Heading into this season, Georgia Tech’s defense was expected to show some significant improvement, considering the Yellow Jackets were entering their third year of the 3-4 system under coordinator Al Groh.
Any progress the group may have made seemed to run away with Miami running back Mike James in the Jackets’ 42-36 overtime loss to the Canes on Saturday. After too many missed tackles and a defensive collapse that allowed Miami to score the final 23 points, Groh’s group is once again under the microscope.
Groh said he would prefer to wait until the season is over before determining how much better his 2012 defense is.
“Those answers only come through a review of the full body of work,” Groh said. “A full body of work is a full 12-game season, so that answer is yet to come.”
Coach Paul Johnson was slightly less hesitant.
“We played our worst game of the year,” he told reporters after Monday’s practice, referring to the entire team.
Georgia Tech allowed Miami 609 total yards, and Stephen Morris accounted for 436 of them in the passing game. James scored the game-winner on a 25-yard run in which he went untouched.
“When you’re not getting pressure, and you’re not doing a very good job of covering, and we gave up too many third-down plays,” Johnson said. “Third-and-8, third-and-9, third-and-10s, you’ve gotta get off the field.”
Miami converted 11 of 16 third downs. Groh said there were a few mental errors in the execution of the dime package, and two missed tackles in particular that allowed Miami to get into scoring position.
“One would have been a negative play, and one would have been a minimal-gain play,” Groh said. “All of these plays, no matter what your scheme is, obviously the play never ends until the player is tackled. That’s a significant part of the result.”
Georgia Tech’s defense has been tough to measure after four games. The Jackets looked good in their season opener against Virginia Tech, despite the 20-17 overtime loss. In retrospect, though, the Hokies’ offense has had its share of problems, too. The Jackets held overmatched Presbyterian to three points and Virginia to 20. Georgia Tech enters Saturday’s game against Middle Tennessee ranked No. 41 in the country in scoring defense (21.25) and No. 61 in total defense (368.75). Getting pressure on Morris was a problem, and the Jackets are only averaging 1.5 sacks per game.
Injuries and suspensions haven’t helped, as Georgia Tech has had to play all but eight plays without projected starting linebacker Daniel Drummond, has been without starting safety Fred Holton and without one of the most versatile players in cornerback Louis Young.
Drummond was suspended for the first game and a half, but since his return he has been plagued with an undisclosed injury. He is expected to play Saturday. Young was also suspended for the first game, but has played since with a soft cast. Holton has a bruised foot that has kept him out all season. His return for Saturday is questionable.
Groh isn’t looking for excuses, though. He said the theme this week will be consistency.
“Throughout the first three games our batting average on an 11-man lineup about ‘do your job’ was pretty good,” he said. “Through three quarters of the game the other day, the batting average on ‘do your job’ was fairly decent. We just need a more consistent performance of everybody doing their job on every play.”
If they can do that for the next nine weeks, Groh might have an upgrade on the “full body of work.”