In Giff Smith’s first season as recruiting coordinator, he put together what may become one of the best recruiting classes Tech has ever seen. Quarterback Josh Nesbitt, B-back Jonathan Dwyer and A-back Roddy Jones all scored touchdowns in the first game.
Defensive end Derrick Morgan had one and a half sacks and a fumble recovery and safety Morgan Burnett had two interceptions. “We did some different things that we haven’t done in the past. We ran a lot of man-free coverage. Some guys are actually coming into their own and I was impressed with what the young guys did,” said senior defensive tackle Darryl Richard.
Of the 17 players currently on the team from that recruiting class (D.J. Donley and Steven Threet have transferred and Jarrard Tarrant is currently suspended), five started on offense and five started on defense. Six of the other seven players on that recruiting class appeared as backups.
Offensively, Nesbitt started at quarterback and totaled 60 rushing yards and 87 yards passing on five completions. Nesbitt did not throw for a touchdown, but did rush for his first two collegiate touchdowns. Jones and Dwyer combined for three of the four other touchdowns. “I think we were very productive, Josh [Nesbitt] was reading the plays, and the offensive line was firing off the ball, and the receivers were blocking downfield,” said Dwyer.
After sitting out a year to redshirt last season, Jones finally got an opportunity to show off his skills. “I’m very excited, words can’t describe it. Sitting out last year was tough, having to watch everyone else play. It definitely helped me mature as a player so I feel like I’m definitely ready this year,” said Jones.
Jones, who is mentioned as one of the team’s most underrated players, totaled 61 yards rushing on three carries and 50 yards receiving on two catches. Jones had one catch for 39 yards and an option run for 49 yards and a score.
Dwyer started last year in fifth gear, but never got a chance to continue his success late in the season with Tashard Choice playing in front of him.
“I think we did pretty well. We showed the fans out here and the nation what this offense can do with the talent here at Tech. We were very productive, but we still have some things to clean up but we’re looking pretty good right now,” Dwyer said.
Last season, Dwyer totaled 436 yards on the ground on just 82 carries while averaging 5.3 yards per attempt. He also scored nine touchdowns and quickly established himself as one of the top freshman runners in the country before losing playing time during the conference schedule. Last week, Dwyer returned to form running for 112 yards on 11 carries and scoring twice.
Among the other starters from that class, Tyler Melton had one catch for five yards and returned punts. Melton, a true freshman, was originally part of the 2007 recruiting class. He was asked to grey shirt for one season after sustaining a serious knee injury in high school. Melton was able to complete two semesters of school and be part of the team during spring practice after his knee healed. His play during the spring and summer practices, coupled with injuries and position changes for other receivers, vaulted him to the top of the depth chart at both punt returner and wide receiver spots.
Joseph Gilbert rounded out the 2007 class offensive starters when he got the call to start on the offensive line. He left in the first half with an apparent neck injury.
Defensively, Burnett and Morgan were the two players that stood out. Burnett had two interceptions, but also had four tackles, one of those for a loss of three yards. “He has a mentality that when the ball’s in the air, it’s Morgan’s ball. That’s the kind of mentality you need back there, especially when you’re going to vary your pass rushes. He’s definitely stepped in that role of a go-to guy to get the ball for the defense,” Richard said.
Burnett was one of the last players added to the recruiting class. He was left deciding between the school his brother attended, UGA, and Tech.
Morgan, on the other hand, did not have any interceptions, but did have one and a half sacks and one and both of his tackles (one unassisted) were for a loss. Morgan also fell on a fumble by Jacksonville State quarterback Ryan Perriloux for a recovery. “We did a pretty good job [during the Jacksonville State game, we got penetration against a rushing [quarterback]…We have to go back and see the tape. We have a lot of room to grow for this week coming up, a lot of improvements to make, but I think we’ll be alright,” Morgan said.
Kyle Jackson, Brad Jefferson and Mario Butler were also defensive starters Thursday night. Jefferson totaled three tackles, along with Butler who also had three tackles. Jackson stepped up with five tackles in the first half, but left with a hand injury and was ruled out of this weekend’s game against Boston College.
The other six members that saw action got a chance to make their impact in the game as well. Offensively, lineman Nick Claytor and Clyde Yandell saw action late in the game. Defensively, Logan Walls, Michael Peterson and Jason Peters each had a tackle.