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Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson hopes a new defensive coordinator and 4-3 alignment will help.
Courtesy Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu is moving to a new position after playing linebacker last year.
Friday, July 26, 2013
At Georgia Tech, a “dumbing it down” approach might be the cure for defensive embarrassment.
The Yellow Jackets were so porous last fall that Al Groh was fired as defensive coordinator at midseason.
After the season, coach Paul Johnson hired Ted Roof as his new defensive chief. Roof replaced Groh’s 3-4 scheme with a 4-3 defense.
Defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu said the new scheme offers a different approach than the “read and react” 3-4 defense.
“Coach Roof, his defense is going to allow us to go out there and be able to be more aggressive — and less thinking,” Attaochu said this week at the ACC’s preseason football media gathering in Greensboro, N.C. “We had a system last year that was geared to older players. … It was an NFL system, the 3-4.
“Coach Roof is kind of dumbing it down so young guys can come in, you can sub in and out, have guys still be aggressive. They’re not really thinking as much; they’re just playing.”
Groh, a former Virginia and NFL coach, was fired by Johnson in October after a three-game skid dropped the Yellow Jackets’ record to 2-4. Groh’s defense allowed an average of 46 points and 573 yards of total offense during that skid — losses to Miami, Middle Tennessee State and Clemson.
“It was definitely embarrassing,” Attaochu said. “It could have been easy to throw the towel in, having more losses than wins and losing your D-coordinator, but we didn’t. We fought through it.”
The unit improved under interim defensive coordinator Charles Kelly, although not in Georgia Tech’s 68-50 win over North Carolina in November. But the team finished 7-7, including a 21-15 loss to Florida State in the ACC title game and a 21-7 win over Southern Cal (which was without injured quarterback Matt Barkley) in the Sun Bowl.
The defense hopes to be stout this year against such ACC quarterbacks as Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas and UNC’s Bryn Renner.
“You have all these experienced quarterbacks. Those guys are going to do numbers this year,” said Attaochu, a preseason All-ACC pick. “We’re definitely up for the challenge, especially after that UNC game last year — it was pretty embarrassing.”
Roof has moved Attaochu, who recorded 10 sacks as a linebacker last season, to defensive end because of the shift to the 4-3 set.
Roof once served as Duke’s coach. In recent years, he has been the defensive coordinator at Minnesota, Auburn and Penn State.
“We’ve got to coach better and play better on defense — no hiding that,” Johnson said.
Johnson said Roof’s system will “turn loose” the players. But the players’ positive reaction to it doesn’t have Johnson too excited.
“[There is] not as much mental stuff going on with the new defense as there was with the old, but any time you ask guys with a new coach or a new anything, it’s always going to be better … because that pushes the accountability away from what happened the year before,” Johnson said. “So we’ll see how it unfolds. I’m optimistic. I think the guys enjoy playing in the scheme we have, but I’m an old guy — show me, don’t tell me.”
For Johnson, the biggest reason for optimism on defense is the unit’s eight returning starters.
Georgia Tech finished in a three-way tie for first in the Coastal Division last year. Its 5-3 league mark included overtime losses to Virginia Tech and Miami. The 7-7 overall record marked the team’s second nonwinning season in three years.
“Hopefully we’ll have a better record,” Johnson said. “Hopefully we’ll play better on defense, be more consistent offensively. We lost some really close games last year. We lose up in Blacksburg in overtime in a game that looked like we had won. Same thing with Miami at home.
“We’ve got to be able to finish games better.”
The Yellow Jackets have been picked to finish fourth in the Coastal Division in this year’s preseason ACC media poll.
Their quarterback will be third-year sophomore Vad Lee, who was the backup to Tevin Washington last season. Lee threw for 596 yards and ran for 544 yards last fall.
“He’s a gifted young man,” Johnson said. “Let’s not just build him up so much that he’s going to fail. If you’re not careful, the expectations become so high that Superman couldn’t reach them. You’ve got to give him a chance to grow a little bit. We’re not rolling Cam Newton out there.”
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