Statistically speaking, Georgia Tech outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu played one of his best games of the season two Saturdays ago.
His coach doesn’t always speak the language of statistics, however.
“He made a lot of mistakes, but he made some tackles,” coach Paul Johnson said of Attaochu’s performance against Clemson Oct. 6. “He had some production.”
After a promising 2011 season in his first year as a starter, Attaochu has not altered the direction of games to the extent that the Yellow Jackets might have hoped for thus far. He is hardly the root cause of the implosion that led to the firing of defensive coordinator Al Groh, but he has not been an unavoidable playmaking colossus, either.
“I don’t judge my play,” said Attaochu, a junior. “I let the coaches do that.”
After leading Tech with six sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss in 11 games last season, Attaochu has two sacks, accounting for all of his tackles for loss, at the halfway point for Tech. He had 59 total tackles year ago and 30 this season. He made 23 of the 30 against Virginia Tech and Clemson, arguably Tech’s biggest games thus far. He had two forced fumbles a year ago and none so far this season.
Injuries have hampered Attaochu’s high-motor play, which earned him a preseason nomination to the watch list for the Lombardi Award, given to the nation’s top linebacker or lineman. The Jackets have also played quarterbacks who have gotten rid of the ball quickly or used heavy pass-protection schemes, and he also missed a game. But that doesn’t quite explain everything.
“It’s been nothing I can put my finger on,” Johnson said.
Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Miami’s Al Golden both paid him compliments prior to their games against Tech. Golden called Attaochu “one of the best players, clearly, in the conference, if not the country.”
Attaochu did produce against Clemson, with 1.5 sacks and 13 total tackles. As Johnson alluded, he also missed tackles and other chances to make plays. Attaochu, whose attitude and work ethic are beyond reproach, stands by his play.
“I feel like my game has been making progress the first six games,” Attaochu said. “The last six games, it’s time to continue to speed up the progress and continue to amp it up.”
Tackles and sacks do not always tell the entire story. Before his firing, Groh said that Attaochu’s run defense was significantly improved and that he had become more confident and knowledgeable in the scheme. Further, Attaochu was creating pressure on the quarterback, but those plays had not turned into sacks.
There is an element of chance with sacks. Sometimes, a lineman will get a sack when a teammate’s pressure flushes the quarterback in his path. To a large degree, a quarterback pressure that forces an incompletion on third down accomplishes the same purpose as a sack.
However, whether it was Attaochu, his teammates or some other failing, Tech’s inability to agitate quarterbacks was central to its third-down lapses, which was in turn no small factor in Groh’s dismissal. Going into their Saturday home game against Boston College, the Jackets are 103rd out of 120 FBS teams in defensive third-down efficiency at 47.8 percent. Opponents were 31 of 46, 67.4 percent, in the past three games.
Attaochu is not consumed by his numbers.
“Bottom line, you watch film, tackles, sacks, all those things, they matter,” he said. “They matter, but at the end of the day, it’s about doing your job. If you’re doing your job and you make tackles, that’s good. If you’re doing your job and you don’t make tackles, that’s still good. That’s defense.”
The setting changes for Attaochu and his teammates. Charles Kelly has replaced Groh as interim coordinator and Joe Speed, formerly the inside linebackers coach, now supervises Attaochu and the outside linebackers.
“As long as I know I’m doing my job and I’m playing hard and giving everything I have, that’s all you can really ask for,” he said.
Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog