The plate for the Georgia Tech defense is full this week.
Miami quarterback Stephen Morris is a potential first-round draft pick. Hurricanes running back Duke Johnson may be the best running back in the country, according to Tech coach Paul Johnson. Miami has field-stretching receivers in Allen Hurns, Herb Waters and Phillip Dorsett.
“You look at their scoring drives, it’s two-play drives, it’s one-play drives, it’s six-play drives,” defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. “It’s not that they’re not capable of extending their drives, but they’ve got such explosive personnel that they’re making a lot of big plays on offense.”
In four games, the Hurricanes have 15 plays of 30 yards or more, tied for eighth in FBS. Their 7.22 yards-per-play average ranks 11th in the country. They’ve also outscored the opposition 59-13 in the first quarter, troubling for a Tech team that has had problems with slow starts.
The Yellow Jackets will need to continue the success they’ve had in limiting big plays. They have allowed 12 plays of 20-plus yards, tied for 19th in the country, and are one of two teams to allow only one play of 30 yards or more.
“So we’ve done a decent job of it so far, but we’ve got to get better,” Roof said. “And I tell you what — the importance of that in this game is absolutely monumental.”
Lineup moves: Based on his work in practice this week, backup quarterback Justin Thomas will “more than likely” get some playing time against Miami, Johnson said after Wednesday’s practice. Johnson said Thomas stood out in Monday’s practice and would earn a couple of series in the game if he kept it up during the week.
Johnson also gave the “more than likely” status to DeAndre Smelter as the kickoff and punt returner in place of Jamal Golden, who is out for the season with a shoulder injury and is scheduled for surgery Thursday. Special-teams coordinator David Walkosky also auditioned Dennis Andrews, Lynn Griffin and Jemea Thomas. Johnson said Thomas is a possibility.
Broderick Snoddy had taken kickoffs last week with David Sims, but Snoddy is hobbled this week and is not expected to play. Tony Zenon was on punt-return duty for the past two games, but had some challenges securing the ball.
A-back Deon Hill has practiced without problem this week, as he returned from missing the past three games after being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. His chances of regaining his starting spot Saturday?
“More than likely,” Johnson said.
Practice report: Johnson was less enthused Wednesday about the intensity shown in practice. He said earlier in the week that he had challenged the team to practice with more intensity than it had shown and that the team responded Monday.
“I don’t know about (Wednesday), but early in the week it was good,” he said. “We’ll see if we can dial it up again (Thursday), focus-wise.”
Praise from Miami: In comments at his news conference and on the ACC teleconference, Miami coach Al Golden was complimentary of the Tech defense, and defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu in particular. Golden said that defense is “really good” and that Roof has “done a great job.”
Of Attaochu, Golden said that “he is a guy that can wreck the game if you don’t account for him. I love the way he plays and have a lot of respect for him.”
Turnaround: After finishing 99th in the country last season in net punting, Tech ranks sixth at 43.1 yards per punt. Punter Sean Poole leads the ACC in punting at 47.4 yards per punt, almost 8 yards better than his average last season.
“We just want to make sure our net punt is pretty good for the day,” Walkosky said. “That’s what we’re looking for, and (Poole) does a great job with that.”
Familiar face: The Miami player portraying quarterback Vad Lee for the Hurricanes’ scout team may be familiar to those who follow recruiting — Corn Elder. Last year, Tech pursued Elder, a highly sought-after prospect from Nashville who also had interest in playing for the Tech basketball team, before he chose Miami. He mostly has played on special teams this season.