman is really a frontrunner competition at this point. As for who is the next man up, his replacement last week looked awesome - freshman Quadree Ollison. He ran for over 200 yards on only 16 carries, but we'll see how he does against better competition. My other two guys are UNC's Elijah Hood and our very own Marcus Marshall. Hood ran all over that strong SEC defense last week and looks to have a big season. Marshall flashed some explosive playmaking ability and figures to be a huge part of Tech's option attack in the coming years.
KM: Conner wasn't really on my early Heisman radar, as I think there are a couple RBs ahead of him, including Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliot and Alabama's Derrick Henry. As for the next beast RB in the ACC, Conner's backup had a good game, but it was against Youngstown State, so I'm going to wait before I crown him. For now I'm going to go with UNC's Elijah Hood. The former 5 star recruit had a breakout performance against South Carolina, rushing for 138 at an average of 11.5 YPC. The 220 pounder had some powerful runs, and will be someone to watch when the Tar Heels come to town Week 5.
Thanks to everyone for this week's questions! If yours didn't get answered, try submitting again next week!