The Georgia Tech defense could almost have its season broken down into segments.
There were the giddy days of the first five games, when the offense was scoring so many points that the defense was an afterthought. The next four games, other than the ability to slow the run against Virginia, were pretty good, with the highlight being a win over Clemson. And the final three games were poor, as Virginia Tech, Duke and Georgia had no trouble moving the ball.
So as Georgia Tech prepares to play Utah on Saturday in the Sun Bowl, fans must be wondering what to expect.
“I think we’re a lot better,” linebacker Julian Burnett said. “We’ve been going through practices, doing things the right way. I think we’re right at our peak.”
It would help Georgia Tech’s cause if Burnett’s assessment was right. The Yellow Jackets are matched against a team that prefers to run the ball behind its big, experienced line. Four of the five starters graded out 81 percent or better this season. Right tackle Tony Bergstrom and left tackle John Cullen were both named to the all-conference team.
The big line has opened holes for John White, who ranks 11th in the nation with 117 yards per game. White is only 5-foot-8 and 186 pounds, but he is a tough, durable runner who has carried it 290 times. He left the final game with Colorado early because of an ankle injury but had averaged 166.5 yards in the four previous games. White needs 104 yards to set a single-season record. Utah is 7-0 when White rushes for 100 yards.
“To be honest we’ve struggled with power running teams all year,” Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson said. “So it’s going to be a real challenge to our front seven to see if we can slow them down running the ball. If they have a lot of success running the ball, it’ll probably be a long day for us.”
The most recent big back to cause Georgia Tech problems was Virginia Tech’s David Wilson, who went for 175 yards on 23 carries. Virginia’s Patrick Jones carried 18 times for 149 yards, as Georgia Tech allowed 272 yards rushing. North Carolina’s Giovani Bernard ran for 155.
“I think we’ve gotten better,” Burnett said. “As far as reads and recognizing plays little things like that.”
The Yellow Jackets will be without starting cornerback Louis Young, who will miss the bowl game -- and possibly more games -- because of an undisclosed violation of team rules. Young is tied for fourth on the team with 52 tackles, with five pass breakups, one interception and one forced fumble. He’ll be replaced in the starting lineup by Jemea Thomas, with Jamal Golden or Mike Peterson playing the No. 3 cornerback role.