Which Georgia Tech defense will show up in the final two weeks of the regular season? The one that was pulled apart by Duke and North Carolina, or the one that shut down Virginia Tech with a fury not seen in a long time?
A simpler game plan, even if it was just slightly less complicated than the previous week’s, proved to be a difference-maker for Georgia Tech’s defense in last week’s win against Virginia Tech.
Communication between players was better because calls were reduced and the Yellow Jackets played more base defense against the Hokies, which resulted not only in a 30-20 win that made the team bowl-eligible, but created more turnovers (4) and sacks (5) than in any previous game this season.
“We were on one page,” end KeShun Freeman said. “Things were simple. Checks were simple. Everyone was communicating a lot better. We made sure that every person was communicating. That was a big part of how we were able to put things together.”
Now that must continue this week against Virginia, which will bring the unknown of a new starting quarterback in Matt Johns, but the known of giving up 31 sacks and 20 turnovers, which would seem to indicate the Jackets’ defense has a chance to continue playing well.
The players credited defensive coordinator Ted Roof for their performance against the Hokies. They said they had a good idea of what Virginia Tech was going to do on many plays based upon their studies of the Hokies’ formations and tendencies.
Roof didn’t seem to think the work he put in was different than in any previous week, but was glad the players were in good spirits after the game.
“It’s not like we worked more or less than previous weeks,” Roof said. “It was the same as far as the effort that goes into preparation. We played better. Happy about it, but that’s a long time ago in the football world.
Roof also didn’t agree that the calls were simpler than, for example, the North Carolina game two weeks ago, when the Tar Heels totaled more than 600 yards. That was believed to be the first game in which coach Paul Johnson asked for calls on the defense to be simplified because Duke had just totaled more than 500 yards in Tech’s previous game.
“We try and make it as simple as we can every week, but to make sure we have enough calls to handle different situations,” Roof said. “Some weeks we do a better job than others.”
Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said Tech’s defense looked more consistent against the Hokies than it had in previous weeks. So the belief that the defense was simpler, even if perhaps it wasn’t as true as it seemed, did help.
“When it’s simple you will play fast and get productivity,” senior linebacker P.J. Davis said. “It helped a lot.”
Perhaps it felt simpler because the results were obvious. The Virginia Tech game started with Georgia Tech’s Terrell Lewis forcing a turnover that gave the offense a short field that led to three points, and it continued with four more takeaways (two interceptions and another fumble recovery). The Jackets had nine takeaways in nine previous games.
The five sacks, all produced by the defensive line, were more than half of the team’s previous total (8) for the season.
The building confidence, coupled with playing with a lead, may have been the biggest factors in the defense’s sudden turnaround. Forcing the Hokies to try to rally changed their playbook, which made things easier for Georgia Tech’s defense. The Hokies had only five plays of at least 20 yards. Two were on kickoff returns, and the remaining were pass plays. Two of those came on Virginia Tech’s final drive.
Though the Hokies totaled 437 yards, 182 came on the final two drives when the game was out of reach.
“All in all we played better,” Johnson said. “We didn’t give up any huge, big plays, long touchdown plays. When you do that, you’ve got a chance.”