To stand a chance Saturday against Georgia, Georgia Tech will probably require its best run defense game of the year. For that to happen, Tech sophomore inside linebacker Quayshawn Nealy will have to be at his peak, taking on Georgia tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall and fullback Zander Ogletree.
Nealy, tied for second on the team in tackles with 67 and the ACC co-linebacker of the week two weeks ago, talked with the AJC Wednesday about the Yellow Jackets, the Bulldogs, the flu bug plaguing the team and his tuba skills. Questions and answers were edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: Who on the team has the most hate for Georgia?
A: I’d probably have to say (defensive end) Izaan Cross, I guess because he’s been around for the longest, he’s built up the most hate for them. He tells us out there at practice, ‘Y’all need to get this together, because these boys aren’t going to play (around) with us,’ and stuff like that. I can tell, I can sense it in his eyes, that he really hates Georgia.
Q: On a scale of zero to 10, where are you with your hate?
A: I played them last year, so I already know how dirty and stuff (the game) is. I’d have to say like an 8.5. I already know what I’m going into.
Q: Was there a play last year where you first realized this game was different?
A: Actually, one of our ‘D’ linemen last year, I can remember him actually getting kicked in the facemask or something like that while his head was on the ground. They didn’t even call it, they didn’t see it. It was an ‘O’ lineman getting up from the play, just kicked him and just walked to the huddle like nothing happened. He just moved on from there. I just knew it was going to be a grind the rest of the game.
Q: What kind of progress has (freshman inside linebacker) Jabari Hunt-Days made?
A: He has made tremendous progress starting back from when Coach (Al) Groh was here, from beating blocks to filling holes to doing all types of stuff. Gotten better on his pass rush, pass coverage, too. For the last couple weeks, all the linebacker coaches just went back to fundamentals, just as far as getting our feet together. That’ll do us good in itself, just to get our footwork and us just playing faster. He has improved tremendously on that.
Q: What’s the plan with Georgia’s two tailbacks?
A: We both know, coaches as well as players, that they’re talented tailbacks. We’re just going to have to make a statement inside, even with the fullback – he’s a good fullback, a physical fullback – that we’re going to bring it every play, eliminate some of those holes and big gaps that they’re taking out and just play hard.
Q: If you’re going to make a big play, do you want a sack or an interception?
A: I’d have to take it on the quarterback, a sack. I mean, an interception is great, but I want a sack. I want him to feel it and bring pressure on him. It might stop all the rest of the passes. He might throw an interception, then it might tighten him up where he goes 10 for 10 or something.
Q: What can you still play on your tuba?
A: I can play scales. I already know I can play scales. If you put a piece of music in front of me, I can play definitely, but a song I can play from heart? The ESPN tune, I can play that on my tuba.
Q: Who’s someone, in the locker room before the game, that you have to steer clear of?
A: I’d have to say you have to give ‘Too Tall’ (defensive end Emmanuel Dieke) his space. He’ll just be in his own world. He has his music on, just literally in his own world. You just know that he’s prepared for the game. He doesn’t need all that pep talk and all this and that. Just stay clear of that guy.
Q: How about someone who’s the opposite?
A: Someone like (quarterback) Vad (Lee). Vad stays upbeat and up tempo before the games, always going around from locker to locker, (saying), ‘Let’s go, let’s go.’
Q: How bad was it for you last week playing sick?
A: I was fighting it. I had two IV’s before the game last Saturday.
Q: What was it like playing?
A: It was pretty hard. ‘Ant’ (Anthony) Harrell backed me up quite a bit because some plays I had to take off because couldn’t run as long, just got tired quick. It was really hard to breathe out there.
Q: How did you find out that Tech was playing in the ACC title game?
A: Actually, the sad part is, it was Monday that we found out that we were going to the ACC Championship, but I didn’t find out till we had team meeting (several hours after Miami announced it was self-imposing a postseason ban). I went to one class, and my second class got canceled, so I went back to my room and I didn’t hear anything about it. Honestly, I was asleep.
When I came back (to the football building), everybody’s in a great mood. I’m like, What’s going on? Everybody’s saying, ‘You know Miami self-imposed?’ I’m like, What?
Then, finally, Coach (Paul) Johnson announced it in the meeting before he did everything (else), just saying that this is what we worked for all season and stuff like that, after all we’ve been through.
Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog