The opening weekend of the season included an amount of injuries to key players that seems, at least on the surface, larger than the usual. Significant injuries to Pittsburgh running back James Conner and Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Brewer in their teams’ games continued what seems like a strange pattern of injuries and dismissals among Georgia Tech opponents.
Notre Dame: Starting running back Tarean Folston tore his ACL in the Irish’s win over Texas in the season opener Saturday and is out for the year. That followed running back Greg Bryant, Notre Dame’s No. 2 rusher in 2014, being declared academically ineligible over the summer, and defensive tackle Jarron Jones, a returning starter with 40 tackles last season, tearing his MCL in the preseason to end his season.
Duke: This summer, All-ACC linebacker Kelby Brown tore his ACL for, unbelievably, the fourth time in his college career. Cornerback Bryon Fields, a returning starter, tore his ACL in August. Running back Jela Duncan, who was the team’s second-leading rusher in 2013 but missed 2014 with a suspension, tore his pectoral muscle in the preseason but could return at some point this year.
North Carolina: Backup center Will Dancy suffered a season-ending Achilles injury early in the preseason. Guard Jared Cohen, a potential starter, left the team in camp for personal reasons. Linebacker Tyrell Tomlin, who was expected to compete for a starting job, was ruled academically ineligible in August and is no longer enrolled.
Clemson: Wide receiver Mike Williams, an All-ACC selection last year, fractured his neck in the Tigers’ season opener and could be out for the season. In the preseason, linebacker Korrin Wiggins, who was the primary nickel back last season, tore his ACL.
Pittsburgh: Conner, the reigning ACC player of the year, is out for the year after tearing the medial collateral ligament in his right knee in the Panthers’ season-opening game against Youngstown State.
Virginia: The Cavaliers lost two offensive linemen off their two-deep depth chart, right tackle Jake Fieler and backup center Eric Tetlow. In the preseason, wide receiver T.J. Thorpe, expected to be a starter, broke his clavicle and was expected to be out about 10 weeks.
Virginia Tech: Brewer broke his collarbone in the Hokies’ season-opening loss to Ohio State Monday night and is out 4-8 weeks.
Miami: Running back Gus Edwards, a potential starter, suffered a season-ending foot injury in late August.
Georgia: Projected starting fullback Christian Payne broke his fibula in a preseason scrimmage. Wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley, expected to play a major role this season, is doubtful to play again after a knee injury in camp, his third.
Florida State and possibly Tulane appear to be the only teams on Tech’s schedule that haven’t been bitten (at least too severely) by the injury bug. I’m not sure that this list, for better or worse, is much different than any other set of 11 FBS teams. Perhaps the schools and names jumped out to me because Tech will be facing them. Tech, for instance, lost B-back C.J. Leggett and offensive tackle Chris Griffin for the season before the end of the school year. B-back Quaide Weimerskirch is only now returning from a foot injury he suffered in the spring. A-back Dennis Andrews was dismissed over the summer.
Once camp began, freshman A-back Nate Cottrell was lost for the season with a knee injury.
Tech is a little different in that injuries have not been to key starters (Conner, Brewer and Folston, notably) or backups, although backup quarterback Tim Byerly’s injury status may change that.
Regardless, just one week into the season, and the look of the Coastal Division has changed considerably.
‘Nice job’ by Devine
Offensive line coach Mike Sewak gave right guard Shamire Devine solid marks for his play in the season-opening win over Alcorn State.
“He worked well,” Sewak said. “He did a nice job. He had a couple bad assignments, but I tell you, he came off the ball and sometimes, I saw that other guy say ‘Uncle’ before he even got to him.”
Devine played longer than the rest of the starters to give him more playing time with backup offensive tackle Will Bryan.
The speed of the game was an eye-opener, as it invariably is, for players making their college debuts.
“I think they thought they were fast, and then when I pointed it out to them on the film, their heads both sank in their hands,” Sewak said of freshman lineman Trey Klock and Bryan. “I think they can give it to us. They’re just young. They’ll get better this week.”
There were 24 players who played their first college game against Alcorn State.
“It was a whole lot faster than it was in high school,” A-back TaQuon Marshall said. “Everybody’s fast, so that was definitely one of the things that jumped out at me while I was out there.”
That is one significant reason why Tech tries to schedule FCS games for its season openers – to ease the transition for freshmen and to give experience to new starters in, relatively speaking, a low-stakes environment. It will be raised again Saturday against Tulane and a third time at Notre Dame in two Saturdays.
That will change in the next two years. The Jackets open against Boston College next season in Dublin, and then start the 2017 season against Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game.
Hard work pays off
Michael Muns earns a star for his perseverance. Muns played his first college game after joining the team in 2012 out of Swainsboro High. He has been on a scout-team member ever since. That’s a lot of practices and offseason workouts to go through without the reward of playing in a game.
ACC player of the week shutout
No Tech players won any of the eight ACC player of the week awards after the Jackets’ 69-6 win over Alcorn State. I suspect there were two factors in the shutout. One, the quality of Tech’s opponent was not very high. Two, as a result, no starters played for very long, depriving them the opportunity to accumulate a lot of statistics (B-back Marcus Marshall aside).
Marshall could have quite easily won rookie of the week, won by Pittsburgh running back Qadree Ollison, who ran 16 times for 207 yards and a touchdown. Marshall had eight carries for 184 yards and two touchdowns. However, Ollison subbed after injuries to the first two Panthers running backs and helped Pittsburgh beat Youngstown State 45-37. I guess the logic is that, since the game was in doubt, Ollison’s contributions were more vital.
Center Freddie Burden, who was Tech’s offensive player of the game, played only 17 snaps, although he had seven defenders to the ground in that span. The winner, North Carolina guard Landon Turner, had 10 knockdown blocks and a 90 percent grade against South Carolina.
Lee honored at JMU
On the other hand, former Tech quarterback Vad Lee was named the CAA offensive player of the week for his role in James Madison’s 56-7 win over Morehead State. Lee completed 18 of 25 passes for 297 yards and three touchdowns, and also ran 13 times for 105 yards. He had both a 66-yard touchdown run and a 66-yard touchdown pass.
Volleyball team defeats Georgia
The Tech volleyball team won the Georgia Challenge in Athens, a victory that included a win over Georgia on Friday. The Jackets won in three straight sets, their first sweep of Georgia since 2011. The volleyball version of Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate is the most tilted in Tech’s favor. The Jackets have won 15 of the past 17 meetings.
Teegan Van Gunst was named tournament MVP. Tech followed that with a win at home over Auburn on Sunday. Under second-year coach Michelle Collier, Jackets have won six consecutive matches since 2010.