We're looking forward to our first conference game. Certainly the challenge in front of us going to Atlanta is a big challenge on both sides of the football. But I think our kids are excited to go down and see where we are right now.
When you look for somebody to fill your fullback spot, what attributes are you looking for and how does Taylor Grant fit that mold?
Taylor Gentry is our fullback. We look for someone, number one, that can block, and number two has to be able to catch the football. Our fullback is a receiver and a blocker, so I think those two things we look for guys that certainly the more athletic ability, the better off it is.
But they certainly have to have a physical toughness to be able to go block defensive ends or go block linebackers. And they have to be able to be involved in the passing game. We throw our fullback a lot of passes.
He first came to State as a walk on, and then eventually was the starting fullback in his freshman season. What first caught your eye about him and the way he played?
Well, he was the guy that kept jumping up in line, trying to get on the field as fast as he could. He has a great determination. He has a great enthusiasm for the game. Every time he got in there and when he got his opportunity, he made plays for us and showed a physical toughness that we didn't have at that spot when we first got here.
I think those are the things that stood out first. Then also his contributions on special teams. He's been -- because of our multiple formations and multiple personnel groupings, sometimes he plays 25 plays offense, sometimes he plays 12. So the other way he's been able to get on the field has been special teams for us, and he's done a great job there.
How big of a role has Jon Tenuta played in the defensive improvement you've made to this point?
I think he's contributed. How much I, I'm not sure. But I think certainly as I said last week, one of the things we talked about when I heard him was to help with our third down defense. Our third down defense has been much better through the first three games of the year than it was all last year.
So I think it's one of the things he's concentrated on, and it's certainly helped us get off the field, which we had tremendous problems with a year ago.
Did you have to do any kind of sell job to get him to take a position that wasn't a coordinators position?
Not really. As I said before, I've known Jon since 1982 when we went to the University of Virginia and he was a GA for us. Through my years as head coach, there were times he looked to come join our staff and I didn't have a position available. And there were times when I looked for him to come join the staff and he wasn't ready to move.
So I think it was a situation that he understands exactly what his role and responsibility is on the staff. He's embraced it and done a great job for us.
What is the dynamic between he and Mike Archer?
It's very good. Mike's the coordinator, and does the coordinator job, and Jon's the linebacker coach, and does the linebacker coaching job.
You just referenced this year your third down defense percentage is like 24%. It's really strong. Last year you were in the 40's. You said Tenuta has really made a difference there. Could you help us understand what exactly are you all trying to do or what are you doing differently than a year ago on third down?
Well, I think we settled into a third down defensive package that suits our personnel. Just the organization of it, the set-up of it, and the concepts that we employ. And teaching the kids so they understand what they're supposed to do, I think all those things come into play to make it a successful package for us.
In layman's terms, it seems like you're blitzing more but the blitzes are smart. You have guys in all the gaps. Am I seeing that and understanding that correctly?
Well, some of them we ran last year. But I think right now we're doing a better job. And that is a combination of the kids are older, the kids have run the blitzes before. They're doing a better job. We're doing a better job coaching them, and we're better organized to take advantage of some things.
In your opening statement when you talked about the team going down to Atlanta to find out where it is. Where do you think this team is right now, Tom?
I think we're improving. I think we're getting better. Certainly we've made improvement from the first game to the second, and from the second to the third. That is one thing that we want to continue to do. It's a little different this week because of what we're going to face and what we're facing on defense to what we've seen for the first three games.
So that's all part of growing up as a football team and being able to make changes week in and week out so that you have to make and work hard to get better each week, so that you can progress and have a successful season.
In the past three seasons, the ACC games have been kind of a barrier for you. You haven't been able to get that first ACC win. Do you see it significant if this team can go on the road and finally get that first ACC win?
I think it would be huge for this football team. You know, as I said, it's going to be a tough assignment especially going down there and playing in Atlanta at noon time. But that's what we're faced with, and we'll make the most of it.
Alabama has made a living with its three-four defense, and Georgia Tech's using it. Is it going to be difficult for that to spread around college football because there's only so many kids thats can play the nose tackle, or do you think it could catch on?
No, I think things go in cycles and it seems like -- there is an article in the past two weeks where there's more professional teams playing three-four. So those things filter down into college.
We've moved -- Mike Archer's background with Coach Cowher with the Steelers was three-four. We have two of our defensive ends that put their hand on the ground. Both can stand up and play linebacker, and we've been able to do that and utilize that the past couple of games and might expand that package as we go along to be a four-three and a three-four team.
Just as a three-four team ends up having one of their guys put their hand on the ground to become a four-three team. So I think it's a combination of both. But as you I said it goes in cycles, but we may see more three-four teams as time goes on.
What is so alluring about a three-four defense?
Well, one of the things you do in pass protection is you identify pass rushers by their hands on the ground. On a four-three team, you know what four they are. Generally they rush with four unless they're going to blitz, zone blitz or whatever.
The thing with a three-four, you don't know where that fourth rusher is coming from.
With you guys being off to a good start, what do you account for that doing better than you would have hoped or as good as you would have hoped so far this season?
I think the experience of all those young kids that play a lot last year that didn't have success, but worked extremely hard and used their experiences last year on the football field and in the out of season and spring practice, and preseason camp to be a much better football player.
As your players become better players and certainly we try to coach them to be much better players, we're getting much better execution than we did a year ago.