For Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, the video of Georgia’s 45-14 win over Georgia Southern wasn’t of great use.
The Bulldogs defended the Eagles’ spread-option scheme similarly to how they did Tech’s offense the past two years under defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.
“They played their base defense, which is what they’ve done against us the last two years,” Johnson said. “They didn’t do a whole lot differently.”
What was likely of greater benefit was a phone call between Johnson and Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken, who worked for Johnson for 15 years and brought the offense with him to Statesboro when he became the Eagles’ head coach before the 2010 season.
“I think the one thing you can get is who played these certain kinds of blocks the best, in the secondary, who was their best cover guy, who in their defensive line did you think was easier to knock off the ball than another guy,” Monken said. “Who was real stout and you had real trouble getting movement on. Just those things that you can’t see on film. I think those things are valuable.”
As the Yellow Jackets prepare for Saturday’s game against Georgia – a game that Johnson said will require their best game of the year just to have a chance – Johnson is scouring for every advantage. That includes tapping the resources of his former assistants.
Said Monken, “I’m obviously pulling for Coach Johnson.”
To Johnson’s chagrin, perhaps, Monken’s scouting reports may not be of the value they normally might be. Of the 12 players listed at the top of Georgia’s depth chart – Amarlo Herrera and Michael Gilliard share one first-string spot at inside linebacker – Tech faced all but two of them in last year’s 31-17 defeat at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
What’s more, those 10 aren’t bad. Johnson declared Tuesday that six or seven members of the unit are headed for the NFL. He gave his due to outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, whom draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. touted last week as a potential first overall selection, but also raved about inside linebacker Alec Ogletree.
“Alec Ogletree just jumps off the film at you,” Johnson said. “The things that can do, the way he runs and makes plays, he’s a special player, as well.”
Georgia is ranked No. 20 in FBS in total defense and No. 18 in scoring defense. Johnson hesitated to compare the Bulldogs against other stout defenses he has seen in his time at Tech, but said that “I don’t think you’re going to play anybody with more talent than them.”
Johnson agreed with sentiments of Georgia coaches and players that practicing and playing against a similar style of offense two consecutive weeks will be an advantage.
“If anything, it probably helps them with the speed of it,” Johnson said.
For Tech, facing Georgia at least provides a benefit of familiarity. Against North Carolina, Maryland, BYU and Clemson, the Jackets faced defensive coordinators who were in their first year with the team or coordinators with whom Johnson wasn’t otherwise familiar.
Figuring out how those teams would defend Tech’s offense required guesswork and research, using game video from when those coordinators played option offenses at previous stops, not always recently. When Tech played Iowa in the Orange Bowl in the 2009 season, coaches had to trace back to the 1989 Aloha Bowl between Michigan State and Hawaii. In that game, Johnson, then the Hawaii offensive coordinator, faced a Michigan State team whose outside linebackers coach was Norm Parker, later to become Iowa’s defensive coordinator. Monken and Tech assistants Mike Sewak and Buzz Preston were also on staff.
“That’s as long as I can remember (going back),” Monken said. “It was the same defense.”
Johnson doesn’t expect any shenanigans Saturday from Grantham.
“It’ll come down to execution and try to maybe have the right thing on at the right time,” he said. “They’ve got their plan and they’re going to run with it.”
Tech, quite literally, will do likewise.
By Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog