#TGW: An And-Long Day’s Journey

Sept. 13, 2015

By Jon Cooper | The Good Word

Georgia Tech’s defense heard all last week about how Tulane struggles on third down. They also were reminded of how they, themselves, struggled last year when playing basically the same Tulane team.

On Saturday afternoon at Bobby Dodd Stadium, the unit made sure that the former stayed the same by making sure that they altered the other. The result was a resounding 65-10 win by the No. 15 Jackets (2-0) over Tulane (0-2).

“We weren’t really worried too much about Tulane. We were just kind of worried about doing our part, not turning the ball over, getting off the field on third down,” said strong safety Jamal Golden. “We felt like we had to start fast against them because we started kind of slow against them last year. We felt like we came out and did a pretty good job.”

The Yellow Jackets did a real good job on third down, limiting the Green Wave to 6-for-15 overall, but only 2-for-8 in the first half, while the game was relatively close.

But the Jackets weren’t content with just making third down difficult. They made first and second down just as uncomfortable by taking it to Tulane early and often and keeping Tulane in long-yardage situations.

“It’s kind of our M.O. We need to bring pressure,” said Head Coach Paul Johnson, who has Tech at 2-0 for the third straight season, the first time that’s happened since 2007-09 under Chan Gailey and Johnson, and the first time one coach has done it since the legendary Bobby Dodd did it during the 1962-64 seasons (Johnson could become the first Georgia Tech coach to go 3-0 in three straight seasons since William Alexander did it from 1920-22 with a win next week at No. 9 Notre Dame.).

On Saturday everything began with pressure up front and started right away. Johnson was determined to bring people, be it linebackers like P.J. Davis, who recorded a team-high-tying six tackles — a team-high five of them solo — or defensive backs, like Lawrence Austin, whose pressure on a first-quarter drive led to an Adam Gotsis tackle for loss (Gotsis also had six stops and a team-high 2.0 of those for minus-three yards).

“We’re not very good at getting it with four people so we have to bring pressure,” Johnson said. “To this point, we haven’t been a very good coverage team. We need to kind of sic ‘em and go get ‘em.”

Gotsis got the Jackets off to a fast start, registering a sack on the game’s first play and Tech never slowed down.

“We knew that if we could make big plays on first down, that second down it wouldn’t be as bad,” said defensive end KeShun Freeman, who had one of three Jackets’ sacks and one of their six tackles for loss. We just worked so hard in practice on those early downs, create damage so we won’t be in those third-and-shorts.”

That pressure helped Tech avoid those for the most part as only five of 11 third-down plays were short-range — Tulane converted four of them. On the Green Waves’ seven first-half drives they ran 10 second-down plays. Seven of those were at least second-and-10, another was second-and-nine, another second-and-seven, with the shortest one being second-and-six. Five of those drives ended in punts, one of which was blocked by Chris Milton, another came at the end of the half, while Tulane cashed in but one.

The result of the long second-down plays was that they again struggled on third down, not running a play closer than third-and seven. It was little wonder the Green Wave was 2-for-8 in the first half. For the game, Tulane’s average third down play required 7.9 yards, At one point in the third quarter, it was 9.0 yards.

“Really we try to make it about us as a defense, not really about who we’re playing,” said Milton, whose second-quarter punt was his sixth blocked kick — half of the Yellow Jackets’ total since the start of 2013 (he has four of GT’s five punt blocks in that span). “So we just try and go out and execute the best that we can. The guys upfront played well and the linebackers as well. We just try to go out there and execute.”

Freeman pointed to his work with defensive tackle Adam Gotsis as a key.

“It’s very important,” he said. “Adam and I, since we’re on the same side, we work off each other a lot. It’s very important we continue to work off each other because he sometimes does some things that I can make a play, I set up some things that he can make a play and it goes across the whole defensive front.”

That front, which pressured from all sides, was difficult for Tulane to handle.

“They did a great job mixing it up. They blitzed a lot on first down, and they brought some different pressures on third down. They kept us off balance,” said quarterback Tanner Lee, who had a forgettable day, going 14-for-30 for 165 with a TD and a pick while getting sacked three times and getting pressured much more often. “They’re a year older and they have the ranking, and they’re just rolling. That’s dangerous when they’re all feeling good.”

Golden wasn’t surprised by the big effort by the front seven, and especially the front four.

“You can hear them before we go out on the field, every drive, ‘Get to the quarterback! High motor! High motor!’” he said. “It’s just a mentality. ‘You’re not going to stay blocked and you’re going to get to the quarterback and make a sack’. On the back end when the ball’s in the air it’s ours. That’s our mentality.”

“I’ve been saying all along those guys have made a marked improvement from last year and for us, we don’t have to cover as long with them getting into the backfield the way they did today,” said cornerback D.J. White, who made three tackles (all solo) and added an interception. “Hats off to them. They did a great job.”

The Jackets will need another great job from the D-line and, really the entire defense, next Saturday, when they hit the road for the first time, traveling to South Bend for a matchup with No. 9 Notre Dame.

“It’s not just one thing. The D-Line is getting after the quarterback and that can come from us in the secondary having great coverage or vice-versa. It’s not one particular group,” said Golden. “It’s the whole defense. All 11 guys, we’re just focused on getting off the field on third down. I feel like so far we’ve done a pretty good job. We just have to carry it over into next week.”

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