Terrance Woodard laughs after saying one of the reasons he leads Georgia State in tackles this year is because he no longer has to try to beat three guys.
This year, he just has to beat two.
“It’s made the fight easier,” he said.
Woodard is one of the team’s most-improved players, according to coach Bill Curry. Woodard leads the winless Panthers with 36 tackles, a remarkably high number for a nose tackle and one that may move him into consideration for all-conference honors later this season. He also is tied for the team lead in tackles for loss (two), passes broken up (two) and fumbles recovered (one). Woodard should have a chance to rack up a lot more tackles on Saturday when the Panthers host New Hampshire, which features a balanced offense that averages 483.6 yards per game.
He said playing in a four-man front has given more freedom to attack than he had in the three-man front the team used most of the previous two years.
“I’m trying to do what I can do to help my team win,” he said.
Woodard, 6-4, 295 pounds, was one of the first players Wildcats coach Sean McDonnell mentioned during his teleconference on Monday.
“Their nose guard is a big son of a gun,” he said.
Defensive tackles coach Chris Ward said Woodard’s success this season can be traced to a different mindset, while Curry said better conditioning has also helped. Ward said Woodard is more determined because he knows he has to be the player to hold down the middle of the defense. It’s something he committed himself to in the offseason because of the uncertainty surrounding transfer Nermin Delic and the inexperience of redshirt freshman David Huey, who sustained a season-ending injury early in the season.
“The big guy, he’s a playmaker,” Ward said.
Woodard weighed more than 305 pounds last year and had trouble finishing offseason conditioning drills. He had no such trouble during the recent offseason.
Because of the ruling against Delic and Huey’s injury, Woodard has had to play a lot of snaps in a demanding position. His improved conditioning has helped him withstand that stress and stay on the field most of the time. He is dealing with minor injuries, but none that he said will keep him off the field.
“He sees his potential more to be an effective player for us and that’s helped,” strength and conditioning coach Ben Pollard said.
Perhaps no play exemplifies his size and determination better than one he almost made against Richmond two weeks ago. Woodard crossed in front of his blocker, beating him with a rip move with his left hand while simultaneously raising his left arm as he saw the quarterback beginning to throw. Woodard tipped the pass and almost made the interception.
Not all of Woodard’s tackles occur in the middle of the line; some have occurred down the field. While not ideal because it means opponents are successfully moving the ball, it also shows that Woodard isn’t giving up on plays.
“That’s what you want out of a guy,” Ward said.
Woodard isn’t perfect, but he’s coachable. The coaches are trying to improve his footwork and are encouraging him to trust to what he sees. The most important thing is to remember to stay low, so that he can use his size as leverage. Ward says that’s a 10-20-times-a-day lesson.
“He does a good job taking it from practice to games,” Ward said.
– Doug Roberson, AJC. Please follow me on twitter @ajcgsu