Oct. 18, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
In speaking Tuesday with Wes Durham while taping a segment for RamblinWreck.com, Jason Peters turned out a few pearls of wisdom that shed light into a couple of dark places.
If Georgia Tech is to make something special out of a season that has just one un-erasable blemish in seven games, the Yellow Jackets will have to keep high beams focused on these (and other areas TBD).
The fifth-year defensive end said that it was “embarrassing” at times last Saturday as the Georgia Tech defense struggled to slow, “even basic running plays,” at Virginia, and that he felt that where the Yellow Jackets early in the season played with, a “chip on our shoulders,” they have not in recent weeks.
To summarize, we’re talking about run defense and passion.
Before moving directly into these sub-topics, some relevant pretext: the conversation about whether Tech has the personnel to fit defensive coordinator Al Groh’s 3-4 defense just will not die, but that’s not an explanation; it’s an excuse. Who really has perfect personnel for anything at any level?
“I think too much is made over this scheme vs. that scheme,” head coach Paul Johnson said Tuesday. “The bottom line is that you have to beat blocks, you have to identify formations, and you have to beat [offensive players] in certain areas to give your guys a chance. We have to do all of the above.
“We have to get our guys in better spots. Our guys have to do a better job of beating blocks. They have to do a better job of tackling. I find it hard to believe that a team would be a great 4-3 team but not a great 3-4 team or vice versa.”
Translation: Groh and the defensive staff will continue tinkering to try and find wrinkles within their scheme that better fit players, not look for players who better fit the scheme. No trades allowed.
Tech’s front seven may not approximate that of the Pittsburgh Steelers, but the Jackets can be better at slowing the run. They’ve allowed 195, 246 and 272 rushing yards in their past three games.
Linebacker injuries haven’t helped, but Peters has a more comprehensive two-part explanation.
“I think it boils down to guys just not winning enough at their position, myself included,” he said in referencing to beating blocks and making tackles once in position. “I’m not doing enough. We just didn’t do enough as a defense.”
Never mind scheme or play call. Peters said: “Just because a defense is called doesn’t mean it’s going to go that way. It goes the way you want it to go because you make it go that way. If we take the attitude that we have to make the tackle, I think we’ll have a chance [to improve].”
Translation: it’s time to impose will. Tech’s will has wilted of late, and Miami (3-3) is going to favor the run Saturday until the Jackets prove that approach wrong. “I’m sure [a run-oriented game plan] is coming back again,” Groh said. “The road map will look fairly similar.”
Lamar Miller, the speedy Hurricane running back, is averaging 117.1 rushing yards per game. That’s second in the ACC including non-conference games. His average of 6.4 yards per carry is No. 2 among backs with enough attempts, trailing Tech’s Orwin Smith (13.2 on 37 carries to Miller’s 110).
The `Canes will be the quickest team Tech has played, yet they’re as big if not as tall up front as were the Cavaliers last week in Charlottesville.
How to make up for apparent disadvantages?
Scheme can help some, of course, and players making good decisions within the scheme will matter as well. And at the point of attack, tacklers need to tackle, too. Don’t just get there, arrive in a mood.
Recently, that mood has sort of been subtracted from the equation (not just on defense, either, but also on an offense than ranks No. 8 overall in conference play).
Coaches prepare players, but players also ought to take a complete ownership role in their own preparation not only with attention to details, but then by way of edgy execution.
The Jackets have some exceedingly bright upperclassmen with abundant leadership qualities. They may need a few strutters, a few Miami-like players to step up and add a new kind of energy, to approach and embrace a bigger stage as if they not only belong on it, but own it.
Confidence is critical, but the Jackets could benefit by going a step further; they could use ego right now. This is no time to be offended or act bruised. It’s time to be protective of the opportunities that exist. Even true freshman linebacker Nick Menocal, who will play in his hometown of Miami, said, “We got a little complacent.”
So, as Peters said, “We just have to find something in ourselves. We have to be able to create that momentum, create that energy. It comes down to each person going out there and doing what they have to whether it’s on the field or being on the sidelines cheering guys on by being high-energy guys. If everybody can bring that to the table, I think we have a chance.”