The elements that Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson has long wanted out of his defense – to create big plays and get off the field – Appalachian State did quite well this season.
The Mountaineers’ defense finished in the top 30 nationally in takeaways (26, tied for 10th), tackles for loss (6.92 per game, tied for 30th) and third-down conversion rate (33.15 percent, tied for 23rd). It would stand to reason that those strengths make Appalachian State defensive coordinator Nate Woody a possible candidate to replace Ted Roof as the Yellow Jackets’ defensive coordinator.
The website Football Scoop reported in a tweet last week that “we’ve been hearing of Georgia Tech interest” in Woody.
Woody has been at Appalachian State since 2013, where he has served as defensive coordinator the entire time while also coaching linebackers (inside linebackers in 2013, but outside linebackers ever since). In the past three seasons, he has led one of the top units in FBS. Starting in 2015, the Mountaineers have ranked 11th, 20th and 30th in defensive efficiency by the measure of Football Outsiders.
The Mountaineers have amassed 56 interceptions since the start of the 2015 season, second most in FBS.
With Woody’s help, Appalachian State has been the Sun Belt co-champion the past two seasons, no small accomplishment for a team that transitioned to FBS in 2014. In the Mountaineers’ bowl win Saturday, they obliterated Toledo 34-0 in the Dollar General Bowl. Toledo gained only 146 yards -- 364 yards below its season average – and turned the ball over four times in being shut out for the first time since 2009.
“I thought they did a very good job of making us go laterally, we were never able to establish the vertical run game,” Toledo coach Jason Candle said. “They disrupted our rhythm a little bit and threw our balance off.”
The Mountaineers have been able to punch above their weight. Their performance against Georgia in the season opener this season proved one of the best against the Bulldogs this season. Georgia gained 368 yards and 5.75 yards per play against Appalachian State. Only Notre Dame and Auburn (Nov. 11) allowed fewer yards against the Bulldogs, and only those two teams and Tennessee did better than Appalachian State in yards per play.
In their respective games against the Bulldogs, Appalachian State fared better than Tech against Georgia in total yards, yards per play, third-down efficiency and points, among other categories.
When Appalachian State played Clemson in 2015, the Tigers gained 392 yards and averaged 5.23 yards per play. The only team to fare better than Appalachian State that season in those categories was Notre Dame, meaning that, in two noteworthy statistical categories, Woody’s defense outplayed Louisville, Georgia Tech, Boston College, Miami, Florida State, South Carolina, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Alabama.
Woody, who turns 57 on Saturday, has held only jobs at only two schools – his alma mater, Wofford, and Appalachian State. One possible cause for concern is a lack of experience at the power-conference level, but that would not seem to deter Johnson, whose background before Tech is similar.
In fact, Johnson and Woody opposed each other in Southern Conference matchups as Georgia Southern head coach and Wofford defensive coordinator, respectively, in 2000 and 2001. Woody’s first two seasons in that position at Wofford overlapped Johnson’s final two in his role in Statesboro.
They even both grew up in the same part of western North Carolina, Woody in Morganton and Johnson in Newland, about 35 miles apart.
One added benefit? Woody would bring recruiting contacts from North Carolina, a state that Tech has not recruited well in recent years.
Appalachian State plays out of a 3-4 defense, where Tech has used a 4-2-5 alignment as its base with Ted Roof as coordinator. It would be a transition, but Tech does have defensive tackles who could move out to a 3-4 defensive end, such as Desmond Branch and Kyle Cerge-Henderson, and incoming linebacker Justice Dingle might seem a good fit as an outside linebacker in a 3-4.
That, though, is a lesser matter than whether Woody would be a good fit in the long term. No hire is a sure thing, but Woody would seem to have a pretty good chance.