Georgia Tech drilled, problems start with Al Groh’s defense

A common scene: A Bulldog (Chris Conley) scoring and a Jacket (Rod Sweeting) watching. (Brant Sanderlin/AJC)

Common scene: UGA (Chris Conley) scoring, Tech (Rod Sweeting) watching. (Brant Sanderlin)

When a team looks flat, lost and beat up and loses 31-17 to its chief rival — and it really wasn’t even that close — generally no player or area is immune to criticism.

Physically, Georgia Tech got hammered Saturday by Georgia. There were mental lapses. Emotionally, the Jackets seemed to lack a pulse on their home field against the only opponent that usually defines their season — which probably is the greatest indictment of all, considering the 364 days of buildup on a campus where the rallying cry is, “To hell with Georgia.”

“You have to play with everything you have. We didn’t,” linebacker Steven Sylvester said.

How does that happen? Were they saving it for the Sun Bowl?

But Tech’s biggest problem Saturday against Georgia was no different than what its biggest problem has been for four years under coach Paul Johnson. Their defense stinks. They can’t stop anybody or intimidate anybody. Two many games come down to pinball games.

Bad defense got Dave Wommack fired after two seasons. Bad defense under Al Groh should leave his future uncertain at the end of a two-year contract. Groh hasn’t said definitively that he wants to come back, but the question Johnson needs to ask himself is: Do I want him back?

This is no minor issue. Johnson has won 34 games in four seasons. The Jackets’ 8-4 record this season going into their bowl finale certainly is not worse than most projected at the outset of this season, and it’s probably better. But when you have a defense that ranks 43rd in yardage, 56th in points allowed and 89th in third-down conversion, you’re not going anywhere.

Georgia is good, very good. The Dogs have better players and are as hot as any team in the country, save LSU (next week’s opponent in the SEC championship). But when the Bulldogs accumulated 254 yards on their first four possessions, this game was over. Georgia didn’t even punt until its sixth possession. By then, it was 24-10.

Johnson’s view of his defense’s inability to stop the Dogs: It’s deflating. I think it deflates the whole team.”

The option offense isn’t built to play from behind. Neither is quarterback Tevin Washington. When the Jackets tried to open it up, Washington was intercepted twice on Tech’s first three possessions in the second half.

But remember where the problems started.

Georgia’s superiority on the field shouldn’t discount that Groh’s 3-4 defense got worse late in the season and has failed in the big picture. Tech is no better off on defense today than it was when they fired the last guy. Nationally, under Wommack the Jackets finished 28th (2008) and 54th (2009) in total defense. They were 64th in Groh’s first season and went into this week 43rd. Scoring defense in the past four seasons: 20th and 38th, respectively, under Wommack; 37th and 56th (entering the week) under Groh.

Progress?

Johnson is an offensive-oriented coach. When he goes consecutive series without a touchdown, he goes postal, but even he recognizes the importance of having some semblance of a defense, or he wouldn’t have made a change two years ago.

Groh wasn’t made available for comment Saturday. Just as well. He might need some time to figure out how to spin this one. There was an expected transition period with the switch to the 3-4 defense last year, but it’s not any better now. The Jackets still don’t have the players to play it, particularly up front.

Young teams should get better as the year goes on. But Tech has back-slid since a 31-17 upset of Clemson, with mediocre defensive performances against Virginia Tech, Duke and Georgia.

Sylvester on the difference since the Clemson game: “I think it’s just playing with emotion. If you turn on the film of the Clemson game you can see how emotional we were. I feel like we came out flat the last couple of games. We didn’t have as much energy as we should have, and our attention to detail wasn’t [good enough].”

Players should be able to get up for its rival, but that’s also on coaches for not having them prepared. Johnson and Groh share that responsibility.

But the head coach isn’t going anywhere. Groh, we’re not so sure. And when Tech fails, it’s usually not because of the offense.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter (@JeffSchultzAJC). Friend me on Facebook (Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC).

632 comments Add your comment

Scrod

November 28th, 2011
1:21 pm

I love the picture – Rod Sweeting has been burned in every game this year. The dilemna: play zone and get burned at the line, or blitz and get burned in the secondary?

mdp1985

November 28th, 2011
1:27 pm

Coach Johnson is not the problem. The key is better athletes. Tech should focus on recruiting athletes that mix well at Tech from all over the country. Coach Johnson has focused on recruiting Georgia; however,great athletes in the north may find a southern school attractive. Tech is a tough school that requires a cerebral athlete.
One thing to consider about the defense that played well against Clemson is that our nose tackle (Anthony Barnes) had his best game. The nose Tackle is a key compnenet in the 3-4. CAG needs a good to great nose guard.

Jacket21

November 28th, 2011
1:33 pm

IMO its been a good year for GT considering my low expectations going in. However, I hope we move forward to 2012 with Vad Lee at QB and Al Groh in a retirement home.

Technically Correct

November 28th, 2011
1:38 pm

Tech runs a faux 3-4 defense, since it must move a couple of those linebackers up to the line to create a credible run defense or pass rush. That means we are really running a 5-2 defense, which is vulnerable to crossing patterns, evidenced by Georgia on Saturday. Tech needs to go shopping for a couple of 350 pound nose tackles every year at Junior Colleges like Georgia does. They could stick around for one football season before they flunk out, but maybe they could make the 3 in the 3-4 work. Just a thought…

old dog

November 28th, 2011
4:44 pm

Ya’ll have been exposed! Can’t get a good Q.B. (since he wants to SURVIVE) with the triple option. Best running backs ain’t coming either. Gimmick is over; once its discovered, superior athletes rule. Chop-blockin’ linemen ain’t coming, either. It was a good run the first year, and Tech is young. But it will take a SUPERIOR defense to cover the faults of the offense, the better athletes ain’t comin’ to a triple option offense, and UGA just beat ya’ll with NO running game at all! We may get DRILLED by LSU, but at least ya’ll ain’t gotta play ‘em or the “triple-options” would be: run, hide, survive!

GTTrippy

November 28th, 2011
5:09 pm

old dog — did you do your english shopping at walmart too? Pathetic just like a dumba$$ dog fan to the end!

James Mallett

November 28th, 2011
6:00 pm

Do you think maybe PJ should have kept Jaybo?

James Mallett

November 28th, 2011
6:00 pm

Enter your comments here
PJ, your offense will win some games but DEFENSE wins championships.

vidalia man

November 28th, 2011
6:11 pm

hire ted roof as defensive coordinator.

vidalia man

November 28th, 2011
6:11 pm

hire ted roof as defensive coordinator.

Let's talk about UGA!

November 28th, 2011
7:15 pm

I didn’t get to see them game. They wouldn’t let me watch TV in rehab.

Let's talk about UGA!

November 28th, 2011
7:16 pm

Does anyone have an extra set of teeth I could borrow?

jojatek

November 28th, 2011
8:25 pm

I said it right here in this paper 4 weeks ago: We do not have, and never will have, the size up front to play a 3-4 defense. Period. End of story. If they’re calling for Randy Edsall’s head after one season at Maryland (ok, Feinstein made a convincing argument today in the Post), then we cannot afford to waste another season believing that we can actually recruit at a level where the 3-4 will work for us and allow us to get enough pressure up-front to strike fear into anybody, much less hold an opponent under 30 points on a regular basis. Paul Johnson is still the “right choice”; Al Groh is simply not the right fit…

gtfanfrom1951

November 28th, 2011
9:31 pm

when will we get a defense? It is holding us back!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

gtg991z

November 29th, 2011
7:49 am

The defense does NOT practice against the offense. Where do people keep getting this misinformation? We have a practice squad that goes up against our defense in practice using the system of our upcoming opponent.

{{{{{31-17}}}}}

November 29th, 2011
8:35 am

It was too easy!!! lol!!!! Sanford Stadium Jr. was rocking!!!! LOL!!!!

{{{{{31-17}}}}}

November 29th, 2011
8:36 am

Please sign Johnson and his gimmicky high school offense to a lifetime contract!!! Please!!!!

old dog

November 29th, 2011
8:37 am

GTTrippy,
My apologies for an attempt at humor. I am not suffering from intellectual slothfulness. I just had fun with a little broken English “bustin’ your chops! Its pretty obvious a nerve has been hit with you; you have no defense (no pun intended) to offer for the poor showing Saturday, so all you can do is try the red herring approach. Face it; the good players are not coming to a system where the Q-Back will be in a wheel chair by the time he is fifty. Also, it is impossible to recruit the top backs, even those who don’t get into trouble all the time (like ours!) The gimmick is up; triple option will win a few, lose you more. No ACC championships with it, and definitely only a VERY occasional win over UGA. This is big-boy football!

62-39-5

November 29th, 2011
11:07 am

BBBUUHHHUUUHHUUUWWWAAAHHHAAAHHHAA

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,377121,00.html

Georgia Tech Student Places Ad on Craigslist to Learn How to Kiss

NERDS

31-17

BBUUHHUUHHUUUWWWAAAHHHAAAHHHAAA

Richard

November 29th, 2011
11:28 am

Sorry guys. I’m a Tech fan, but you need to face reality. Tech will never pass effectively and consistently. Not bashing the system or the players, but the QB and WRs will never get to develop chemistry and get on a roll. QBs will never be able to focus on reading pass defenses and hitting the receivers when they have to learn the option.

unajacket

November 29th, 2011
12:09 pm

Two picks & a kick return & thats the game!

GTman

November 29th, 2011
12:59 pm

We played aggressive defense in one game all year – the Clemson game. Groh/CPJ decided in that game to not give the QB any time to throw the ball. The rest of the games, we gave the QB all day to throw the ball. We should have been rushing as many as it takes to hit Murray early and often. He probably burns us a few times, but you have got to get in a QBs head early. You let him get some confidence and it it all over.

Poor play calling and poor QB development were exposed. Hard to believe this is the best QB CPJ has developed in 4 years.

GT-UT

November 29th, 2011
10:03 pm

Pretty good article.
I can understand CPJ’s predicament with Al. No doubt in my mind that we are lucky to have him. He’s a defensive guru. Sitting here, I don’t know. I think we should extend him 2 more years. Give Vad or Synjin a chance and lets see what we’ve got. I’d hate to change horses now, but man the D is bad. Give the CAG recruited players a chance and let’s man up. Maybe CPJ needs other staff changes this year as well. I’d like to see more emotion from the coaches. Also, I fear CPJ might go too hard and mid season players get sick of football. Hope that’s not the case because I don’t.

Joe Roberts

November 29th, 2011
10:49 pm

Excellent take, Jeff.

I agree that the defense needs upgrading. I still think this GT team has overachieved this year. They self-destructed in the Hokies’ game, otherwise we might be talking about ACC championships (I’m an optimist). If the Jackets win their bowl game and get 9 wins, there is no doubt in my mind that it’s a successful season.

The loss to the Bulldogs hurts, but the better team won. I’m not a defensive expert and I don’t know how to improve it (aside from better recruiting), but if that ever gets figured out….LOOK OUT!

Bad breaks haunt GT in loss to Georgia: http://rivals.yahoo.com/ncaa/football/news?slug=ycn-10532163

Larry W

November 30th, 2011
8:02 am

Defense will not improve until we recruit better linemen. You can’t run a 3/4 without them. We should not have made the transition until we had the personel run it.

calvin

November 30th, 2011
9:07 am

Schultz, it would be nice if you could write without your
snide little jabs at Tech that are aside from the game, but
since your team won, I guess you’re entitled.

jimbo

November 30th, 2011
12:40 pm

dear Groh, please retire or get fired, enough already

old dog

November 30th, 2011
2:13 pm

Calvin,
Lighten up; 9 out of 10 means there IS no rivalry, so Schultz is good! Ya’ll ain’t (as has been said before) gonna get a great QB ‘coz he wants to be WALKING when he is 45! The offense calls for an athlete, not a QB. Gimmick’s up……ya’ll will win more than you lose, but you’re in the ACC for goodness sake! Great roundball conference!

old jacket

November 30th, 2011
5:10 pm

Enter your comments here

GT 1975

November 30th, 2011
5:16 pm

old dog,
I disagree. There are plenty of great HS athletes who’d more than love to bang around in a TO as QB, especially considering that there aren’t many D1 schools for the athlete that fits that mold to go to. And we ought to be able to entice a ton of great RBs. Our problem is that Mr. Charisma can’t seem to get the recruiting thing going like your pretty boy can.

Sourgrapes

December 2nd, 2011
9:06 pm

Old Dog – if 9 out of 10 means there IS no rivalry, why waste your time posting here?

where is a passing Qb when you need one?

December 3rd, 2011
1:09 pm

Tech problems (even the poor D) would diminish quickly if the QB could pass (and not try to run all the time instead of pitching/handoff to the backs!).

VLee…next year should be your time…if you are still in Atlanta.