Tech’s D still isn’t great, but dumping Al Groh isn’t the answer

To date, Al Groh is 0-for-2 in the stated objective. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

To date, Al Groh is 0-for-2 regarding the stenciled objective. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

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

300 comments Add your comment

Benjamin

December 20th, 2011
8:47 am

First. And Tech will rebound next year.

Not Disappointed

December 20th, 2011
8:51 am

They should be much better next year!

Let’s go Jackets!

Mark Bradley

December 20th, 2011
8:51 am

Kudos, Benjamin. But Tech kind of rebounded this year, did it not?

Ken

December 20th, 2011
9:01 am

then dump Al Groh, do the opposite of what Mark Bradley says and you are better off for that reason alone

Benjamin

December 20th, 2011
9:02 am

On some levels, I suppose. Their losses to teams that shouldn’t beat them – Virginia and Miami this time around – continue to haunt them. To me, their biggest problem isn’t necessarily found in the defense, but rather the consistency issues they have on the other side of the ball.

Paul Johnson’s offense is unique and has done some things in helping reshape the program, but when teams figure it out, they’re defenseless. They didn’t have a quarterback or offensive gameplan that could bring them back if they stumbled out of the gate. I like Paul and think he’s done a good job with the program overall, but I think he needs to have a guy that can throw when the chips are down. Just my two pennies…

Burdell

December 20th, 2011
9:03 am

Overall the defense showed flashes of brilliance followed by complete lapses in judgment and apparent effort. The secondary was pretty stout all season with the exception of the Virginia Tech game where they just could not make a play on the ball. We need defensive lineman that can impact the game. We haven’t had that since ‘08 with D. Richard, V. Walker, D. Morgan and M. Johnson.

I hold out hope though. There were some kids redshirted this season that might be just what we need. I would love to see a dominant defensive performance in the bowl game. Only time will tell.

Happy Holidays everyone. GO JACKETS!!! Beat the Utes!

Trevinb

December 20th, 2011
9:06 am

How much does Tech’s offense factor into their defense? Tech’s 1st team D, I assume, only practices against the scout team each week. They can’t possibly practice against the triple option since no one else runs it.

Loyal Fan

December 20th, 2011
9:07 am

The funny thing is that ACC football is like watching minor league play and they still can’t compete. Stick to basketball, oh wait, nevermind. Maybe Racquetball . . .?

Cecil34

December 20th, 2011
9:08 am

Johnson’s emphasis is always going to be on the offensive side of the ball so I suspect recruiting defensive players is going to be more problematic for Tech.

CPJ’s offensive philosophy is based on high scoring ballgames, therefore I think that he does not place as much value on a shut-down defense.

Of course, after 4 years, we have seen over and over again the fallacy of that thought process.

Until Tech makes a concerted effort to recruit playmakers on defense, the results will be much the same, no matter the coordinator.

Always a Jacket

December 20th, 2011
9:09 am

Fair assessment. The secondary is probably better than average, but, until Johnson gets some mass on the D-Line, the defense is going to be run over no matter the coach. The Linebackers are not great, but good enough to get the job done if the D-Line could plug just a few holes. Logan Walls pays as hard as anyone, but he was overmatched against most of the better teams and like you say, no Derrick Morgan to be seen. Very poor recruiting by Johnson and will eventually be his downfall.

Jacket1985

December 20th, 2011
9:12 am

Tech’s biggest problem on both sides of the ball is size. Of the starting linemen on both sides of the ball we have only two guys that hit 300 lbs. You can’t play the 3-4 without really big tackles and a huge noseguard. You can say what you want about Gailey but he recruited some great players.

thwg

December 20th, 2011
9:13 am

Tech doesnt have the right guys right now to run Groh’s 3-4. The d-line is too small, they get no push on the line of scrimmage, and in turn, no pressure on the qb and they get dominated at the point of attack. The key to a 3-4 is to have a nose tackle in the middle who takes up space and lets the lb’s run free. They just need to recruit better on the defensive side. Coach Johnson is so concerned about finding the right guys for his offense.

Burdell 90

December 20th, 2011
9:15 am

Of course you dont want him to go, you like the fact that the THUGS have an advantage b/c you are a huge fan of the THUGS!! Why don’t we have the AJC do us a favor and DUMP YOU!!

PMC

December 20th, 2011
9:16 am

Why would they dump Al Groh? He’s been really good at remaking the defense with limited talent. What they need to do is go recruit thier behinds off on defense. Talent is the issue, not coaching.

Benjamin

December 20th, 2011
9:17 am

Burdell needs a hug.

Ben

December 20th, 2011
9:18 am

I never got why they hired Groh in the first place. He has this gigantic reputation as a defensive mastermind, but if you look at the results of the teams he’s coached, not a single one has an exceptional defense. He’s the most overrated defensive mastermind I’ve ever heard of. Not a single real defensive success to back it up, so why did Tech hire him in the first place?

Benjamin

December 20th, 2011
9:18 am

Mission unaccomplished. | Get The Picture

December 20th, 2011
9:25 am

[...] (Bonus) Shorter Mark Bradley:  Even Todd Grantham couldn’t fix what’s wrong with Tech’s defense. GA_googleFillSlot("wpcom_sharethrough_viplite"); Share this:TwitterEmailStumbleUponRedditFacebookPrintDiggLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. [...]

JB

December 20th, 2011
9:26 am

Not only do you need good starters, you need depth. Check the Georgia game against LSU, who for a half, looked like the best defense in the country. You need quality subs. Tech will continue to beat up on lite fare in the ACC, but come time to play an athletic, deep,fast team…..will come up short most of the time.

gt4ever

December 20th, 2011
9:29 am

Dump him… He is the best coach we have on this staff…. IMHO, that includes the head coach… He just doesn’t have the horses….

JACKETfan12

December 20th, 2011
9:29 am

Benjamin,
If you were a real Tech fan, you would understand that Tech’s offensive problems have not been “other teams figuring it out.” Either you are a troll or someone who just came aboard the Tech fan base. There is no “secret potion” to figuring Johnson’s offense out. Tech’s offensive problems this year have been:

1. Tevin Washington is a back-up D1A QB at best. Should be D1AA like Shaw (although I admit that Washington is better than Shaw was). Washington is inconsistent in the passing game and cannot run even close to like what Nesbitt could.
2. Pass coverage has been inconsistent/non-existent at times. I will admit that PJ needs to address the pass coverage issues. Its a combination of run-blocking linemen that cannot contain 300 pound DLinemen and also Johnson’s scheme not addressing pass coverage adequately. Everytime a Tech QB has dropped back to pass in Johnson’s offense he has to run for his life. Maybe adding a shotgun formation would help.
3. Receivers and backs are inconsistent in catching passes that are actually thrown well. Every team is going to have several 3rd and long situations each game. I have seen our receivers drop too many passes through the years that have resulted in a change of possession (punt).
4. WE HAVE A BELOW AVERAGE QB. I cannot emphasize this enough. Washington is a good back-up. He has no business being a starting QB for a BCS team that wants to contend for championships. I really hope that Vad steps up and makes it impossible for Johnson to keep him off the field. Otherwise we will be an 8 win team again next year in the same spot we are right now.

dawgfan

December 20th, 2011
9:35 am

Same ole song and dance, just a different side of the ball. Its not the coach’s fault. Its all on the lousy players. All I know is that I have never seen a secondary more utterly clueless than Georgia Tech’s was against Georgia. They were out of position for the entire game and UGA recievers went wide open and untouched. I fail to see how that is a result of a lack of talent. Vandy doesn’t have a lot of talent either but they were able to get in position and prevent Aaron Murry from putting on a virtual passing clinic. I believe that Tech players stated after the game that they thought Crowell would play and they were prepared for rushing onslaught. They faced a pass happy offense instead and could not adjust. What does talent have to do with that? Sounds like a coaching problem to me.

Just more excuses out of Mark Bradley for the Georgia Tech coaches. He must be golfing buddies with them or something.

JACKETfan12

December 20th, 2011
9:35 am

As for the defense, Groh will never flourish at Tech so long as we have Logan Walls type noseguards. Nothing against Logan- he is a solid 4-3 lineman. But not a block-sucking noseguard that a 3-4 defense needs. TJ Barnes is too inconsistent with his pad level and intensity to be what we are looking for. And unfortunately, back-up Sean Green is just not big enough either, in my opinion. I understand its not all about size, as seen with barnes, but Walls just does not have the leverage or strength. A good noseguard will help both the rushing defense AND the passing defense by freeing more lanes for the linebackers to make plays.

Cecil34

December 20th, 2011
9:38 am

It could be said that Radakovich has painted Tech into a corner as far as this program is concerned – especially recruiting.

By employing Johnson and his triple option, Tech has narrowed the recruiting field due to many prospects not wanting to have anything to do with Tech because of this offense.

I think someone with an explosive offensive mentality such as a Mike Leach type would be better suited for Tech. It would definitely help with recruiting as prospective players would see advantages of coming to Tech for the exposure and the possibilities at the next level.

I think so much negative publicity about the triple option as well as it’s failure to perform on a national stage (Orange Bowl) has jaded recruits from considering Tech as anything but a last option.

Make no mistake, the media portrays this offense as archaic and outdated and the lack of any bona-fide passing attack doesn’t help the cause.

I would go so far to suggest that there is little hope that the Johnson years will end on a high note.

Coach Paul Johnson

December 20th, 2011
9:39 am

Mark, I oughta punch you in the face!

No D

December 20th, 2011
9:40 am

30th against the pass and 70th against the run? It’s time for Al to hit the road.

Demosthenes

December 20th, 2011
9:40 am

To quote Charlie Weiss, Tech has a “decided schematic advantage” on the offensive side of the ball. We UGA fans may laugh it off as a “high school offense,” but it works, and produces on the field. If Tech ever sorts out its defensive woes, it will be a legitimate national title contender. The problem, as I see it, is that for as good of a head coach as he is, CPJ is a lousy recruiter. For some reason, he seems to hold the whole process in disdain. If he could land some big names for his defense, Tech could be a monster. Al Groh isn’t going to get it done from a recruiting standpoint, but his scheme works. What Tech needs is a big time recruiter to come in. If they can get a Rodney Garner (no great coach, but untouchable as a recruiter), they’ll narrow the gap in a hurry. Sometimes it is the Jimmy’s and Joes, and for Tech, that’s all it’d take.

slydog

December 20th, 2011
9:41 am

Sorry Mark, but dumping Al Groh is one of several answers. It isn’t necessarily his coaching as opposed to his system. GT can’t recruit to it well enough in order for it to be fully realized. So what is the back up plan? None, because apparently Al Groh cannot adjust and coach around it. Bring in a younger, 4-3/3-4 hybrid guy and things will turn around quicker. With the “academic issue” Tech fans claim is hindering them in recruiting top-shelf talent, a 70 year old coach is not going to be able to man his own system quick enough in order to prevent the same results from happening. Note to CPJ: You at least took at swing at hiring an older, wiser, more experienced hand, and it was a whiff!!! P.S. Romeo Crennel will be available in about 2 weeks. Move quickly.

robodawg

December 20th, 2011
9:41 am

Tech’s shutdown of Clemson’s offense was pretty impressive. Groh outschemed them. Better players would go a long ways for improving Groh’s results.

That said, I remember seeing a good bit of poor tackling this season as well, something that can be coached.

UGADawg83

December 20th, 2011
9:42 am

What I find ironic is that Tech hired Groh rather quickly and then the Techies laughed at UGA for how long it took to hire Grantham. I think we would all rather have Grantham’s results. Seems to me good coaches have to be courted and just don’t hop on the bandwagon right away.

GTJeff

December 20th, 2011
9:44 am

Look at the defensive recruits we have coming in idiots. Things will get better.

Whiskey Breath

December 20th, 2011
9:46 am

Tech is not going to do much better in recruiting. Time has proven they just don’t want to compete with
Ga. The question is “why”? Some of the best players in the nation come from the metro
Atlanta area. The administration is Tech’s biggest competition. Shame on you Tech administration, the students and fans deserve better. Paul Johnson can’t coach, but not with warm bodies.

gtfanfrom1951

December 20th, 2011
9:48 am

Give al two more years to improve the defense andd for Vad Lee to be QB now we need some running backs to play b-back to get back on track. We will get there and CPJ will take us.

slydog

December 20th, 2011
9:49 am

@JACKETfan12

December 20th, 2011
9:29 am

Benjamin,
If you were a real Tech fan, you would understand that Tech’s offensive problems have not been “other teams figuring it out.” Either you are a troll or someone who just came aboard the Tech fan base. There is no “secret potion” to figuring Johnson’s offense out. Tech’s offensive problems this year have been:

I will be your troll You are both right and wrong. Teams “did” figure it out. It’s called scouting. Your offense is executed by the personnel on the field, not the play card or the playbook. However, certain portions of the playbook fit individual players differently. Sure, Tevin Washington probably cannot perform at a high enough level in order to execute every play in the play book, however, he is the one on the field. So all teams have to do is “figure it out.” Also, I have never seen CPJ coach a better QB than Nesbitt, and his passing sucked too. I simply don’t think he focuses enough on it and it’s evident. From my observation, the QB’s and receivers do not have any rythmn or chemistry between them. It’s almost as if Tevin appears a little timid to throw and the receivers too timid to make big catches. All teams have to do is “figure it out.”

Beardo

December 20th, 2011
9:50 am

Good article Mark. Like a referee, if you can anger both teams equally, you’re doing it right! Tech guys say “You’re a UGA homer!” and Georgia guys say “Stop defending Tech”.

gtfanfrom1951

December 20th, 2011
9:51 am

Whiskey Breath stop with the Wild Turkey you killed enought brain cells.

Ramblin Man

December 20th, 2011
9:51 am

It’s a talent/coach issue. During the Clemson game Groh sent the corners on a mission and had them attack the receiver at the line and sent multiple blitz’s, which for the most part worked. In most of the other games we looked to play more of a zone with receivers given a lot of cushion, which may work if you get presure but the line seldom did that and QBs had all day and that will make any secondary look bad. I think next season GT will have good depth in the secondary and LB positions but the line will still be shaky. GT will never be a recruiting powerhouse and it will hurt us every year.

Big Albany Dawg

December 20th, 2011
9:51 am

KEEP AL GROH. You’ll need some continuty after Utah wins and PJ is fired.

slydog

December 20th, 2011
9:51 am

@Whiskey Breath

I will give you an answer: The State of Georgia does not want a smart, educated populace, hence why Tech finds it hard to recruit in this state. No need for details. Proof is in the pudding.

MattyB

December 20th, 2011
9:52 am

Keep Groh, the talent is on the way.

Ramblin Man

December 20th, 2011
9:52 am

Enter your comments here

Joe Roberts

December 20th, 2011
9:53 am

Mark,

I agree that GT should keep Groh. Two of the 2012 defensive recruits this year say that Groh being DC played a part in their decision to commit to GT.

http://rivals.yahoo.com/ncaaf/news?slug=ycn-10645569

Joe

gt4ever

December 20th, 2011
9:53 am

Jacketfan12,

If I’m not mistaken, Tevon was given a scholarship to play football at GT…. If your saying he is less than capable, the why would we give him a 100K dollar scholarship to play football…?

Ramblin Man

December 20th, 2011
9:57 am

Serious question Dawg fans do you think Grantham has really done a better job this year or did it have more to do with the schedule?

slydog

December 20th, 2011
10:05 am

Ramblin Man

December 20th, 2011
9:57 am

Serious question Dawg fans do you think Grantham has really done a better job this year or did it have more to do with the schedule?

Both. The defense was sucking no matter who they played. They at least performed to their talent level. I hope you’re not trying to compare schedules?…lol… Anyway, if you look at the losses UGA had this year, clearly it was the result of our offensive game planning. The defense stayed on the field too long having to make play, after play, after play. Was LSU weak when they didn’t have a first down for an entire half? But what did CMR and BooBoo do, run an 180 lbs RB up the middle twice on two consecutive possessions.

Bill

December 20th, 2011
10:06 am

I agree Mark..Groh can only do with what he has to do with..Go Jackets!!!!!!!!!!!!

Gorilla Biscuit

December 20th, 2011
10:07 am

His front 7 is really a front 3 1/2, and Georgia lit up his secondary. Give the man a lifetime contract.

Truthfully, he’s recruiting with one hand tied behind him, and anybody can beat up on a one-armed old man.

rip

December 20th, 2011
10:09 am

For those that always say “It does not have anything to do with players’ Look at prime example for 2011. Auburn. Coaches leaving to take other jobs now as they see the talent level not keeping up with 2010. Coaching helps but one has to have top notch players.

dawgfan

December 20th, 2011
10:10 am

Ramblin Man, Grantham’s D held the number 1 team in the land to 12 yards in a half and 237 yards for the entire game. And even that number is a little inflated if you ask me. Our defense had clearly given up by the 4th quarter (flat out embarassing) and was getting gashed with some garbage runs. That game got out of hand because of turnovers and special teams lapses. The defense did its job.

Thanks for asking.

john

December 20th, 2011
10:14 am

I really have to disagree with everyone that thinks a new QB will make us better. I really think all the QB has to do in our system is manage the game and not make mistakes. Tevin has made a few bad throws but I think it’s pretty short sighted to put all our problems on him. I think he can do a good enough job for us to be competitive/ pretty good.