ATLANTA — Ted Roof is looking to solve Georgia Tech’s abysmal rankings in takeaways and third-down stops.
Roof, in his fourth season as defensive coordinator, knows those will be keys when the Yellow Jackets play Duke on Saturday.
Roof had a record of creating big plays with his aggressive defenses at Minnesota, Auburn and Penn State before his return to Georgia Tech, his alma mater, in 2013.
This year has been a struggle. Georgia Tech’s six takeaways are the fewest in the Atlantic Coast Conference and rank 119th in the nation.
Roof, Duke’s coach from 2003-07, said his coaching emphasis on creating turnovers is as strong as ever.
“If I had an answer for you I’d give it to you and better yet we’d do it, more importantly,” Roof said Monday. “We’ve just got to keep trying. If you just stay after it and stay after it one day it happens and one (turnover) can lead to two and two can lead to three.”
The Yellow Jackets’ 126th-ranked third-down defense was a focus of coach Paul Johnson’s weekly news conference on Tuesday. Opponents have been successful on almost half of third downs (50 of 101).
“We’ve got to be better on third downs and try to get off the field,” Johnson said. “We’ve beat that horse to death, but that’s the bottom line. … I think if we could be better on third down everything will fall into place and make everything better.”
Georgia Tech (4-3, 1-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) snapped a streak of three straight losses by beating Georgia Southern 35-24 on Oct. 15. Johnson said the defense “made some plays” but added that two fourth-quarter touchdowns by the Eagles made the score “disappointing.”
The Yellow Jackets’ defense played well in allowing only 31 combined points in wins over Boston College, Mercer and Vanderbilt to open the season.
“Their defense obviously has some special components about it,” said Duke center Austin Davis, who added the defense is overshadowed by the constant focus on Georgia Tech’s spread-option offense with its triple-option plays.
“Everyone always thinks Georgia Tech triple option,” Davis said. “… Georgia Tech’s defense doesn’t get as much credit as they should.”
More credit would come with attention-grabbing big plays. So far the defense has three interceptions and three fumble recoveries. Defensive tackle Patrick Gamble has three sacks. No other player has more than one.
Roof said he’s determined to find ways to create more turnovers.
“It frustrates you because it’s such a big component of winning and losing,” he said. “At the same time you’ve just got to keep working and stay after it.”
Saturday’s visit from Duke (3-4, 0-3) is crucial for Georgia Tech’s hopes to salvage its season. The Yellow Jackets play road games against two Top 25 teams the next two weeks — No. 21 North Carolina and No. 25 Virginia Tech.