While many aspects of the football team entered the season with few questions because of the many returning starters on both sides of the ball, the defensive line lacked such a luxury. The front four saw three starters leave in defensive end Michael Johnson and tackles Vance Walker and Darryl Richard, all of whom were NFL draft picks in April.
Junior defensive end Derrick Morgan was the lone returning starter on the line and received the task of anchoring the unit. Overall, the veteran was pleased with his talented but less experienced teammates in Tech first game Saturday against Jacksonville State.
“I think [the defensive linemen] did a good job in stepping up and taking responsibility and filling their assignments,” Morgan said.
Morgan led the line with five total tackles, four of which were solo tackles. He also led the team with 2.5 tackles for loss, which set the Gamecocks back a total of 18 yards.
The rest of the front four were relatively flat for the season opener. Redshirt junior defensive end Robert Hall had three tackle assists. The new defensive tackles, redshirt sophomore Jason Peters and redshirt junior Ben Anderson, each had one tackle on the day.
“I would have liked to go in there and hold them to fewer points than they did,” said Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack.
Overall, Head Coach Paul Johnson expressed disappointment with the amount of intensity and fight of the entire team during the first half, and the defensive line was no exception.
“I thought the first group [of the defensive line] was OK…When the thing happens at the end like it happens when you are trying to play a lot of people, it kind of leaves a bad taste in your mouth. I’d like for them to put up more of a fight,” Johnson said.
Morgan led the team in sacks with two, for a loss of 17 yards. Hall also received credit for a half of a sack when he teamed with linebacker Julian Burnett to bring down JSU quarterback Marques Ivory.
While the three sacks were not well below the average for the Jackets from last season, it does raise concerns. The caliber of opposing teams’ offenses will increase as the season progresses, and the defense’s ability to get penetration and attack the backfield will be driven first and foremost by the line’s ability to match the level of their opponents.
The defensive line did not raise new concerns with their performance on Saturday, but they did not answer the skeptics’ questions that existed prior to the opening game.