Georgia Tech was overrun by Middle Tennessee in Saturday’s 49-28 defeat because the Yellow Jackets could neither tackle nor get off the field on third downs.
Both are trends that came to the front in last week’s 42-36 overtime loss to Miami, in which the Hurricanes converted 11 of their 16 third-down attempts and frequently broke tackles after receptions.
The Blue Raiders were almost as successful on third downs, picking up first downs on seven of their 11 attempts. They totaled 510 yards and seemingly broke as many tackles.
“That’s probably as bad a tackling game as I have ever seen,” coach Paul Johnson said.
Middle Tennessee didn’t do anything fancy on offense. The one time they tried it backfired. They used their sideline-to-sideline play-calling to spread Tech’s defense before burning it between the hashmarks with draws and slants, or going back outside for quick, highly accurate passes. The defense played the entire game without outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu, arguably their best playmaker, and fellow outside linebacker Brandon Watts missed most of the first half with an injury. But the players weren’t using their absences as an excuse.
In the past two weeks, Tech’s defense has given up more than 1,100 yards. Defensive coordinator Al Groh, like all the assistant coaches for at least the past two years, was not made available to the media after the game. He coached from the box for the first time since Johnson hired him three years ago because they believed it might help quicken the play-calling. The players said that did help.
But there was so much left unanswered.
Groh’s players tried to explain what happened after Saturday’s loss, but often their answers ended with variations of “I don’t know what to say about that.”
“That’s a hard question to answer,” linebacker Jabari Hunt-Days said when asked what has happened to the defense in the past two weeks. “I’m really not sure.”
Linebacker Quayshawn Nealy estimated the Yellow Jackets missed at least 25 tackles in the first half.
No play exemplified the poor tackling like Benny Cunningham’s 23-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that gave the Blue Raiders a 28-21 lead. He broke two head-on tackles and ran through arm tackles.
“We have so many tackling drills in practice and emphasize it so much…the guys were just missing tackles,” Nealy said.
On some plays the Jackets couldn’t get close enough to make the tackle.
There was a 75-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter that gave the Blue Raiders a 35-21 lead in which Marcus Henry caught a pass in the seam and outran everyone. Before that was a 60-yard touchdown run by Cunningham in which he ran right up the middle of the Jackets’ defense, practically untouched.
“We really haven’t tackled very well for two weeks now,” Johnson said. “It looks like we’re running in mud.”
– Doug Roberson, AJC.