The next move belongs to Al Groh.
Two Saturdays ago, the Georgia Tech defense harassed Virginia quarterbacks Michael Rocco and Phillip Sims, accumulating 16 pressures, by the Tech defensive coordinator’s count and two sacks. Saturday, Groh and his defense were plundered.
The Yellow Jackets gave up 609 yards in the 42-36 overtime loss. It was the most yards that Tech had given up since 1997 and the most that a Groh-coached team had surrendered in his nine years as Virginia’s head coach followed by two-plus seasons at Tech.
Wednesday, Groh didn’t address the game at length, saying that he was done talking about Miami. It was the first opportunity for news media to speak with Groh, as he is not made available following games and defensive coaches and players speak on Wednesdays.
“I haven’t thought about that in a few days, so I’m ready to move on,” he said.
What Groh did address was that Tech’s pass rush was negated by Miami’s protection scheme, in which the Hurricanes often used as many as seven players on passes to block for quarterback Stephen Morris.
“Unless you rush eight, they’ve got more than you’ve got,” he said. “The numbers game comes into effect that way. Usually where those seven-man protections get beat is if you have some awesome individual pass rushers who can win the one-on-ones.”
Without such pass rushers on the roster, perhaps with the exception of outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu, Tech can expect to see plenty more of such strategies in games to come, starting with Tech’s game Saturday against Middle Tennessee State. Future opponents may not be able to duplicate the success of the Hurricanes, who have a young but talented lineup. However, many games may not require 42 points or 609 yards of total offense, either.
“We’ve got some interesting stuff to deal with on the third-down package, and it’s shaken some guys free (in pass rush), so that causes other teams to say, ‘We’re not going to deal with this stuff,’” said Groh in explaining opponents’ opting for a “maximum protection” scheme.
Groh may have to continue to dig for more interesting stuff. Tech has six sacks in four games with a rate of one sack per 26.3 pass attempts. Even before failing to register a sack despite Miami’s 52 pass attempts, the rate was 17.7 passes per sack. Duke, which ranks third in the ACC in sacks, has managed one sack per 11 pass attempts.
Should the lack of pressure continue, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins would appear to be a strong candidate to run wild through the Tech secondary Oct. 6. Attaochu, who led the team last year with six sacks, has one-half of a sack thus far. Through the first three games, Attaochu did have the most quarterback pressures of anyone on the team “by far,” Groh said.
Both Groh and coach Paul Johnson have acknowledged the obvious fact that it was a poor game all-around for the defense. The percentage of times that defensive players executed their assignment “went way down,” Groh said.
Groh was asked if, at the end of the season, the Miami game would be looked at as an outlier.
Replied Groh, “I think that, when you evaluate things on a whole body of work, I think what you might look back on at the end of the season is that Miami’s got a pretty good team.”
Time will tell to what degree Saturday’s game was an aberration or the trigger of a landslide. Could the game have merely been the confluence of a hot quarterback, poor pass rush, an injury-depleted defense and poor tackling – a forgettable game that bears no similarity to the defense that Tech ultimately becomes?
It would have to be a pretty big confluence.
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Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog