As coach of the only common opponent of Grayson and Walton this season, Dacula’s Jared Zito has a unique perspective on tonight’s Class AAAAA state title clash. Zito, whose Falcons lost to the Rams 34-14 and to the Raiders 21-13 in the state quarterfinals, breaks down both teams and gives his thoughts as to what each team has to do to win.
Grayson's offensive line is probably one of the biggest in the state, but one thing a lot of people don't realize is how athletic they are. They get off (the ball) and pull to help the running backs get to the outside. I think that's one thing they don't get enough credit for. They do more things in spread (formations) than they've done in the past. They do so many things with formations now that you spend a lot of time in practice trying to line up right on defense. They're so diversified. And while they've been kind of a team running game, I think the one guy going kind of unnoticed (most of the season), but who is getting more recognition lately is (Devin) Gillespie.
(Defensive end Robert) Nkemdiche is a great player, but what happens is, you almost get yourself into a game plan to run away from him. No disrespect to anyone that we've played, but (Grayson) is probably the most complete defense we've played this season. They've got some big kids up front, but they probably have the most team speed of anybody we've played. They don't give you a lot of seams to run in, and they're fast enough that you don't really big-play them. If you get a seam, it probably goes for only about 10 yards at the most. We always look for a weak link (in any team we play), but we never really found one (with Grayson). Their scheme is good. They do a good job in the 3-4. It's a defense you can't really outflank. It's hard to gain a numbers advantage or an angle advantage, and that's the name of the game in the running game. The other thing is, they've got good players. They did a good job in all facets. They're very athletic. They all can run, so if there's an issue somewhere, they recover well. And they're very physical.
Both teams are so similar (on offense). They both want to run the ball and they've got big-play ability, and if you load the box, they'll take advantage. I think the one thing overlooked at Walton is their quarterback's (Parker McLeod's) ability to really throw the ball accurately. He was able to deliver against us. He's probably a guy who doesn't get a lot of press, but he's a winner. He's a big reason why they're (in the title game). With (running back Tyren) Jones, what struck me in person, more than on film, was his ability after contact. That probably makes him different from any other back we saw. Once he gets contact, he explodes with energy into almost another gear.
The four kids they have in the secondary are probably the best combination of four we saw all year. Their corners (Dakota Richardson and D.J. Smith) are very good athletes. They've got unbelievable ability to make plays and recover when the ball's in the air. We had one pass we threw early that Rocky (Capobianco) threw a little late, but with anybody else we played this year, it would've been a touchdown, but it got broken up. Then (safety Zack Blaylock) turns around and makes a big interception. Their two safeties (Blaylock and twin brother Daron) make their whole defense fit into spots.
KEYS TO BEATING GRAYSON
No. 1, you can't turn the ball over and you cannot give them short field because they seem to always punch it in. The other thing is, you can't fall asleep with their ability to run jet sweep and play-action game. Right when you do, they'll put the thing over your head.
KEYS TO BEATING WALTON
I really felt like one of the keys, and one reason we were able to keep it as close as we did, is I felt like if we could make it a four-quarter game,we had a better chance. They didn't really play many close games until they played us. I think Grayson has a bit of an advantage in their schedule and teams they've played. They (Walton) have several guys play both sides, so the key is to make them play four quarters and find a way to neutralize their two safeties. You've got to throw ball the on time and can't hang it up in the air.
PLAYER YOU HAVE TO STOP ON GRAYSON
Obviously Nkemdiche. If you don't block him, you'll have problems all night. But if you worry about him, then others will hurt you. Last year, when he wasn't on everyone's radar, he was making a lot of plays. Now, people are running away from him, but fortunately for Grayson, they have other players who can make plays.
PLAYER YOU HAVE TO STOP ON WALTON
People ask how do you stop (Jones). I don't think anyone has. If they can limit him from having a big play or two, it will be a big plus for Grayson. The thing is, there are a lot of different ways for him to hurt you. He returned a punt for touchdown against us. We talked about punting away from him or into the boundary as much as we could. It was the first game we asked our punter to do that. Once he returns one for a touchdown, the pressure is on the punter. Then, they put two guys back, so you can't really punt away from him. It's just a matter of rolling the dice. How many times can he touch it and not make a big play? They're going to give it to him 30 or 40 times. The question is, can you be productive enough on offense so that one mishap won't hurt you?
I'll say the team that turns it over the least wins. My pick right now is Grayson. I think it may start out with both teams feeling each other out in the run game see what they can get done. They're so similar in their approach and even similar in their scheme, especially defensively. I think both start out conservative and see who's going to take the first shot (downfield) -- something to change the flow. Whoever does that successfully will have momentum.