Georgia Tech is working to solve defensive breakdowns that have led to three losses in its last four games as it prepares for a visit to Miami on Saturday.
For instruction, Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey might show his players highlights from his team’s last trip to Miami.
On Nov. 19, 2005, Tech’s big-play defense led the way in a 14-10 upset of No. 3 Miami. The Yellow Jackets’ defense posted seven sacks, seven pass breakups and a late interception to save the win.
Tech (3-3 overall, 1-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) expected similar production from its defense this season, especially after it allowed a combined 17 points in lopsided wins over Notre Dame and Samford to open the season.
Instead, Tech’s fall to 1-3 in the conference has revealed problems on defense, especially against the pass.
"If you had to point to one thing, it would be the big plays in the passing game that we’re giving up," Gailey said.
In ACC games, Tech is 11th in the league in pass defense, allowing almost 280 yards passing per game.
Defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta’s blitzing defense leads the ACC and ranks second in the nation with 25 sacks. Tech leads the nation with 10.25 tackles for loss per game, but it has only two interceptions and the gambling scheme often leaves defensive backs in man coverages.
"It’s not too much pressure," said Tech safety Jamal Lewis, who said the problem is the execution of plays, not the scheme.
"Coach Tenuta makes it as simplistic as possible," Lewis said. "You just have to take it on as a challenge to be able to have the one-on-one and beat the guy. That’s all that is."
Tech allowed 225 yards passing in last week’s 28-26 loss at Maryland, including a 78-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter.
The Yellow Jackets have been outscored 42-10 in the first quarter of their three losses. In its three wins, Tech has outscored teams 41-3 in the first quarter.
Tech is No. 71 in the NCAA against the pass but is a solid 14th in scoring defense, allowing 16.7 points per game, and No. 16 in total defense.
"We expected to be one of the top defenses in the nation," Lewis said. "I think we still have a chance to be able to do that. We just have to tighten up in our secondary and take things more personal. As a whole defense, I think that’s our weakness."
The unit came through with a huge play against Maryland when defensive end Darrell Robertson returned a fumble recovery 32 yards for a touchdown, capping his run with a flip into the end zone.
The big play couldn’t make up for the team’s slow start.
"We’ve just got to come out and play from the first snap to the last," Robertson said. "In certain games we haven’t shown up in the beginning. We’ve got to come out focused."
Tech’s defense will try to stop a Miami offense led by former Yellow Jackets offensive coordinator Patrick Nix, who was Tech’s coordinator the last three years.
Lewis says the Miami offense under Nix looks much like the Tech offense the last few years.
Tech’s defensive players are familiar with Nix and his tendencies, but Nix also is an expert on the Yellow Jackets’ defense and their players.
"I’m sure he knows all of us individually and knows our weaknesses and our strengths," Lewis said. "I think it’s going to be a great game to be able to play against him instead of just practicing against him like last year."
The matchup sets the stage for a guessing game: Who will make changes in an attempt to surprise the other?
"We will change some things because we know what he knows," Gailey said. "But he probably knows that we know what he knows, so he probably will assume we’re changing them."