Hey there, Internet patron. Assuming you aren’t bot and came to this website of your own free will (yes, we’re aware they play our podcast on repeat in the cells of Gitmo), you probably know that Georgia Tech has a new defensive coordinator. His name is Nate Woody, he came from Appalachian State, and so on. The elephant in the room is that we couldn’t possibly get through a series called “Why will 2018 be different?” without at least acknowledging this. There are fundamental differences we’ll see between Ted Roof’s 4-2-5 and Woody’s 3-4, both schematically and philosophically, for better or for worse. I want to highlight some of the statistics where you will truly be able to see some change in 2018.
That said, let’s kick things off with what will stay the same: traditional defensive metrics will probably still love Georgia Tech, and we’ll have to go a bit deeper to see either improvement or regression. The main culprit here is total defense, or the average yards allowed by a team per game. Tech finished a very strong 33rd in the category, a surprise until you realize that so-called “volume stats” lack context and aren’t reliable for teams that routinely finish in the top-10 in time of possession on offense just because there are so many fewer opportunities to give up yards in a game. There’s no perfect stat, but we’ll get to some alternatives where Woody’s scheme will shine.
A more aggressive play style will bring some give and take, and Nate Woody’s version of the 3-4 scheme is nothing if not aggressive. Remember when our defensive backs would give opposing receivers 10 yards on third-and-short? Remember when Miami bubble-screened their way down the field in the most agonizing series I’ve ever seen? Remember when an innocent kitten got stuck in a tree? Ted Roof is responsible for all of those things, but all indicators are that Woody will not be as complicit.
As always, SB Nation’s Bill Connelly made the point better than I ever could in his Georgia Tech season preview. As he puts it, the big difference between Woody and Roof is disruption — a stat measured best by havoc rate, or the sum of all tackles for losses, deflected passes, and forced fumbles divided by total plays. In short, it comes down to both creativity with play calling and general aggression. The 3-4 scheme is generally regarded to be better for generating a passrush in the absence of a true stud on the defensive line, which we’ll hopefully see this year.
If you’re looking for regression anywhere, check the big plays allowed category. This is in part due to the growing pains we can expect from a completely new secondary, but mainly because generating disruption requires taking the types of risks we didn’t see for the past five years.
The case-in-point is Virginia Tech, a team which has found tremendous success making life difficult for opposing offenses and measuring out well in havoc rate year after year. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster is notorious for living and dying by his aggressive style, finding success by living with the big plays that happen when your objectives shift from expressly preventing just big plays with soft formations (Ted Roof) to trying to stop all plays by having confidence in your individual players. You get burned once in a while, but that’s the name of the game.
Of course, there’s not guarantee that confidence in individual players will pay off in 2018. The two most critical positions in the 3-4 defense, nose tackle and outside linebacker, will be manned by guys who were recruited to play completely different positions in a completely different scheme: one-time defensive tackle Kyle Cerge-Henderson at NT, former safety Jalen Johnson at Stinger, and former 4-3 OLB Vic Alexander at Jack. The secondary, meanwhile, is full of unproven talent. That leads me to believe that week-to-week improvement may be the thing to look for, especially in terms of pass defense.
All things considered, the 2018 defense will be a whole new roller coaster ride. The differences will be obvious; there will be excitement, ideally in the form of turnovers, and there will be frustration stemming from both the inherent risks associated with playing aggressively and from the growing pains of a young defense. Ted Roof always had the pieces to succeed but never brought the right style of play to extract value from his often highly-rated signees, something that should change in a hurry here shortly. Our patience may be tested early on in this new era, but it will all be for the best if Nate Woody can manage to scheme us up a real defense.