As schools’ academic years are wrapping up, last season’s juniors are about to become this season’s seniors, and with that comes extra responsibility and expectations. In the ACC, while there were plenty of players selected in the NFL Draft, the conference still returns a strong group of seniors — many of whom are set to make a strong impact in their final seasons of eligibility.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be going team-by-team in the ACC to identify the “standout senior” that’s key to his respective squad, and why he’s so important. Think we should’ve featured another player, though? Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments.
Right off the bat, you’ll notice the new position Attaochu’s playing — defensive end — after spending his first three seasons at linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Considering Attaochu managed 10 sacks in 13 games from that linebacker spot last year, the expectation has already been raised for what should be a breakout senior season. As the most notable of a nice collection of seniors on this year’s Tech defense, it’ll be up to the much-beleagured Attaochu to come up big for a unit that could use a boost.
One might recall the incident near the end of the 2011 season when the then-sophomore Attaochu punched Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas, resulting in a suspension for the former. Since then, he’s done nothing but try to redeem himself in the eyes of coaches, teammates, the media and scouts, but at times, the moment still manages to mar what has otherwise been a productive career in Atlanta; even after the two players publicly showed the event’s behind them. Punch or not, however, both he and the Tech defense can no longer allow it — or anything else — to be a distraction.
Last season, the Georgia Tech defense allowed 28.3 points per game, which ranked 65th in the country. Not bad, but when you take a look at the individual contests, it gets much uglier. Opponents scored 40 or more on the Jackets five different times, including a three-game stretch that saw Miami, Clemson and Middle Tennessee State pull off the feat. Even during what was seen as an improved second half of the year, they still let North Carolina put 50 on them, and let rival Georgia hang another 42 in the regular season finale. It doesn’t all fall on Attaochu — there were plenty of other players on the field — but when the team was getting a solid pass rush going (primarily his forte), they were a different group entirely.
Despite the “new” position, there will be no learning curve allowed for Attaochu this year. Tech conceivably has the pieces to win the up-for-grabs Coastal division, and just need to figure out a way to put it all together. While the offense will operate as it usually does, their success comes down to the defense, and specifically the pass-rush. If Attaochu can equal or surpass the numbers he put up last year, expect better results for the Yellow Jackets, and better results for him in the eyes of pro scouts as well.