Linebackers – they are essential to defending both the pass and the run, and can make or break a defense if they are weak in one of the two areas (or both, for some teams).
Georgia Tech has produced some great linebackers, and the current group is finally starting to live up to their potential under first-year defensive coordinator, Ted Roof. The Jackets 10th ranked run defense had a lot to do with some great linebacker play, but the 86th ranked pass defense unfortunately also was partially due to poor pass support from the linebacker corps.
The linebackers did account for six of Tech’s 13 interceptions, which isn’t horrible, but the better FBS teams nearly doubled that INT total. Tech’s linebackers also contributed eight of the team’s 32 sacks.
Facing the Ole Miss Rebels and their quarterback Bo Wallace is going to be a challenge for the linebackers similar to what the Georgia Tech defensive line will have. In the base 4-3 defense, the two outside linebackers are going to have to be prudent about staying with their assignment, and not letting Wallace scramble to the edge for big yardage.
On the same token, Wallace can get the ball into the hands of his receivers on quick slant routes and curls, and if the defense doesn’t read the set correctly from the start, it can result in huge mismatches. On the outside, Quayshawn Nealy and Brandon Watts are both turning out some exceptional games, but will have to be at their best against this Ole Miss offense.
In the middle, Jabari Hunt-Days has been one of the best at hitting gaps in run support (he recorded seven TFLs), but he’ll be tested often against the pass with the Ole Miss receivers coming across the middle trying to find a soft spot in the zone.
Brandon Watts (RS JR) – OLB: Watts is a speedy LB on the outside, who can go sideline to sideline with the best of them. He’s going to be depended on to keep contain on Bo Wallace, and to keep any short pass completions to a minimum of yardage.
Jabari Hunt-Days (RS SO) – ILB: A strong run presence and a good tackler, the Jackets will need Days to get into the Ole Miss backfield, keeping their offense off-balance.
Quayshawn Nealy (RS JR) – OLB: Nealy has great ball instincts, and has six career interceptions. He will lead this linebacker corps and will be needed to make sure that the correct reads are made to avoid mismatches.
Tyler Marcordes (RS SO), Tyler Stargel (RS FR), Paul Davis (FR)