The Yellow Jackets (2-4, 1-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) return from an off week with a new defensive coordinator and a simplified scheme that coach Paul Johnson hopes will produce a lot more stops.
Despite averaging nearly 38 points per game, Georgia Tech is mired in a three-game losing streak — giving up more than 40 points in each of those contests, the first such stretch in school history.
That was enough to cost Al Groh his job.
Johnson dumped his defensive coordinator last week, promoting Charles Kelly to the post on an interim basis but making it clear that the head coach will be paying more attention to what happens on the other side of the line.
“It’s a lot different for me,” Johnson said Tuesday. “I’m more involved in the planning, more involved in the practice schedules, more involved in everything. The past 2½ years, I pretty much turned it over (to Groh) and let that guy do it. Now clearly, Charles is in charge. It’s his call. But I’m involved. I’m involved in the scheme and what we’re doing.”
Georgia Tech still has hopes of turning things around, and the schedule doesn’t look too imposing the rest of the way. Another struggling team, Boston College (1-5, 0-3), visits Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday.
But the Yellow Jackets know it will be difficult to beat anyone — heck, they were blown out by Middle Tennessee State in their last home game — if they don’t start playing better on defense. They rank 89th nationally in yards allowed (431 per game), 83rd in points allowed (30.2) and, most troubling to Johnson, 103rd in third-down efficiency, permitting opponents to convert nearly 48 percent of the time.
Johnson has always focused on Georgia Tech’s run-oriented offense, and that won’t change. He’ll still be calling the plays and devoting a majority of his time to what’s happening when his team has the ball. But he’ll be keeping an eye on the defense, as well, and won’t hesitate to give his input.
“I’m spending more time getting a solid defensive scheme in place that’s simple, where the guys play fast and know what to do,” Johnson said. “We don’t need 80 calls. We don’t need a buzzword for everything.”
Look for the Yellow Jackets to play a lot more out of their base defense, rather than trying to mix and match their personnel to what the offense is doing. Also, they have eliminated most of their vocal signals, which Groh used to set the defense once he got a look at what the offense was doing. Unfortunately, his own players didn’t always get the word, or wound up visibly confused about what they were supposed to be doing.
If nothing else, Johnson doesn’t want to hear any more excuses about giving up big plays because someone on defense wasn’t sure of his assignment.
“There’s got to be some communication,” he said. “But when one guy goes in motion, you don’t have to change things up for seven people. I’m not saying the other way was that complicated. But the way it was was not working. I got tired of hearing, ‘I didn’t get the call.’ ‘Yeah, you did.’ ‘No, I didn’t.’ ... When you go through a game and have 40 of those mistakes, then something is wrong. Either it’s too complicated or we’re not doing a good job as coaches. But something is wrong. We shouldn’t have that many mistakes.”
Kelly is the new point man on defense, adding to his duties as the secondary coach. Johnson shifted around the responsibilities for the other defensive assistants, giving everyone plenty to do in a short amount of time, even with the off week.
“Coach (Johnson) has been very good about communicating to us what he wants,” Kelly said. “The big thing is to build confidence. We’ve got to have some success. We’re doing some good things in practice. But we’ve got to carry it over to the game.”
Johnson isn’t predicting a miraculous turnaround Saturday, though Boston College is hardly an offensive juggernaut. The Eagles ranks ninth in the ACC in scoring (24.7) and 10th in total yards (384.7).
“We’ll see Saturday,” he said. “In practice, it all looks good. But we’ve looked good in practice before.”
At this point a year ago, Georgia Tech was 6-0 and had the look of a championship contender. Since then, the Yellow Jackets have just four victories in 13 games, putting plenty of heat on Johnson to turn things around.
He insists his approach hasn’t changed.
“We’re just getting ready for Boston College,” Johnson said. “We may have some different goals. But the goal on Saturday is try to beat Boston College. That’s goal enough for me.”