Missed assignments are down. Points and missed tackles, at least two games out of three, have been fewer. Energy is up.
The Georgia Tech defense looks like a different unit since the dismissal of defensive coordinator Al Groh. How much it actually has improved, though, could well be revealed over the course of three hours Saturday afternoon in Chapel Hill, N.C.
“Most certainly, North Carolina’s offense is going to be a test,” outside linebackers coach Joe Speed said. “We’re going to see if we can’t limit their yards on the ground, limit their yards in the air and see what we can do.”
Changes made by interim defensive coordinator Charles Kelly have been received well. The tackling has improved, as well as the angles players have taken to make them. With a simplified scheme, players are making fewer mistakes. In practice, more time and emphasis is placed on tackling.
“Something I like better that we do is, if we mess up a play (in practice), we stop and explain everything and make sure everything is perfect before we ever move on,” outside linebacker Brandon Watts said. “We make sure everybody is in the right spot and in the right gaps before we ever move on to another play.”
Inside linebacker Quayshawn Nealy said the biggest difference he sees is the speed at which the defense plays.
“Tempo-wise, everybody’s giving a whole lot more effort, I guess because it doesn’t require a lot of thinking for the defense,” he said. “Guys are really flying to the ball and it’s allowing a lot of guys to make plays.”
UNC coach Larry Fedora has seen something similar.
“They’re not doing as much as they were doing early,” he said. “Now you’re seeing the athleticism in their kids come out. They’re playing faster and playing harder because they know what to do.”
It worked against a team whose quarterback was a converted linebacker, as was the case last Saturday in Tech’s win over Maryland. Tar Heels quarterback Bryn Renner, though, is actually a quarterback.
The Tar Heels’ numbers – No. 16 in FBS in total offense and scoring offense – are augmented by their high-tempo offense that enables them to run more plays and possessions. That said, it can be safely assumed that they’re a vastly different lot, at any pace, than what Kelly has seen to date.
Boston College, BYU and Maryland rank 90th, 79th and 119th, respectively, in FBS. The Cougars, albeit with considerable field-position help, roughed up Tech for 41 points and 411 yards.
Tech’s primary priority will be limiting running back Giovani Bernard, whose average of 132.9 rushing yards per game is fifth in the country. Shifty and explosive, Bernard has run for 15 or more yards 16 times.
“We’ve said it every week,” Kelly said. “You’ve got to be able to stop the run to be able to have a chance.”
Against Tech, Boston College ran for 32 rushing yards, BYU for 183 and Maryland for 144 in the three games that Kelly has served as coordinator. Down to their fifth-string quarterback, the Terrapins averaged a very tolerable 3.3 yards per carry against the Jackets.
Tech will also need to either provide better pass coverage or find some way to pressure Renner, an accurate passer with a wealth of capable targets. His offensive line has permitted one sack for every 46.9 pass attempts, far and away the best ratio in the ACC.
North Carolina’s hurry-up style is something else that has given Tech problems, and the Tar Heels have had an extra week to prepare for the Jackets. Tech, which has had trouble rushing the passer, defending accurate quarterbacks and keeping pace with fast-tempo teams, had best be ready.
“When you’re playing people that are good, you really want to go out and see how you measure up against them,” Watts said.
Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog