Tech Hopes Defense is “Groh-ing”
By David England
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Will Georgia Tech finaly see significant defensive improvement in year three under defensive coordinator Al Groh?
Georgia Tech is a school known for stellar minds, an exceptional engineering program and ACC Basketball. To say that the Yellow Jackets are a defensive-minded football program would be a major overstatement. When noted defensive coordinator John Tenuta took over as the Yellow Jackets' interim head coach in 2006, he stepped into the Flats with one thing in mind: make Georgia Tech a defensive-minded football program. In 2006, Tenuta led Tech to one of the best defensive years in school history, with his defense allowing 18.4 points per game, 105 rushing yards per game and 196 passing yards per game. In spite of his defensive prowess, Tenuta was released of his interim head coaching duties in 2007.
Once Tenuta was not re-signed, the initial thought was that Tech was looking to move in a different direction, which caused ACC offensive coordinators to let out a unanimous sigh of relief.
Since 2007, Georgia Tech has yet to have a defense ranked anywhere near where Tenuta's defensive squads generally ranked. Some experts believe the best move Tech could have made was to hire Tenuta as head coach. Paul Johnson (current head coach) stepped into the fray with a very impressive resume. Having coached Georgia Southern to a national championship, and turning Navy's football team into perennial bowl contenders. Johnson's option offense was something new to Georgia Tech and major FBS football in general. In a very short of period of time, the thought of defense at Georgia Tech was yet again put on the back burner.
With an ACC championship under Johnson's belt, not many could complain with the product on field. Johnson was not pleased, though, with the production on the defensive side of the ball and, in 2010, he hired ex-Virginia head coach Al Groh. Tech's hiring of Groh allowed the veteran coach to enjoy te satisfaction of calling his team's defensive plays for the fifth time in his career. Groh came to Tech with 43 years coaching experience, including having been the head coach for the Virginia Cavaliers (2001-2009), New York Jets (2000), and Wake Forest (1981-1986). Groh's resume also included winning ACC Coach of the Year in both 2002 and 2007.
Still serving as the defensive coordinator for the Yellow Jacket program, Groh has his mentor, Bill Parcells, to thank for much of his defensive knowledge. The expectations were very high for Al Groh when he embarked on his play-calling duties in Atlanta. Some fans saw flashes of a possible Tenuta defense again. As we have found out many times though, not all hirings go as smoothly as expected. Since Groh has taken over, the Georgia Tech defense has finished 62nd in total defense twice, has finished no better than 74th in rushing defense and has finished 47th and 33rd in passing defense in the last two seasons. Those statistics are a far cry from the days of John Tenuta.
The good news for Tech fans is that after the storm comes a rainbow. Most experts. coaches and players have expressed that it takes three years to implement a solid defensive change. Groh is now heading into his third season. Tech fans now expect much more out of Al Groh's highly coveted 3-4 defense.
Georgia Tech must play at a high level on defense to be able to take the ACC title in 2012. Reaching the top of the ACC mountain will be no easy task for the men from the Flats this season. Tech must travel to hostile Blacksburg, VA to take on one of the country's better defensive squads, and this early ACC matchup could prove vital to Georgia Tech's hopes of winning the ACC. The loss of LB Julian Burnett was a hard hit for Georgia Tech to take, but Tech must fill that gap if they hope to see the conference championship trophy this fall.
Groh has high expectations, rough critics and a talented defense. If there is not improvement on his side of the ball, Groh may be back to hunting for another coaching job. The biggest question is can Tech get back to the defensive days of John Tenuta?