From 2001 to 2009, Georgia State coach Shawn Elliott was an offensive line coach at Appalachian State. At the same time, Nate Woody was defensive coordinator at Wofford. Their Southern Conference matchups gave Elliott enough of a dosage of Woody and his defensive schemes that he decided, should he ever become a head coach, he’d like to have him on his side than face him.
“When I was thinking of getting into this head coaching business, Nate was probably one of the first defensive coordinators I reached out to a long time ago, even before the Georgia State deal, about joining myself,” Elliott told the AJC on Thursday.
Woody won’t be joining Elliott’s staff, but they’ll now be in the same city. Woody, who recently completed his fifth season as Appalachian State defensive coordinator, is expected to be named Georgia Tech’s new defensive coordinator, pending a background check. The official announcement likely won’t be made until January, as the campus is closed this week.
“I don’t think there’s any question that he’ll go in there and be successful,” Elliott said.
Elliott provided insight into how Woody has made the Mountaineers one of the more effective defenses in FBS, one that has finished in the top 25 nationally in scoring defense, total defense and interceptions in each of the past three seasons.
“He has a unique scheme, first of all,” Elliott said. “He’s a very intelligent football coach. He studies the game like a defensive coordinator should and really just has the knowledge of the X’s and O’s part to be really successful, and I don’t feel like he’s ever going to come across anything that he hasn’t covered from a situation standpoint or anything.”
Woody’s 3-4 defense is different from others in the types of players he uses, according to Elliott.
“What he does really well is, I think he can take players that a lot of coaches don’t see as interior defensive linemen and turn them into playmakers – fast, quick-twitch guys that can really put pressure in the run game and pressure the quarterback,” Elliott said.
That would bode well for Tech, which typically isn’t able to sign the mammoth defensive tackles who can hold up double teams and allow linebackers to run free to make plays. Woody’s philosophy for his three down linemen isn’t for them to read and react or hold the point, but to attack.
“If you look at his games from this past year and the year previous, they’re not supposed to just keep guys off linebackers,” Elliott said. “They’re a force to be reckoned with.”
When Appalachian State faced Georgia State in a Sun Belt Conference matchup this November, the Panthers were limited to 292 yards on 61 plays, a 4.8 yards-per-play average, in a 31-10 win for the Mountaineers at Georgia State Stadium.
It was the second fewest yards that Georgia State gained in a game this season.
“I thought their front was probably the best we had seen, and that’s going back to the Penn State game,” Elliott said. “Oh, yeah. Without a doubt. They just had great football players and players that loved it. They weren’t the biggest guys. They knew how to play the game and he put them in position to make plays.”
Elliott further called Woody a good communicator and “just a good overall person.” He also praised Woody’s ability to pick up on tendencies and get inside the mind of the opposing offensive coordinator and quarterback.
“He just studies it so well,” Elliott said.
Elliott has also seen Woody develop his scheme. Previously, Elliott said, Woody preferred zone coverage in the passing game but has shifted more to man-to-man coverage in recent years. As a result, Appalachian State has intercepted 56 passes in past three seasons, the second most in FBS in that span, according to the school.
“It makes it even more difficult, adding more pressure packages,” Elliott said. “It’s certainly going to be based off personnel that he has, whether he can match up. I would imagine over there at Georgia Tech, he’s going to have some athletes.”