From Doug Roberson:
When Paul Johnson hired Al Groh after firing Dave Wommack, he was asked what he liked about his new defensive coordinator.
Johnson, fresh off winning the 2009 ACC championship with a defense that oddly gave up a lot of big plays but was effective in big situations, said that Groh, known for his 3-4 defense, would be able to fix things when they were going wrong.
Some things – tackling, fundamentals, limiting big plays — have “broken” in the past two weeks in losses to Miami and Middle Tennessee State. The defense has given up more than 1,100 yards and an average of 45.5 points. There’s not a lot of time for repairs with this week’s game at Clemson, which averages 510 yards and 40.2 points per game with a balanced offense.
Johnson didn’t try to defend his team’s play during his press conference on Tuesday, but at the same time defended Groh while holding himself and his staff accountable.
“… I don’t think the man forgot everything he knew in the last two weeks,” Johnson said. “But ultimately, we’re responsible. We’ve got to get it on the field. It doesn’t matter what you know, it’s what happens. So we’ve got to do a better job of getting it on the field.”
The reasons for the poor play are somewhat evident: poor tackling, poor fundamentals and, against Middle Tennessee, a lack of energy. Johnson said “You’ve got to do some of that stuff. Every time the ball breaks the line of scrimmage, it doesn’t have to be a touchdown.”
At his introductory press conference in 2010, Groh said hoped the players would pick up the 3-4 as fast as possible, but said it usually takes three years for the players to operate more instinctually.
Now in year three, Groh’s defense is statistically worse than Wommack’s in his final season.
This year, the defense is allowing more points (26.8) and yards per game (397) than they have since Groh was hired, while allowing slightly fewer rushing yards (155.2).
In Wommack’s last season, the Yellow Jackets gave up 24.8 points and 360.3 yards per game. Their worst two-game stretch occurred against Mississippi State and Florida State in which they gave up an average of 37.5 points and a total 1,026 yards. The Yellow Jackets won both of those games because the defense forced seven turnovers and the offense averaged 46 points and totaled more than 1,000 yards.
Groh’s defense this year isn’t making those stops. The overtime losses to Virginia Tech and Miami illustrated the critical-stop issue. In the defeat to Middle Tennessee the defense, missing two key players because of injury, came out flat and it showed in the missed tackles that allowed the Blue Raiders to total more than 500 yards.
Groh said the team has always emphasized tackling drills in practice, and focused on it even more this week ahead of the game against the Tigers, who feature numerous playmakers like Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins who need but one mistake to turn the routine into a big play.
One thing Wommack’s defense had that Groh’s does not is a consistent playmaker.
Defensive end Derrick Morgan was Wommack’s big-play man, finishing with 12.5 sacks to win the conference’s defensive player of the year award before he left to become a first-round selection in the NFL draft. No Tech player has come close to reaching that total since. Linebacker Brad Jefferson had four in 2010 and Jeremiah Attaochu six last year.
No Tech player has more than one sack this year. The team has just seven. Attaochu, the outside linebacker many expected to become a force, has been dealing with injuries this year and hasn’t been as effective, posting just one-half sack.
Johnson said it’d be great to have another Morgan, but that it’s wishful thinking to expect to have one every year. He indicated that he hopes that players, like Attaochu or Jemea Thomas, who have shown a lot of potential, will become consistent playmakers.
“It’s not like we’re null and void of players,” he said.
Without that consistent playmaker to pressure quarterbacks, Tech’s defense is giving up big plays in campaign-promise bunches. After allowing 50 in 2010 and 47 in 2011, the defense has allowed 22 this year and is on pace to give up 57 if team plays in a bowl. Wommack’s defense gave up 66 in 2009, but made stops when it needed to defeat Wake Forest and Clemson in the ACC championship game.
Defensive end Izaan Cross said if the team will focus on everyone doing his job, “the playmakers will emerge.”
But he knows they can’t play like they did the previous two games if they hope to beat the Tigers.
“We’ve got to all come together and have a conscious effort to come out with everything we can,” he said. “It’s going to be a tough game.”
Tech under Groh
A look at Georgia Tech’s averages on defense in coordinator Al Groh’s three years:
Last year under Wommack
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Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog