Nov. 2, 2014
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
A game like Saturday afternoon’s was long overdue for Georgia Tech’s defense.
It had been promised pretty much every week, but the unit just didn’t deliver the goods — although, to be fair, they did make enough big plays to help the Jackets to 6-2.
Maybe it was the back-to-back gashings, in which they allowed more than 500 yards with close to 200 on the ground, but on Saturday they not only said “Enough!” but, more important, in yesterday’s 35-10 rout of Virginia at Bobby Dodd Stadium, they backed it up.
“That’s the way I expect them to play every week but I was proud they bounced back,” said Head Coach Paul Johnson, who won his 100th game as an FBS coach and 161st as a coach. “I knew they weren’t happy with the last two performances. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch. We turned guys loose a couple of times. There’s a lot of things we can fix but we played hard and we made enough plays.”
“The past two weeks we’ve gone up against big, physical O-lines, most of them being a lot bigger than we are on the D-Line and they’ve been running the ball pretty well,” said junior defensive tackle Adam Gotsis. “We just had that mindset, ‘We have to go out there, we can shut down the run. We trust our secondary to make plays when they need to so we have to do our job up front.’ We really haven’t done that the past two weeks.”
There was more than a cold wind (and a lot of it) blowing through Bobby Dodd, yesterday. For the defense there were winds of change.
They drew a line in the sand, starting at the line of scrimmage. Two members of the line, freshman DE and bona fide ACC Freshman of the Year KeShun Freeman (five tackles, four solo) and Gotsis (three stops, all solo) ranked third and fourth among Yellow Jackets leading tacklers.
“Halleujah,” Johnson declared. “It’s time. It’s great.”
And it was pretty much relentless for 60 minutes. Linebacker Paul Davis sacked quarterback Greyson Lambert for a 10-yard loss on the game’s first play and Tech forced the Cavaliers into three-and-outs on three of their first four drives as the Jackets jumped out 21-7.
In the second quarter, the defense picked the team up after a pair of drives that could have been demoralizing.
After coming up short on fourth down deep in Virginia territory — too far to attempt a field goal into the wind — the defense rose up and forced a punt. On the ensuing Tech drive, Justin Thomas was intercepted on the Jackets’ 25 and two plays later, had first and goal from the five. But the defense threw up a wall, allowing one yard on the next three plays and forcing a field goal. The game went into the half 21-10 and Tech all but put the game away by scoring on their first drive of the second half.
Tech caught something of a break as Keeon Johnson could not catch Lambert’s pass, which sailed through his hands on third down, but the pressure Lambert faced all game was partly to blame for the high throw.
Thomas could relate to what Lambert went through.
“They were putting a lot of pressure on the quarterback, which made him throw the ball before he wanted to sometimes,” said Thomas. “We see it every day in practice. They’re always in my face.”
The in-your-face pressure resulted in several passes being batted back into Virginia QB faces.
The ACC Championship Baseball team, which was saluted during the second quarter for its 2014 ACC Championship (something of an “in your face” to nationally ranked Virginia), got an opportunity to watch the D-Line put on an impressive display of batting. Defensive ends Freeman and Patrick Gamble and defensive tackle Shawn Green each batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage.
Like everything else that went well Saturday, Johhson called it a case of practice makes perfect.
“We didn’t do anything different this week than we’ve done all year,” said Johnson. “It just so happened that we got in the rush lanes and his delivery we were able to knock some of them down. But it’s the same stuff we work on all the time.”
“Throughout the week we practice that,” agreed Gotsis. “If you can’t get to the passer try and get a hand up or something because you can make him either pull his throw a little bit or bat a ball. We got a few down.”
One of those came down into the arms of the diving Gotsis. His second career interception, stopping a UVA drive at the Georgia Tech 39.
“I don’t know what really happened,” said Gotsis, who picked off Clemson’s Tajh Boyd last year. “My guard cut me so I just played the cut block and then saw that it was a pass play so I just tried to get back up and get back in the race. I heard the ball get tipped and got my eyes up and I was in the right spot at the right time. Give credit to [Freeman] on that one. All the guys on the defense that got in the quarterback’s face, made him make a bad pass.
“I keep telling [Receivers] Coach Buzz [Preston] to put me in at receiver,” he added, with a laugh. “He’s not listening to me.”
A real wide receiver, DeAndre Smelter has been listening in practice and was proud of the defense’s response Saturday.
“It’s a great thing,” said Smelter. “We hear them over at practice all the time. They’ve been working hard. Coach Roof and everybody on the defense has been working hard with them. We can tell they’ve been working hard and it showed today in their performance.”
Free safety Jamal Golden’s was less impressed with Gotsis’ hands as his timing.
“I’ve seen him catch them with one hand, so that one wasn’t too good. It wasn’t better than the other one he caught,” kidded Golden, who made a key end-zone interception late in the third quarter and had a second one overturned by replay. “It was a big play in the game. We really needed it.”
The entire unit needed the kind of effort that it gave on Saturday.
“Tonight we showed ourselves that we have so much more left in our tank and we know that we can do much better,” said Freeman, who also blocked a second-quarter punt, was tied for second on the team with five tackles (four solo), had one of two Yellow Jackets sacks and forced one of Tech’s two fumbles. “We’re going to keep working hard and keep getting better. As a defensive line and a defense as a whole, we’re more like brothers and we build off of each other. Anytime we see an opportunity to help someone else make a play, we go for it.”
Everyone chipped in from seemingly everywhere. Gamble made his first start of the season (although he would not finish the game, leaving with an injury), and mixed its looks, sometimes rushing three, sometimes moving personnel around. The mixes mixed up Virginia quarterbacks Lambert and Matt Johns and held the Cavaliers to 22 rushing yards on 16 attempts (1.4 yards per carry). They converted only three of 12 first downs.
“I think we tackled a little better,” said Johnson. “We tried to be aggressive and we played a lot of man coverage. I think our defensive coaches had a good plan. We stacked the box pretty good. The bottom line is we beat some blocks and tackled better.
“Right now we’re little bit short on defensive linemen. [The three-man rush] was a way to play with three down linemen instead of four,” he added. “Try to get 11 guys out there a little more athletic and can rush them and drop them and they don’t know who’s coming, get Gotsis outside to rush a little bit. I thought KeShun Freeman did a great job rushing the passer today. We practice the same thing that we’ve practiced all year. I think it was just better execution. We made some plays and got some breaks over there and got them off the field on third down. Three for 12? That’s 100 times better than what we’ve been doing.”
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