I’d keep Al Groh. Georgia Tech’s defense hasn’t gotten great with him in charge, but it has shown incremental improvement. It’s 46th nationally in total defense, which beats the 64th of last season, when Groh had just arrived, and the 54th of 2009, when Dave Wommack was on his way out.
With seven starters scheduled to return, next season could be even better. But that’s not a given, and there’s a basic reason why: Tech’s incumbent defenders aren’t all that great. Julian Burnett is a good player. Jeremiah Attaochu is a good player. Rod Sweeting is a good player. That’s about it.
Tech’s defensive failings aren’t akin to Georgia’s under Willie Martinez. Back then, Georgia had conspicuously gifted players but yielded increasingly lousy results. I’m not sure any coordinator — John Chavis, Bud Foster, Todd Grantham, Nick Saban/Kirby Smart — could turn these Jackets into a top 10 defense. And here’s where we look harder at the stats.
Tech is 30th in pass defense but is tied for 70th against the run. The first, I submit, is more a reflection of scheme; the second is a function of getting shoved backward. Two of Tech’s four losses — against Virginia and Virginia Tech — were a product of being overwhelmed at the line of scrimmage. The loss to Miami had less to do with defensive lapses than special-teams howlers, and the loss to Georgia wasn’t a total wipeout. A good Bulldogs team managed 380 yards in 2011; in 2010, a mediocre one got 425.
The trouble with Tech isn’t that its players are out of position but that in-position players don’t do what’s required. The Jackets are 92nd in third-down defense, 79th in sacks, 99th in tackles for losses. Some of that can be traced to the coordinator, but only some. At every level of football, players have to make plays. Tech doesn’t have many playmakers.
It was different under Wommack. The Jackets had Derrick Morgan and Morgan Burnett, NFL-caliber talents, and still couldn’t stop anybody. In 2009, six opponents scored 30 or more points against a Tech team that won the ACC championship. This season only four opponents broke 30 on the Jackets, and two of those — Virginia Tech and Georgia — had a pronounced manpower advantage.
To suggest that Groh has rendered himself a Tech fixture would be overstating. He hasn’t, and that’s the reason we’re having this discussion. He signed on for two seasons, and Year 2 will end in the Sun Bowl on New Year’s Eve. The belief around Tech is that Groh will be asked to stay, and that would be the better course.
To change schemes yet again would force Tech’s defenders to embark on yet another shakedown cruise. They’re just getting used to Groh’s 3-4 after Wommack’s 4-3, and they’re better off than they were two years ago. There’s no guarantee they’ll ever be as good as they need to be, but to shuffle coordinators would all but guarantee they won’t maximize potential in 2012.
Oh, and I say again: Better recruiting would help. Two years later, there’s not another Derrick Morgan in sight.
By Mark Bradley