Simply put… How do you fix the 2015 defense?
As an old coach used to say: "You can't waive'em, sign'em or trade'em." In college, the personnel is what you have to work with and even in talented recruiting classes, the players are just younger versions of what you already have. So what is missing from this Yellow Jacket defense that will help this team be successful Saturday (So I'm saying there's a chance) and the rest of the season.
Georgia Tech runs a variation of a 4-3 defense that will stretch into a nickel look. The scheme for the most part is very simplistic, one-gap techniques. One-gap is a practice that keeps every area accounted for by the four defensive line and three linebackers. This practice is used to help stop the run and allows players to play faster because it involves less reading.
Think of the difference for the Atlanta Falcons defense with the same players. Under Mike Nolan, who looks to attack, rush lanes were open because the defensive line read two gaps... they are now the No. 1 rush defense in the league. So what is the problem in the Jackets' scheme? It's tough to say. Many times each player appears to be in the right position but have had trouble making a play.
So it must be the talent, right? Other than losing linebacker Quayshawn Nealy, Tech returned most of the starters on defense, including four seniors in the defensive backfield. The defense wasn't great by any stretch a season ago, but played with a ton more confidence. After the back-to-back loses against Duke and North Carolina, respectively, Defensive Coordinator Ted Roof moved Patrick Gamble to DE to help stopped the run and the team decided to become much more aggressive on the perimeter.
As Coach Paul Johnson said in his weekly press conference, they decided the offense was good enough that they could take much more chances than die a slow death. The Jackets played a lot more man. Pressed the issue on the outside and sent a few more blitzes.
So it has to be the philosophy... right? Um... well... This year's offense is improving, but is not as confident and competent as 2014. The high-risk, attacking style usually lends itself to giving up the occasional big play, so being too aggressive can run you out of a game very quickly when the offense can't hold serve.
Which brings us back to talent... right? Overall, Georgia Tech is very talented and produces some very good players. Talent itself may not be an issue, but depth certainly is a big concern. The Jackets missed on several young players who either quit or were excused from the defensive line going into the 2014 season. Those dismissals didn't hurt as much with Shawn Green and Gamble staying healthy last year. Still, the Jackets losing Darius Commissiong, Jimmie Kitchen, Justin Akins and Kevin Robbins did significant damage to this team's depth. That is at least four upperclassmen that not only create depth and competition for the 2015 season, but allows talented freshmen like Anree Saint-Amour, Kyle Cerge-Henderson, Brentavious Glanton and even KeShun Freeman and Antonio Simmons a chance to develop without being depended on.
Tech has been undersized against the more prominent teams and had to burn redshirts on a lot of freshmen the last couple of years. Lack of experience at the tackles and end spots hurt against the run, but takes even more of a toll in the passing games. Roof has to send blitzes to get pressure on the quarterback, which also weakens the coverage. Sending four has not been consistently productive, gaining only 9 sacks this season as a whole.
I don't think Johnson is disappointed in Coach Roof more than the situation. I certainly don't think a change is necessary because the kids know what they are doing, but just not getting it done. I think the secondary is pressing because of a lack of pass rush and trying (sometimes too hard) to make a play instead of staying within the defensive scheme. I think the defensive line is simply overmatched sometimes. And unfortunately, the defensive line depth will take time to replenish with players who can develop and withstand the rigors of attending classes at Georgia Tech.
The good news is you have a coaching staff that tries to do everything the right way... the Georgia Tech way, not cutting corners when kids are not doing what they are supposed to be doing. It also gives Tech fans a lot to look forward to. The bad news is what we are going through right now.