The Georgia Tech defense was supposed to be better this season, and through the Yellow Jackets‘ first three games, it seemed like it would be.
It looked like perhaps the defense was coming together, like defensive coordinator Al Groh finally had the personnel that would excel in his schemes.
All that changed last week, when the Yellow Jackets gave up 42 points and 609 offensive yards to the Miami Hurricanes, the most yards Georgia Tech allowed in a single game since 1977.
The Yellow Jackets were supposed to to bounce back this week against Middle Tennessee State University. After all, Georgia Tech won each of their last two meetings against the Blue Raiders by 28 points, and they hadn’t lost to a non-BCS school since 1996.
But missing linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu and cornerback Louis Young to injuries, the Yellow Jackets were just as bad against MTSU as they were against Miami, allowing 510 yards and surrendering 49 points. Blue Raiders’ running back Benny Cunningham obliterated the Georgia Tech defense with five touchdowns and the first 200-yard game of his career.
Hoping to get back on track before facing the dangerous Clemson offense on the road at Death Valley next weekend, Georgia Tech fell miserably short of the mark.
Losing consecutive home games for the first time since 1988, badly, and to a Sun Belt team no less, is embarrassing; surrendering 91 points and 1119 yards in just two games is unacceptable. (For comparison, Georgia Tech allowed exactly 1119 rushing yards in all of last season.)
Is it time for the Yellow Jackets to give Al Groh the boot and find someone else to coach up the floundering defense?
Groh has come under fire for the team’s poor defensive performances under his tenure as coordinator, and the critics will be louder than ever after the most recent loss.
In his first season, Groh installed a new system and had four true freshman playing on defense, so inexperience and the inevitable adjustment period were valid excuses. Statistically, the defense improved in his second season; the number of interceptions increased and the unit held firm against eventual ACC Champion Clemson.
This was supposed to be the best year yet for Groh’s Georgia Tech defense, but it’s gotten worse over the last few weeks.
Georgia Tech’s next game is against Clemson, one of the ACC’s strongest offenses. It was always going to be a challenge, but the way the defense has been playing, it doesn’t look like the Yellow Jackets will have even a remote chance of stopping the Tigers.
After the loss to Miami, Groh said he wanted to reserve judgment on how much the defense improved until he saw a full season’s worth of play, but after losing to Middle Tennessee State, he might not be around until the end of the season to make that decision.
Canning him now would be understandable, but would it be the right move?
Firing Groh would make it appear as though the team was trying to go in a different (better) direction, and it would buy head coach Paul Johnson more time, but it wouldn’t immediately solve anything. The Yellow Jackets are probably going to lose to the Tigers regardless of who’s coaching the defense, and shaking up the already-shaky system mid-season could turn the rest of the schedule into an even uglier disaster.
If took the Georgia Tech defense more than two seasons to pick up his system, how beneficial could it possibly be to make a change just days before facing Clemson?
After Clemson, Georgia Tech – even the Georgia Tech we saw this week – will have a chance to get back on track, again, with games against Boston College, BYU, Maryland, North Carolina, and Duke. All of them, until the finale against Georgia, are winnable. (Then again, that’s what everyone thought about Middle Tennessee State.)
If Groh can survive the next two weeks, maybe teach a few guys how to tackle and explain the concept of pressuring the quarterback, the season could be salvaged, which is more than anyone can say about Groh’s job if the defense doesn’t improve.