As I write this article news has just broken that Al Groh has been relieved of his duties as the Yellow Jacket DC. No doubt too many second half collapses by the defense in conjunction with their constant inability to get off the field after giving up an inordinate number of third downs plays was the final straw. While I believe in the strength of the 3/4 defense going forward as a fan I would also like to thank Coach Groh for his efforts in making the necessary changes to create a solid foundation for the players on defense, as well as his efforts in recruiting several current and future Yellow Jackets.
While nobody wants to see anyone lose their job, it was becoming quite apparent that whatever the reason the GT defense was just not getting lined up quickly enough regardless of the personnel changes by the offense. At the snap of the ball on numerous occasions this season and last I could still see linebackers and DB’s out of alignment and talking with each other while WR’s were wide open in both four and five receiver sets. That led too much of the problem in the losses both this season and last, and frankly it wasn’t getting any better. I applaud Coach Johnson for having the courage to take the responsibility and make the change heading into the bye week. No doubt it wasn’t an easy thing to do, but that is what a leader has to do in that position.
While we have to wait and see how the rest of the season plays out with the current defensive coaches, and I really hope they are able to get the job done themselves as a collective staff, my hunch is that Coach Johnson is probably already contacting folks to gauge their interest in becoming the new DC for next season. The current DC role will be handled as a group with the final decision making falling to Charles Kelly as this will be his opportunity to show Paul Johnson that he is the right person for the permanent job. If he decides not to promote within, then I would like to see a younger candidate with some impressive playing credentials get an opportunity for this job.
My choice would be to hire somebody like Mike Vrabel currently coaching at Ohio State who played the majority of his football in the NFL under Bill Belichick at New England whom Coach Johnson knows very well. No doubt Vrabel obviously knows the 3/4 defense inside and out as he played it as both an inside and outside linebacker for most of his career for the Patriots, and would bring the type of recent playing experience energy that might translate better with the players of today. Perhaps what was missing from the current 3/4 is a DC who can better relate to this newer generation of kids.
He epitomizes what Coach Johnson is looking for in a defensive coordinator as that side of the ball basically breaks down to; see ball, chase ball, get there quickly with violent tendencies, and make the tackle by wrapping up. Given the current evolution of the hurry up spread offenses in the college game that want to run 80+ plays every Saturday, it might be time to think outside of the box and breakaway away from the traditional hiring outlook of bringing in somebody with a strong resume’ of DC experience.
Currently in the entire NCAA there are two (2) teams playing consistently good defense; Bama and LSU, and up until a few weeks ago surprisingly it was Texas Tech was leading the country in defense until they were scorched by Oklahoma in Lubbock for over 40 points. The Red Raiders shocked everyone when they came back strong this past week completely shutting down West Virginia who were leading the country in scoring and likely ruining their chance to play in the BCS National Championship Game.
Those three (3) teams all have head coaches with a very strong defensive background that probably explains a major component of their prowess. Given the success of Paul Johnson on the offensive side of the ledger with the Yellow Jackets once again doing very well on that side of the football this season, we need to finally make the right hire on the defensive side of the football that will enable this program to become successful.
That is why I’m in favor of seeing how the rest of this season works out defensively with Coach Kelly running the defense before any further coaching changes take place. I’m also not in favor of trying to resurrect the past by bringing back Jon Tenuta or Giff Smith from the NFL. Frankly it’s time to make a radical move on the defensive side of the ball just as it was when GT decided to hire Paul Johnson and bring with him an offense that everyone said would not work at the BCS level. The fact it has worked this well without much in the way of defensive support since he has arrived is quite impressive.
I also grow quite tired of reading the usual drivel such as; the reason the Yellow Jackets can’t play defense is because they have to practice against that high school offense every day. Anyone who has played this game knows that the scout team offense and defense run the formations and plays of the upcoming opponents each week during the season. But as Paul Johnson likes to say; if you say it enough people begin the believe it.
Defense in the front seven (Line and linebackers) is basically all about effort and toughness in that you have to beat blocks in order to control your gap for the defense to succeed. After that you get to the football with some rage and make a tackle while maintaining your leverage, cutback lanes, and back side reverse support angles. If the Yellow Jackets can do a better job of that for the remainder of the season, they have a chance to salvage this thing.
While it would be great if the offense made every third down and fourth down attempt this season, you have to remember that the defense was charged with the responsibility of preserving a lead, and they have not come through yet this season. The reason Paul Johnson has made most of the decisions he has so far this season was based on the defense doing their part to help the team win.
While the play was better at times at Clemson, I expect to see several lineup changes to shake things up this upcoming game against BC. What I don’t expect to see this week are players walking around talking and pointing at each other while the offense runs a play as this confusion is occurring on the defense side of the football. Everyone should be able to line up in advance of the offense and get in place with the proper defense already signaled in to the players.
If that requires less substitution and the players on the field getting more reps, then they need to stay out there, make a play, and hold a team on third down to force a punt. As a defender you dictate how long you have to play each series. The more effort put forth with players carrying out their assignments, the quicker that unit gets off the field.
This defense has made plays all year long. They just can’t get a team off the field no matter what the yardage is on third down. Frankly, GT might have the best first and second down defense in the country, but for some reason it falls completely apart on third down. If they can solve that problem this week then maybe the results will turn out much better. If not, then look for major changes across the board this offseason.