In the preseason, much of the hope for this year was predicated upon an improved pass rush. In 2014, the pass rush was one of the team's greatest weaknesses, allowing an otherwise talented secondary to be carved up by opposing quarterbacks who had all day to throw. The pass rush that was expected showed up in the first two games against inferior competition, and was even able to move the pocket against a talented Notre Dame offensive line. Then, it disappeared.
In this article, we'll try to figure out exactly why the pass rush hasn't been producing of late by watching film from Pittsburgh and Florida State. There are two main factors that have led to the disappearance of the pass rush: Scheme and Personnel.
Ted Roof isn't much of a gambler. His brand of football is the textbook definition of "bend don't break" (sometimes it's bend then break but I digress), and his first priority is and always will be stopping the run. In the last two games, Georgia Tech has faced talented run games, from Pitt's bruising style to Heisman candidate Dalvin Cook. In these games it is patently obvious that the game plan was designed to limit the run. The proof is in the techniques used by Tech's Defensive Line, specifically the Ends. Even in obvious passing situations, they were first and foremost engaging the Offensive line, and very rarely did anyone try a speed rush. After getting gashed by Marquise Williams in the UNC game, containment became the primary objective, not the rush.
The Jackets have also debuted a new package in 3rd down situations. In this 3-2-6, or "dime" package, AJ Gray has come in to play a "Rover" (hybrid LB/S) position in the middle of the field. Against Florida State, this formation would often rush 3 and drop 8 into coverage. Roof was content to play a dense zone against an inaccurate Everett Golson, and for the most part it worked at the expense of the pass rush. With Gray out, it remains to be seen if this formation will be used extensively again.
Georgia Tech is lacking in a few areas along the Defensive Line, leading to some players playing out of position. The biggest and most glaring deficiency is the lack of a true 1-technique Nose Tackle. The Jackets don't have any 300 pounders on the defensive side of the ball, and that shows up in the pass rush more than one would think. All off season, fans heard about how Jabari Hunt was the most talented player along the the line, and how his quickness and tenacity would lead to him having a huge season. That hasn't happened because he is playing out of position. With his size and athleticism, Hunt is ideally suited for the "3 technique" or Under Tackle position played by Adam Gotsis. The "3 tech" is more of a disruptive player than a run stuffing stump, and is tasked with creating havoc in the backfield. Think former Pitt Panther and current St. Louis Ram Aaron Donald. Instead, Hunt is getting eaten alive by double teams every play, and hasn't always taken to that task very well. This may be where you're asking "Why don't we move him to 3-tech then? The answer isn't so simple. That position is currently held by Adam Gotsis, and who really wants him out of the lineup? Gotsis shouldn't be moved inside either, as his size is prototypical for a "5-technique" (3-4 DE). If anything, Gotsis should be moving further outside, not inside. On top of that, the other Nose Tackle, Pat Gamble, has the same measurable as Gotsis. All of these guys should be playing 3-tech or further outside, yet someone has to play the Nose. The lack of a true Nose Tackle also hurts in the aforementioned focus on stopping the run. The entire line must play more conservatively in order to stop the run, since there isn't one man who can absorb double teams while maintaining his gap. These issues start inside, and radiate outward.
On the edge, Georgia Tech lacks a dominant speed rusher in the mold of Jerry Attaochu. Looking back it's easy to under-appreciate how much of a freak Jerry was. The man could come off the ball and be 2 yards in the backfield before the Tackle got out of his stance. Nobody on the current roster can pull off moves like that. Antonio Simmons is probably the best speed rusher on the team right now, but he has been vulnerable against the run, and has seen his snaps decrease significantly as a result. Simmons is also more tentative in his speed rush than he has been in the past due to his primary responsibility, containment. KeShun Freeman was great last year, and has still been a good player this year, but pure speed rush was never his MO. He gets most of his sacks by using his hands to get inside leverage on the tackle and attacking the QB when he steps up. Without a true speed rush, getting to the QB quickly isn't happening much.
I should note here that Adam Gotsis has been an absolute monster, and won almost all of his individual battles against Florida State. His effort alone has been salvaging the pass rush so far. If teams start to double team him as a result, other guys will need to step up when they have the chance.
What do you think of the pass rush so far Tech fans? Who do you want to see step up?