Oct. 22, 2012
By Jon Cooper
For all the complexities drawn into football’s X’s and O’s, sometimes the game can be as simple as seeing the ball-carrier and bringing him down.
On Saturday afternoon against Boston College, the first game since elevating Secondary Coach Charles Kelly to defensive coordinator replacing Al Groh, the Yellow Jackets went back to basics and reached the conclusion that sometimes simpler is better.
In grounding Boston College, 37-17, Georgia Tech achieved the kind of results they hadn’t all season and could go a long way in making a statement the rest of the way.
“We played some more basic coverages,” said Head Coach Paul Johnson, who avoided the first four-game losing streak in his tenure. “Defensively, I thought everyone was more on the same page.”
Gone was the frequent over-thinking by defenders, which, in turn, led to missed assignments, missed tackles and unprecedented points and yards allowed.
The same players that had allowed 138 points and 1,739 yards, 646 on the ground, during the Yellow Jackets’ three-game losing streak looked like a different unit Saturday, limiting BC to a field goal over the game’s first 42 minutes. They made plays, forcing Boston College into punts on five of its first eight possessions, recovering a fumble to end another drive and holding BC to a missed field goal on another — Eagles kicker Nate Freese’s first missed field goal attempt of the season.
Opponents had punted a total of six times in Tech’s previous three games.
The running defense, which allowed opponents an average of 215.3 yards per game and 5.3 yards per attempt stymied Boston College, holding them to 32 yards for the game and 2.0 yards per carry. Some of that was due to the Eagles having to abandon the run due to their trailing 14-0 by the 3:00 mark of the second quarter and 28-3 at the half.
But what should not be lost is that BC was held to minus-one yard on the ground over the first 15 minutes as Tech built its lead.
The stout effort wasn’t lost on Tech’s defenders, who found using their physical gifts to blow up opposing plays preferable to thinking about covering all their bases then reacting.
“We were able to play faster,” said linebacker Brandon Watts, who had a game-high 2 1/2 tackles for loss, good for minus-11 yards, one of Tech’s two sacks and was one of five Yellow Jackets to record four tackles. “We lined up and had a couple of keys to read, do our assignments and run around. It was a whole lot simpler.”
“[We were] just being able to not think about a lot of things. Just go out there and play. We didn’t have too many calls out there today,” agreed LB Quayshawn Nealy, who also made four tackles. “It was pretty basic and came down to the players. I felt like we played pretty good.”
While the Eagles are hardly an offensive juggernaut, coming into the game ranked ninth in the 12-team ACC in scoring (24.7 ppg) and 11th in rushing (103.3 ppg), Tech made sure they wouldn’t be going anywhere but down in both categories.
There would be no Boston College offensive player becoming a household name on Sunday, a-la MTSU’s Benny Cunningham, who had 217 rushing yards against Tech and has amassed a total of 383 in MTSU’s five other games combined.
The passing defense also clamped down.
BC got a first down on its first offensive play, a 16-yard completion from Chase Rettig to Johnathan Coleman, but wouldn’t get another first down in the first quarter, managing 11 yards the rest of the quarter. Tech would force four punts in the first half, three of them three-and-outs and a four-play drive on the Eagles’ first series.
In the second half, the Jackets forced two more punts and a pair of turnovers — Jemea Thomas’ fifth career interception and second of the season, and a Louis Young fumble recovery.
While BC scored touchdowns on back-to-back drives late in the third quarter and early in the fourth, the scores came with the Jackets safely ahead, 31-3.
As the game wound down, there was a sense of relief in Bobby Dodd Stadium as it became evident that there would be no fourth-quarter meltdown on this day.
Instead, the defense played relaxed and with confidence.
The unit will take that mindset into preparation for the final five games of the season, beginning with next week’s home game against BYU.
“These past two weeks have been much easier. There haven’t been a lot of checks. It hasn’t been as complicated as Al Groh’s defense,” said safety Isaiah Johnson, whose strip of running back Andre Williams on the first play of the second half, which was recovered by Young, led to a field goal extending the lead to 31-3, keeping momentum in Tech’s favor. “This defense allows us to really play. To line up, have fun, ball out and it’s on you.
“This defense this week has built up our confidence,” he added. “That’s how you play fast. When you’re comfortable you play with confidence and if you mess up, it’s just on you.”
While Paul Johnson said there are still things to work on, specifically pressuring the quarterback, a light definitely came on for the defense on Saturday.