One day till the Sun Bowl. The sun is beginning to rise over the remarkably flat city of El Paso. And onward we go. I’ve got a recap of the coordinators’ press conference, attended by Al Groh and Brian Bohannon for Georgia Tech. (To be clear: Brian Bohannon is not Tech’s offensive coordinator. He was sitting in for Paul Johnson as a representative of the offensive coaching staff.)
At the press conference, the Sun Bowl representative froze when presenting him and forgot his name, and Groh helped her out and showed her the name placard sitting in front of him. Then, when she came back to present Bohannon, Groh pointed at him and stage whispered his name into her ear. He was like Carrot Top up there. I’ve heard he has a sense of humor; it was good to see a little levity. I would have given a year off my life if he’d smashed a watermelon.
1. Groh gave some compliments to the practice set-up at nearby Burges High School and said players have done well at compartmentalizing the work at practice with the off-time bowl activities.
“Some bowls you go to, the players call them the Bus Bowl because you spend half the day riding to and from practice,” he said. “Here, the convenience is terrific”
2. Groh called Utah’s offense very physical and noted that some of the Utes players are 24 and 25 years old having served Mormon missions between high school and college, namely All-Pac-12 offensive tackle Tony Bergstrom (25) and center Tevita Stevens (24). Not a small difference between that and, Jeremiah Attaochu, who turns 19 in January.
“You get a lot of push with their offensive line,” he said.
Groh also complimented offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who is leaving Utah to take the head job at Hawaii.
“You can see there’s a real plan for how they want to play,” he said.
This will be the first time the two veteran coaches will have matched wits in a game, a subtext to note. In his remarks earlier, Chow likewise had similarly kind words for Groh.
“They’re just going to do their stuff against you, that real pro mentality,” Chow said. “They do a great job of that. They lost their right corner (Louis Young) and I would suppose the next guy is going to be just as good.”
3. Groh’s scouting report of Utah running back John White: “He’s a very slithery guy, quick with his cuts, hard to get a direct hit on him. Normally, yards after contact with running backs is associated with big backs, those backs who lower their shoulders, knock the defenders over, drag them for three, four more yards. This player is notable in that there’s a lot of yards after contact because the contact is very glancing because he is skittery. He changes direction well. There’s a lot of fall-forward or roll-off-tackle yardage with him, which will be a significant thing for us to be able to minimize.”
4. Groh said the defense has “made some progress” and basically said that he can only fairly judge players who have played a lot of games in both seasons, citing Julian Burnett as an example, and that it’s harder to evaluate players who’ve only played significant snaps for one year, even though the system has been in place for two years.
“But I still think it will take a few years to catch up until all the players that you put on the field have got two or three years’ worth of experience in it, so we’re not moving into that range now,” he said.
I’m not crazy about the answer. You could read it that he’s buying himself time. I will say, though, that Virginia’s defense made a sizable statistical jump in his third year, something I’ll write about another time. I think there’s validity to the answer.
5. Groh declined to answer a question about who the most improved players were on the defense, saying he didn’t want to leave someone out but said that the early bowl practices were useful as players practiced with purpose in skill development.
Groh followed that up by noting how a hypnotist entertained both teams and troops during a Wednesday visit to Fort Bliss. “If we can employ some of his skills, we probably could accelerate our progress at many positions,” he said.
6. Lastly, Groh said Michael Peterson will play the slot, or “star,” cornerback position in Louis Young’s place. He mentioned his philosophy of wanting younger players to learn and try to master one position rather than play multiple spots, but that because of a shortage of depth, Young had to play both cornerback and the star spot in the nickel defense.
He said that the position requires a lot of versatility and that Jemea Thomas would make a good slot corner but he didn’t want to overload him and has just had him play cornerback.
I’m glad for Peterson, who will be playing his final game. He hasn’t received much playing time this season, so hopefully for his sake he can go out well.
1. Bohannon said that Utah’s players are tough and hard-nosed and play their scheme. He recalled leaving the 2007 Poinsettia Bowl, when Navy played Utah in Bohannon’s final game before coming to Tech with Johnson, and being struck with how tough Utah’s players were. Interesting that both Bohannon and Groh said much the same thing, offering their respect to Utah for understanding and sticking to its schemes. Particularly Tech’s offensive staff, which doesn’t deviate much at all, I wonder if they hold in a little higher esteem the defensive coordinators that do likewise in defending the spread option rather than throw something new every year.
2. Bohannon reiterated that the team wants to get the win Saturday, end the bowl streak and finish on a positive note. He said he talked to the quarterbacks the other day about how important that last impression of the season is, as it carries through winter workouts, spring practice and the summer.
“I think it’s the goal for our guys right now to finish strong and make that last impression the best one of the season,” he said.
3. Utah nose tackle Star Lotulelei is the defensive player who has impressed him most on video. “You can pick out any game and you pull it out, he’s in the backfield. He’s a heckuva player. He’s a difference maker.”
4. This was from Utah defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake, on the extended prep time for Tech’s offense:
“It goes both ways. It gives them time to prepare against us and also come up with some new schemes that you can’t do in a regular week of week-to-week season, but, of course, being such a different style and different scheme, it’s huge for us. We’ve used every minute that we can to try to get ready for this.”
He added that the extra time was just as necessary to get the scout team ready to run the spread option in practice.
Utah coverage in the Deseret News and the Salt Lake Tribune, which includes a good read on how Utah coach Kyle Whittingham turned the season around after the Utes opened Pac-12 play with four losses in a row.
Bowl coverage from the El Paso Times, including a feature on quarterback Tevin Washington. I learned a couple things in it, including that his first love was basketball.