Nov. 3, 2013
By Matt Winkeljohn
Georgia Tech is rolling on the back of an old football axiom, one that Paul Johnson has trotted out verbally in recent weeks and built his career upon.
“I’ve said all along that if you can run the ball and stop the run, you’ve got a good chance of winning – especially if you stop the turnovers,” the Yellow Jackets’ head coach said after Saturday’s 21-10 win over Pitt.
There’s a hard body of recent evidence.
Against the Panthers, the Jackets rushed for 276 yards and allowed -5. Seriously. It was the eighth-best performance in school history, dating to 1960 at least.
Three straight wins, three straight times the Jackets have allowed 75 rushing yards or less. In fact, they’ve allowed a total of 138 yards on 78 rushes in beating Syracuse, Virginia and Pitt.
Those three may not exactly comprise the first three-quarters of the Four Horsemen of the pigskin Apocalypse, but that’s crazy. Syracuse had rushed for more than 300 yards in each of two games before being stoned by the Jackets.
Tech’s five sacks Saturday contributed heavily toward Pitt’s grave rushing line, but the Jackets were stout against all Panther rushers. They had one running back go six times for 16 yards, and another tote eight times for 3.
Beyond those sacks, the Jackets had five more tackles for lost yardage. I don’t have time to count the rushes for 0 yards.
There is design in this, and first-year, second-time defensive coordinator Ted Roof is the architect. “Ted and those guys have done a good job,” Johnson said. “We’re committed to trying to stop the run.”
Beyond design and intent, there must be execution.
That can be achieved a few ways. You might be stocked with eight future NFL players on a certain side of the ball. You might have the greatest schemer in history drawing up the X’s and O’s.
Or both. Wouldn’t that be nice?
The Jackets don’t have the former, and may or may not have the latter.
There’s nobody saying that Roof is one of the great defensive minds in the game; nobody says that about anyone. Praise like that is pretty much reserved for those calling ball plays, not plays to stop them.
Then again, there may be another way: have a good scheme, have good players, and convince them to buy in to the point where the synergy of everything creates a product greater than its parts would suggest.
That’s Georgia Tech’s defense, especially now that the Jackets have had time to bond, learn one another, and grasp what Roof has in mind.
Style points can be earned by coaches in a variety of fashions.
Roof is earning them with players because he’s real.
Were you to talk to him, you might close your eyes and imagine that you were chatting with a neighbor over the backyard fence. He’s neighborly. This is not to suggest that he’s always the way he appears in his once-a-week meeting with media. The guy has an edge, and is capable of flame.
That’s key, too.
But he’s discerning in his dispensation of flame.
I remember a few years ago telling former Falcons defensive coordinator Wade Phillips that he reminded me of a grocer, a guy who might be bagging frozen peas and bread were he not coaching in the NFL. Nice guy. Great at what he does (now for the Texans).
Wade was ticked about that. And ticking Wade took work.
But he, like Roof, had a certain intangible.
They both foster a like-to-work atmosphere.
They’re engaging to the point of earning respect beyond the baseline. Open to where players are willing to go the proverbial extra mile. Appropriately stern to where the rank and file hold themselves accountable to higher standard.
This, what senior defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu is about to say, matters a great, great deal.
“I just knew coach Roof, when he came in, he’s a great guy,” Attaochu said after a game in which he had two sacks and a third canceled out by penalty. “Very easy to talk to. Everybody is going to enjoy playing for him.
“Coach Roof has made that more fun, that environment more where you want to get up and go to practice every day.”
That play set up Robert Godhigh’s second touchdown, an 11-yard run with 2:41 left that was most beautiful for the way linemen Trey Braun and Will Jackson not only pulled from the left side all the way to the right but made meaningful blocks once there.
There was a real nice fake punt, too, where Sean Poole ran like he was playing rugby rather then football.
The theme of the game, however, was scripted by the Tech defense. That’s two weeks in a row. At Virginia, the Jackets turned the ball over five times, and the offense repeatedly put the D in a spot. And the D generally kept responding.
Happened again Saturday.
And it felt good.
“Winning just feels good, period,” Attaochu said. “But when the defense steps up and wins a game . . . I think it’s a little more special.”
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