Written by Nick Bromberg and Sam Cooper
Welcome to talkin’ season, everybody.
The ACC kicked off its annual Media Days on Wednesday. That means the college football season is right around the corner, and that’s something to get excited about.
For all of the glitz and glamor of these events, they usually don’t produce much substance, so we watched the news conferences for you.
Mark Richt reflects on the turnover chain phenomenon
The phenomenon of Miami’s turnover chain took on a life of its own last season.
From the very first turnover the Miami caused against Bethune-Cookman through the end of the year, cameras were always quick to find the massive gold chain around the neck of the Miami player that provided the takeaway for the Hurricanes defense. It became one of the more memorable parts of the 2017 season.
Mark Richt, who called the chain the “greatest thing since sliced bread,” reflected on it Wednesday, and divulged a few funny tidbits about his personal interactions with the chain itself.
“I don’t even think I touched it until the season was over. That thing is about six pounds. I mean, it is a thick, Cuban link chain with that big ‘U.’ It is gaudy and it’s beautiful,” Richt said.
“But like I’ve said, if we got three turnovers last year, it would have been mocked. It would have been laughed at. But when you get 31 turnovers or whatever it was, maybe there’s something to it. It did create an awful lot of excitement for our team. It created an awful lot of excitement for our fans, not just at the games but around the country. It was a special thing.”
The best part is that Richt did not even know about the chain until right before the season opener when defensive coordinator Manny Diaz told him about it.
“I didn’t know about the turnover chain until the first game. Coach Diaz is like, ‘Hey, Coach, by the way, we’ve got this chain, in case we get a turnover we’re going to put it on their neck.’ I said, ‘Alright, that’s cool,’” Richt said.
“I said, ‘Well, we’re in Miami, that’s alright, it’s no problem.’ So I really didn’t know much about it. I had never seen it. I had never touched it. Even during the game, I’m on the sideline looking at the game, and behind me is when all the party is going on, I didn’t know what was going on. It wasn’t until the night of the first game that I looked on social media and saw Malek Young with the big grin and that big chain on his neck.”
Oh, and if you were wondering, the chain will return in 2018. Hurricanes defensive back Jaquan Johnson said so.
Pat Narduzzi, Pittsburgh riding momentum of Miami upset into 2018
Pittsburgh took a step back in its third season under Pat Narduzzi, but ended the year on a high note. A really high note.
The Panthers finished the season with a 5-7 record with a 24-14 upset victory over undefeated, second-ranked Miami. Narduzzi used the win as a springboard into the offseason, and now into preseason camp.
“I would say our football team is confident. They’re passionate about what they’re doing and they’re working hard. This is a long process,” Narduzzi said. “Some guys think, ‘OK, camp starts. OK, when do we report?’ This thing has been going on for a long time. Since the Miami game, there’s been a process that we’ve gone through to get to where we are today and where we’ll be when they report to camp.”
In the Miami win, freshman Kenny Pickett combined for three touchdowns and showed he is Pitt’s quarterback of the future. The original plan was to redshirt Pickett, but injuries forced him into action. In the end, Narduzzi is glad it played out the way it did.
“We had brought in a transfer in Max Browne from USC who we thought had talent, started off a little slow, had a great game against Rice, was having a great game at Syracuse when he dislocated his shoulder,” Narduzzi said.
“I come out on the field, and poor Max is laying on the ground with that shoulder dislocated. Kid was really hurt. I felt awful for him. As I’m looking down at him, I’m going, ‘Kenny is going to have to play,’ and we put him in that game. There was no let me think about this for a week. It’s a blessing in disguise because we’re able to slowly bring him out without breaking his confidence and throwing him out there to the wolves early, which we could have done.”
After a tumultuous offseason, Virginia Tech opens 2018 vs. a familiar face
After an offseason jam-packed with offseason tumult and roster turnover, Virginia Tech is ready to turn the focus toward the field. But the Hokies won’t be able to ease into the 2018 campaign with a cupcake opponent.
Like in years past against the likes of Alabama, Ohio State and West Virginia, the Hokies open the year with a challenge. This time, it’s a trip to Tallahassee to play Florida State.
Hokies third-year coach Justin Fuente thinks his guys are ready for the challenge.
“I think it would be a challenge whoever we were playing with that many new guys taking the field for the first time, let alone playing on the road, let alone a conference game, let alone somebody with the talented players like Florida State and coached as well as Willie (Taggart) is going to have them coached,” Fuente said.
“It’s a tremendous challenge, but I love it. I think our players will embrace it. They’re excited to bust out a bunch of new guys out there, and we’ll see how it goes. There’s no sense in us just dipping our toe in the shallow end. We might as well cannonball in the deep end, so that’s what we’re going to do.”
Adding to the intrigue, Fuente goes back a long way with new FSU coach Willie Taggart.
“I’ve known Willie for a long time. We played against each other. He was at quarterback at Western Kentucky and I was a quarterback at Murray State a long time ago. He was a senior and I was a junior,” Fuente said.
Virginia alters offense for dangerous new QB Bryce Perkins
Virginia took some big strides in its second year with Bronco Mendenhall in place as head coach, leapfrogging from two to six wins. The Cavaliers had a steady presence in place for those years in Kurt Benkert, but Benkert is now about to begin his first NFL camp with the Atlanta Falcons.
With Benkert out of the picture, Mendenhall was quick to anoint Bryce Perkins as Benkert’s replacement. Perkins, a junior college transfer, began his career at Arizona State and brings more mobility to the position.
That will likely translate to some changes to UVA’s offense.
“We have to design the system and the play calling in a manner that gives him his best chance to do what he does well to reflect consistency,” Mendenhall said.
“He’s one of the strongest and fastest and best athletes that I’ve coached. There isn’t a play where when if he’s running the football, it can’t go all the way. He can throw the ball effectively, and I think he’s a solid decision maker.”
Georgia Tech aiming to boost pass game
Georgia Tech’s offense is known for Paul Johnson’s triple-option offense. And the run game was effective once again; Georgia Tech averaged over five yards a carry.
But man, was the passing part of the offense dreadful. QB TaQuon Marshall completed just 37 percent of his passes and threw for less than 1,000 yards. Marshall hopes to change that in 2018.
“This off-season I’ve really been working on the pass game,” Marshall said. “Last year I struggled a lot hitting some of the guys that were wide open, just throwing the ball in general. So that’s one of the main things that I’ve worked on this spring and one of the things we’ve been working on a lot this summer, so that’s one of the main focuses that I’ve had going into fall camp.”
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson has been outspoken against offensive “balance” between running and passing. But there’s a difference between a team that’s run-heavy and one that has an ineffective pass game. Johnson’s offense hums when the threat of the deep pass looms.
“Well, you know, it’s a big misconception,” Johnson said of offensive balance. “We probably spend as much time passing in practice as any team in the country. I mean, we go through practice every day where we throw one-on-ones and we throw 7-on-7, we go through 3rd downs in team. So it’s not like we don’t work on passing.”
David Cutcliffe gives punting some love
Duke punter/kicker Austin Parker is back with the team after he was reinstated. That’s a big boost after Parker was 17-21 on field goal attempts in 2017 and averaged 42 yards a punt.
“Yeah, I think you hopefully always finish a drive with a kick,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “Anything else is not so good. You’ve got a guy that’s both place-kicked and punted. Those plays, people forget that a punt is an offensive play. It’s a play that can average more than any play you’ve got.”
The punt as a big play tool!
On a serious note, Duke QB Daniel Jones could be one of the more productive quarterbacks in the country in 2018. Jones threw for 14 scores and ran for seven more as a sophomore last season.
North Carolina looks to bounce back
Tar Heel coach Larry Fedora made waves with his comments about the decline of football corresponding to the decline of the United States after his news conference on Wednesday. During his news conference, Fedora said he hoped the experience North Carolina players gained during a trying 2017 would be a benefit in 2018.
UNC finished the season 3-9 and returns just five starters on offense. Injuries hit hard a year ago and some players who weren’t necessarily being counted on to play had to get playing time. Maybe that will help as UNC tries to get back to a bowl game.
“We had a lot of young guys get reps last year, so they got experience, whether they were starters or not,” Fedora said. “They’re back. So I would say probably the majority of our team played, even though they shouldn’t have played last year. So we’re going to take that and we’re going to build off of it, so I don’t think that we’re going to have as many people out there on the field this year that are going to be wide eyed in their first game that have never stepped on a college football field. Whether or not we’ve got a lot of returning starters, we’ve got some experience.”
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