Georgia Tech's defense remains a question

FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- When Iowa offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe studied film of Georgia Tech’s defense, he saw a collage of different schemes.

Against Miami, Georgia Tech played nickel almost the whole time -- probably to match speed, O’Keefe said. Other times, the Jackets lined up in a base 4-3. Against Clemson, it lined up in a 3-4. While much attention has been paid to Georgia Tech’s offense, O’Keefe is in wait-and-see mode to figure out what look the Jackets will show on defense in Tuesday night’s FedEx Orange Bowl.

“I'm sure usually by the end of the first quarter, like most ballgames, everybody settles into what they're going to do and you begin to, you know, go to work from there,” O’Keefe said. “But there's going to be definitely a period where we've got to find out a little bit about them and what they're going to come at us with in that first quarter.”

Georgia Tech’s fans and coaches would probably like to know, too. The Yellow Jackets have been inconsistent on defense all season.

Has Georgia Tech’s pass defense improved?

“It got better the last two games because the other teams didn't have to throw,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said with a smile, knowing Clemson and Georgia combined for 662 rushing yards.

Georgia Tech’s goal Tuesday night is to take away Iowa’s running game and force quarterback Ricky Stanzi to win with his arm. That could be easier said than done, if Georgia Tech plays the way it has in the past two games. The Jackets allowed Clemson 323 total rushing yards and 9.5 yards per carry in the ACC championship game, and Georgia rushed for 339 yards and 7.7 yards per carry in the regular-season finale. If the Jackets load the box, that will force Georgia Tech’s secondary into man coverage. The Jackets are No. 85 in the country in pass efficiency defense.

“Whatever we have in the game plan, we have to come up as cornerbacks and meet the challenge,” said Mario Butler. “If you’re going to be on an island by yourself, you’re going to be on an island by yourself. That comes with the territory, too. As a cornerback, a lot of the times you are going to be by yourself. You have to focus in on your fundamentals and technique. I think that the extra 15 practices that we have had have helped us focus on fundamentals. During the season, you can get out of whack a little bit and your fundamentals can go away. These practices have focused so much on technique and fundamentals that, by the time you get to game day, it’s just a part of the process.”

Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said injuries played a part in the struggles, but also hinted there are some things about this year’s defense that just can’t be fixed.

“You hate to sit up here as a defensive coordinator and you don't want to make excuses, but we started in an eight-man front with our defense,” Wommack said. “And we lost two safeties and a defensive end versus Miami. We switched to a 4-3.

“We've got some kids that have worked hard. But we're deficient in some areas. There is no question about that. The kids play hard, and they work hard, but there are have been some deficiencies with our defense this year.”