Pay attention to Tech’s pass rush on Saturday. The line worked on closing down the pocket this week after the season opener against Alcorn State.
Against Braves quarterback John Gibbs Jr., Tech applied pressure from the outside, but he often was able to step up into the pocket to throw.
“Closing the pocket – we know we have to do that better, from the inside and the outside,” defensive end KeShun Freeman said.
Something I heard both Freeman and his understudy Anree Saint-Amour say was the importance of sticking to the assignment - in Freeman’s words, “to do our job instead of trying to make the play.” Saint-Amour said he got “overexcited” and sometimes rushed upfield rather than stay in his gap, giving Alcorn State space to run.
A year ago, Tulane was fairly average in pass protection, allowing a sack on 5.49 percent of pass plays in games against FBS opponents, according to teamrankings.com. The Tech defense was 105th in the country in sack percentage at 4.39 percent.
“We’ll do whatever we have to do to try and heat up the quarterback, but you’d like to be able to do it with four, because that’d let you play some coverage where you don’t have to pick guys out of coverage to add them to the pass rush,” defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. “That’s still a huge point of emphasis and an area we’ve got to get better at and work on, and we’ve got to be a lot better than we were last Thursday night this next Saturday.”
Periodic Francis Kallon update
Defensive tackle Francis Kallon is getting there, Roof said. But he’s not there yet. Kallon had five tackles against Alcorn State, and showed effort.
“He did some good things. At the same time, he’s got to keep working. I know I say the same thing about it all the time but that’s the truth -- he does,” Roof said. “He’s got to keep working to get better. He’s not there. He’s made strides, but we’re not satisfied and neither is he.”
Saturday will be another meeting of two of the three founding SEC members who eventually left the conference. Sewanee, now known as University of the South, is the other. A comparison of their paths since deciding to leave the league.
Freshmen on defense
Asked if there could be a role on defense for first-year freshman linebackers Victor Alexander and Brant Mitchell, Roof replied, “for sure.” Both will likely contribute more on special teams, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if either slips in a series here or there on defense. Roof said that, for both, the Alcorn State game was important for them to understand what they’ve heard about being detail-oriented, committed to understanding the playbook and “all those types of things.”
“Because they both want to be great and they both work at it, but now, there’s a sense of, O.K., I get it now,” Roof said. “As a freshman, like anything else in life, until you experience it for yourself, sometimes it’s hard to have the proper perspective about it, but I think they’ve got the proper perspective now.”
Neither Roof nor Johnson are given to tossing around compliments, so it was noteworthy – if you’re into reading tea leaves – that both sounded encouraged by practice this week. With an extra practice day (after playing Thursday, the team had Friday off, practiced Saturday, took Sunday off and then had the normal Monday-Thursday practice week), the Jackets were in full pads one more day than usual.
Roof on Tuesday: “We’ve had a good week of practice so far.”
Johnson on Wednesday: “I thought today, we got a lot done. We weren’t out there for long, but it was good. The guys were focused in, dialed in.”
Particularly for Johnson, for whom “O.K.” and “not terrible” can be parsed as praise, that says something.
Tech was first in the country in third-down offense last year (57.9 percent) and in the dregs in third-down defense (46.2 percent). Meanwhile, Tulane’s third-down offense was quite forgettable last year (33.2 percent, 112th in the country) but its defense wasn’t bad (38.1 percent, good for 45th in the country).
On third down against Alcorn State, as might be expected, Tech’s offense and defense performed efficiently. Against Duke, Tulane entirely did not. The Green Wave was 2-for-14 on third down and Duke was 10-for-19. Not surprisingly, the Blue Devils ran 95 plays to 63 for Tulane and held the ball for 36:01.
Freshmen on offense
I’ll be curious to see what the A-backs – particularly TaQuon Marshall and Qua Searcy – can do. Searcy had a deft run down the sideline on the first drive. Marshall had a few effective perimeter blocks and caught the ball cleanly for a 24-yard gain. I’d think both will continue to see significant playing time in the rotation. I think Marshall has embraced the blocking aspect of the position, and I imagine that will get him on the field.
From the sounds of it, one reason Marshall has gotten into the mix so quickly was his eagerness to learn and ask questions. I’ve probably said it before, but I think so much of a player’s success coming out of high school depends on his willingness to do the extra work and ability to pick up the scheme. Not exactly a secret formula.
“I was definitely asking a lot of questions if I didn’t know, and when I did know, I was asking questions to make sure I was doing the right thing,” Marshall said. “I was definitely digging deep into the playbook to make sure I got all the plays down.”
Two things I’ll remember from Tech’s game at Tulane last September:
1. A-back Tony Zenon playing the game of his career in his first (and only) game in his hometown. He scored two touchdowns, both in the end zone where a large crew of family and friends was sitting. It was, perhaps, the first indication that the 2014 season would be so fortuitous.
2. The heat. The box score said the temperature at kickoff was 89 degrees, but that doesn’t account for the humidity or the effect that the artificial turf had on the conditions. I think the Times-Picayune left complimentary newspapers at every seat in the stadium. However, someone made the mistake of keeping them in plastic bags, which melted and stuck to the metal benches. This week, Roof recalled it as the hottest game “in the history of mankind.”
On the TV
Tech hall of famer Wes Durham will be on the call for Saturday's game, broadcast on regional sports networks, including Fox Sports South in metro Atlanta. It will also be streamed online on ESPN3. James Bates will serve as analyst and Jenn Hildreth will be on the sidelines.
Speaking of sideline reporters, former Tech captain Roddy Jones, now patrolling the sidelines for the ACC Network, has written a column recapping the first week of the season. I'm not thrilled about him encroaching on my turf, but it's worth a read.
Evolution of offense
At his Monday news conference, Johnson was asked about his use of a secondary quarterback to use in goal-line situations, such as Tim Byerly. He said he had done it at previous stops and also tried another tweak.
“We used to get in the Power I down there,” he said. “We haven’t done that in years, but we used to. I think we might have even done it here one time. We might this week. Who knows?”
The Power I formation is an I formation with a second fullback flanking the fullback lined up in the “I.” It’s most frequently seen in goal-line offenses. Johnson further floated the possibility of using defensive tackles Jabari Hunt-Days and Francis Kallon as the lead blockers.
(Johnson was kidding.) (I presume.)