What to watch: ECU, TOB and NC stars in Georgia
Posted August 30, 2013
Selected items of interest as the long opening week continues through Monday’s ACC game between Florida State and Pittsburgh:
Can Rick Smith upgrade the Pirates’ defense?
When South Florida gave Skip Holtz the boot at the end of 2012, ECU’s Ruffin McNeill moved quickly to bring veteran defensive aide Rick Smith back to Greenville.
Smith, 64, was on the Holtz Pirate staffs that won two Conference USA titles and groomed some of the best secondaries in the country.
Now Smith is charge of the entire Pirate defense, which had hemorrhaged points and yardage under Brian Mitchell’s direction for the past three seasons.
In Saturday’s 7 p.m. opener in Greenville against Old Dominion, Smith’s defenders will face an offense that averaged 45 points and 394 yards per game during at 11-2 stand at the FCS level.
The TOB’s return to UVA
After a 6-year stint as head coach at N.C. State, Tom O’Brien will back on the Scott Stadium sidelines (or in the pressbox) when Virginia opens against Brigham Young on Saturday (3:30 p.m., ESPNU).
O’Brien technically is Mike London’s associate head coach and directly in change of tight ends. But throughout the preseason and off-season, O’Brien spent a lot of time helping with the entire offensive line. That was his primary duty during 15 years on George Welsh’s UVa staffs in the 1980s and ‘90s.
It’ll be interesting see how much impact O’Brien has had on a ground game that averaged only 3.6 yards per carry last season.
Big stage for Marshall and Gurley
The best game of the entire opening weekend very likely will be No. 5 Georgia at No. 8 Clemson on Saturday (8 p.m., ABC).
The Bulldogs feature two of the best running backs in the nation – both sophomores and both products of North Carolina high schools.
Millbrook High’s Keith Marshall (5-11, 219) rushed for 759 yards and eight touchdowns as a freshman last season. Tarboro High’s Todd Gurley (6-1, 230) was even more spectacular as a rookie with 1,385 yards and 17 TDs.
Although they are close friends, the two have asked Bulldog fans and the media to stop referring to them collectively as “Gurshall.” Marshall told reporters in preseason interviews that he didn’t like the term from the start. "That's not my name,” he said.
Too bad he didn’t pick an in-state college during recruiting. That way, there would have been no identity problem whatsoever.