When Georgia Tech and Virginia meet in Atlanta on Saturday, one team will have a distinct advantage -- at least according to Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Al Groh.
“Clearly, the advantage is on the Virginia side,” said Groh, Virginia’s former coach for nine seasons. “I say that because one, I taught our defense that we are doing here to the head coach and to the secondary coach. They have all my play books and all my cut-ups. Those two coaches and the linebackers coach have sat through endless hours with me discussing defense, making game plans, and analyzing our performance. There is no dilemma or no secret analyzing how Al Groh thinks.”
There has, however, been a dilemma in executing his philosophy at Georgia Tech. Groh’s 3-4 defense hasn’t exactly been a road block to opponents. The scoring defense ranks No. 73 in the country, allowing 25.4 points per game. Part of that can be attributed to a learning curve of the new scheme, and also the fact that Groh hasn’t had time to recruit the personnel best suited for it. It’s too early to judge whether or not it will be a success for the Yellow Jackets, but the history on defense between Groh and first-year Virginia coach Mike London will make for an interesting subplot when Groh faces his former team and alma mater on Saturday.
Groh, a 1967 Virginia graduate, served as a Cavalier assistant coach from 1970-72. London spent six seasons coaching under Groh at Virginia as the defensive line coach, recruiting coordinator and eventually the defensive coordinator.
“It's not personally awkward,” London said. “I've been coaching college ball for a long time now. And I know that he knows this is the reality of the profession of the business. It's the storyline -- If you say the fact that we were both here at the same time, but to me, I've told the players -- this is a game where the University of Virginia is playing Georgia Tech, and it's our second conference game. And that's the way that we're going to approach it, and that's the way we look at it.”
It won’t be the first time this season that Virginia will face a 3-4 defense. VMI used it a little bit, and London had the defense running it during the bye week to help the offense prepare for it.
“But nothing is like playing a 3-4 team from a guy that knows the 3-4 defense,” London said. “That will be a challenge for sure, but it won't be the first time that we've seen the 3-4.”
As an assistant coach at Virginia, London was immersed in the 3-4 scheme when he coached the defensive linemen. He did the same with the Houston Texans under Dom Capers. One of the first changes London made at Virginia, though, was switching back to a 4-3. It has shown signs of promise, allowing just 17.75 points per game, but missed tackles were a problem against Florida State.
“I think running the 3-4, if you have the personnel to play it, it can be pretty good for you,” London said. “And having traveled around a little bit in recruiting and when I got to Richmond, and we looked at the personnel that we had already there, and they were already suited to the 4-3. A lot of times your young defensive linemen that are out there like to play on an edge. To get some good defensive linemen, they like to be the three technique or nine technique -- just guys that are playing on the edge.”
Groh said his knowledge of Virginia’s personnel will help his preparation, but it will do little for his players.
“Well, it helps me, but I don’t think Jason Peters or Brad Jefferson or Mario Butler or those guys, have an intimate grasp of the skills of those players. What’s more important is if our players had personnel recollection or history with their players.”
Instead, the history on Saturday is between Groh and London.