Is im­proved de­fense more than a phase?

Mi­ami will test whether pos­i­tive signs from past three games are for real.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - SPORTS - By Tyler Duke

Is this the year the Ge­or­gia Tech de­fense turns a short stretch of en­cour­ag­ing play into a sea­son-long oc­cur­rence?

That’s been a topic of dis­cus­sion nu­mer­ous times dur­ing coach Paul John­son’s ten­ure. The an­swer should come Satur­day against Mi­ami.

Since a strong show­ing from the Yel­low Jack­ets’ de­fense in John­son’s first sea­son, 2008, the de­fense mainly has been a neg­a­tive out­side of blips — most no­tably 2013, 2014 and 2016.

Com­ing in with one of the more ex­pe­ri­enced groups in the na­tion, the Tech de­fense didn’t start well when it al­lowed 42 points on La­bor Day against a Ten­nessee team that has im­ploded since. But in the past three games against Jack­sonville State, Pitts­burgh and North Carolina, its per­for­mance has ri­valed the best stretch of play from the de­fense in the last decade.

Tak­ing only scor­ing out­comes

into ac­count, Tech’s 34 points al­lowed in that stretch has been out­done just twice dur­ing John­son’s ten­ure. In 2008, it held Mis­sis­sippi State, Duke and Gard­ner-Webb to a com­bined 14 points. Last sea­son, the Jack­ets started by al­low­ing 31 com­bined to Bos­ton Col­lege, Mercer and Van­der­bilt. The 2013 de­fense matched this sea­son’s in the open­ing three games, against Elon, Duke and North Carolina.

Per­haps the most im­pres­sive streak came in 2014, when the de­fense al­lowed 39 points to Vir­ginia, North Carolina State and Clem­son, a three-game stretch that didn’t in­clude an FCS op­po­nent, as the oth­ers did.

The is­sue has been the re­sults at other times dur­ing those sea­sons. Last sea­son fol­low­ing the strong de­fen­sive start, Tech al­lowed 34.2 points per game over the next six games, go­ing 2-4. In 2014, in the Jack­ets’ fi­nal three games af­ter the three­game run, the de­fense al­low an av­er­age of 31.7 points, but the of­fense picked up the slack dur­ing vic­to­ries against Ge­or­gia and Mis­sis­sippi State.

Much like the sea­son af­ter, 2013’s de­fense quickly fell off a promis­ing start with three con­sec­u­tive losses in which it al­lowed 33.3 points per game.

The only sea­son in which it mostly held up to be a con­sis­tent unit was 2008 — a team that fea­tured fu­ture NFL starters in Mor­gan Bur­nett, Der­rick Mor­gan, Michael John­son and Vance Walker. Tech went on to fin­ish 28th in the coun­try in points al­lowed — the best fin­ish un­der John­son.

The Yel­low Jack­ets cur­rently are 27th.

Still, John­son and the de­fense know the big­gest tests lie ahead. With UNC and Pitt ap­pear­ing to be suf­fer­ing through ma­jor down years, the strength of op­po­nents hasn’t been over­whelm­ing. That’s about to change. ESPN ranks the rest of Tech’s sched­ule as the tough­est in the coun­try. It all starts with Mi­ami.

“I think we are play­ing bet­ter — we’re tack­ling bet­ter,” John­son said. “We’re be­ing able to stop the run with some blitzes and stunts and some of that. The com­pe­ti­tion level is go­ing to move way up next game.”

Mi­ami ranks 13th in ESPN’s Foot­ball Power In­dex rank­ings. The next high­est team the Jack­ets have faced is Ten­nessee at 51st. Tech is ranked 27th.

With the Hur­ri­canes’ star run­ning back, Mark Wal­ton, now out for the sea­son, the Jack­ets will catch a break in try­ing to con­tain a group ranked sixth in the coun­try in of­fen­sive ef­fi­ciency.

Quar­ter­back Ma­lik Rosier has stepped in seam­lessly for Brad Kaaya and presents the dual-threat skill set for­mer ACC quar­ter­backs such as Mitch Tru­bisky, De­shaun Wat­son and Mar­quise Wil­liams have suc­ceeded with against the Jack­ets.

Out­side of the ob­vi­ous im­prove­ment in pass rush thus far, the ma­jor key has been the sure tack­ling of lineback­ers and de­fen­sive backs.

Brant Mitchell has set­tled in as the leader in the mid­dle of the field. A.J. Gray had a stand­out per­for­mance against UNC at safety, and de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Ted Roof has seemed to fig­ure out a fit­ting role for the ver­sa­tile ju­nior.

With a com­bi­na­tion of ex­pe­ri­ence and young, ma­tur­ing tal­ent, the Tech de­fense has its first chance to so­lid­ify it­self as an emerg­ing unit against a team — an­da­coach—thathashad its num­ber for years.

Mark Richt is 7-2 against John­son, most of that at Ge­or­gia, and Mi­ami is 7-2 against him. The Hur­ri­canes have scored 35 or more points against Tech in four of the past five meet­ings.

Adding to the im­por­tance, Mi­ami will come in with the most hype around its pro­gram in a while, as it ended a los­ing streak in its ri­valry with Florida State last week and climbed to 11th in the Associated Press poll.

All things con­sid­ered, Satur­day will show whether the Tech de­fense is ready to take the next step — or if the re­cent suc­cess proved to be a re­sult of in­fe­rior op­po­nents and streaky play that has plagued it for years.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.