Walk-ons don’t get much in the way of notice, but Austin McClellan’s contributions merit mention. The sophomore A-back gave the Jackets critical snaps in the Notre Dame and North Carolina games when the depth chart was at its thinnest after injuries to Qua Searcy and TaQuon Marshall.
As a high schooler from Wildwood, Fla., McClellan drew the notice of Tech coaches after coming to the school for camps. Keeping communication with defensive backs coach Joe Speed, he was offered a spot as a preferred walk-on, arriving in 2012.
“I figured with the education and the football team, it was my only shot to make something of myself,” he said. “So that’s what I chose to do.”
McClellan’s extended playing time at A-back may be over, at least for the time being, as the depth chart has been built back up with the likes of Mikell Lands-Davis and Lynn Griffin. He played strictly special teams against Clemson. He has the right attitude for the task at hand.
“(Losing four in a row) is maybe a little different, but it’s just a challenge,” he said. “Life’s full of challenges. You’ve just got to keep fighting.”
Producing in defeat
Wide receiver Ricky Jeune’s production has been easy to overlook in the dismay over the Jackets’ losing streak, but he has nine catches for 202 yards and two touchdowns in the past three games. If he were to maintain the pace of the past three games, he would end the regular season with 30 catches for 646 yards and six touchdowns. Not bad for a sophomore season.
As a sophomore in 2008, Demaryius Thomas caught 39 passes for 627 yards and three touchdowns.
Coach Paul Johnson, never one to poke holes in a convention, made an interesting observation Wednesday regarding typical explanations for why plays fail.
“Have you ever heard anybody say, ‘I got my (butt) blocked off?’” Johnson asked. “I haven’t, I’ve been doing this 38 years. A lot of it is excuses. Sometimes you just get blocked. I mean, they’ve got scholarship guys, too. Sometimes you hit the wrong gap. The first touchdown (by Clemson), we made a mistake. There’s other times, we got guys assigned to ’em, and it’d be like me trying to cover Simit (Shah, a Tech staff member who was standing nearby). If I can’t run as fast as him, I can’t cover him. Sometimes that happens. Every time the other team scores or every time we score, it’s not a mistake by the other team. Sometimes you just block ’em or you beat ’em.”
Not a snap
There might be no one on the team who wishes he could start the season over more than Sean Tobin. Tech’s long snapper has been benched in favor of walk-on Casey Wilson after three failed snaps in the past three games. It would appear that Tobin developed a mental block or lost his confidence to handle a task he has likely performed thousands of times, similar to a golfer who suddenly can’t make short putts or a catcher who can’t throw the ball back to the pitcher.
My colleague Doug Roberson wrote about Tobin’s struggles, along with others that the kicking game is trying to solve, this week.
Tobin’s job is to make accurate long snaps, so he probably had to be replaced, but I think it’s hard to not feel some level of sympathy for him, particularly knowing a little bit about him. In August, special-teams coordinator Ray Rychleski bragged on him, saying he had “deep respect for Sean Tobin.”
Rychleski particularly appreciated that, since his hire in the summer of 2014, Tobin had become more committed to his training.
“I said, ‘Hey, you’ve got to get into football,’” Rychleski said. “To his credit, he did and then he had great success last year.”
Tobin graduated with a degree in business administration in December and chose to return to play his senior season as a graduate student. Rychleski described Tobin as a quiet team player and said he was thrilled for Tobin to be back – “he’s made all the workouts, he’s having the time of his life and he’s getting grad-school credits.”
As with just about every aspect of Tech’s season since the Tulane game, it hasn’t quite worked out as planned, however.
Pittsburgh wide receiver Tyler Boyd threw down the gauntlet a little bit for the Tech cornerbacks in comments made to Pittsburgh reporters this week.
“They are going to try and bracket me,” Boyd said of Georgia Tech. “I don’t think they have a player they believe in who can shadow a particular receiver.”
Boyd is right in that he likely would win most one-on-one matchups with either D.J. White or Chris Milton, as he is a singular player.The last time Tech faced someone of his level, Notre Dame’s Will Fuller matched up with field corner Chris Milton and zinged the Jackets with six catches for 131 yards.
The unknown is how defensive coordinator Ted Roof will weigh his options. Would it be wise to commit two defenders to Boyd (Speed said teams have even triple teamed him) or roll coverage towards him, particularly if it comes at the expense of a heavier pass rush or less attention to the Panthers’ tight ends? I think I heard Johnson mention tight end Scott Orndoff at least twice this week. Orndoff has only six catches to Boyd’s 33, but Orndoff is averaging 27.8 yards per catch and has three touchdown receptions.
On the other hand, Boyd is averaging 9.9 yards per catch. Both Johnson and Speed allowed that Boyd will get his catches and that the goal is to limit the damage.
On the air
For the ACC Network broadcast, Tim Brant will be on play-by-play with Dave Archer on color. Handling the sidelines will be someone with an unusual depth of knowledge of Bobby Dodd Stadium – Roddy Jones. It will be his first assignment at Tech with the ACC Network.
This is a pretty solid team. Brant knows his stuff, Archer is excellent at breaking down plays and Jones has a bright future ahead of him in television.
Brandon Gaudin and Sean Bedford, and sideline reporter Randy Waters, continue their excellent work in the Tech radio booth. As Tech’s radio team, they’re tasked with obviously lending a Tech flavor to the broadcasts, and I'm sure they don't relish offering criticism of what they’ve seen the past four weeks, but they haven’t shied away from being honest in their insights, either. It’s a delicate balance, and I think they’ve handled it well.
Pitt's run defense
The Panthers are ranked No. 6 in the country in rushing defense and could be trouble for Tech's wobbly run game. Not having right tackle Errin Joe, who is out for the game with an undisclosed injury, doesn't help, either, although freshman Will Bryan has been coming along, although he's still feeling his way.
Offensive-line coach Mike Sewak said that Bryan needs to control his breathing better, is "wide-eyed" and isn't always sure of what mistake he has made when he makes one. But Sewak and Johnson love his effort and believe he has promise.
"I think he'll do a better job each time he goes out there," Sewak said.
I don't pretend to know what will happen with Tech's offensive line, whether the "back to the basics" training will help or whether another solid defense will keep the Jackets sputtering. Worth noting: Pitt defensive coordinator Josh Conklin previously worked at the Citadel and Wofford, so he is amply familiar with the spread option. On the other hand, as Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi is in his first season, he said this week that he spent "very little" time prior to this week prepping his defense to face Tech's offense.
"A drop in the bucket for what you need to do," Narduzzi said. "But you know what? We had to focus on what we needed to. It’s tough in your first year because you have so many other things, and that’s one game."
Teams will often devote time in the preseason to preparing for the spread option, not that this has necessarily proven a winning venture.
For those seeking to grasp for hope, consider this: in the 10 games in Johnson’s tenure with the lowest rushing total prior to Clemson, Tech is 5-2 in its next game, not including the three instances when it occurred in a bowl game.