The Georgia Tech defense hasn’t had a great year by any standards.
The Yellow Jackets rank in the middle of the ACC in scoring defense with 21.9 points allowed. They’re ninth in the conference in rushing defense (140 yards) and eighth in passing defense (210.6 yards).
But the problem is more than just about allowing too many yards. It’s about failing to get the opposition off the field and getting the ball back in the hands of Georgia Tech’s offense, particularly on third downs. The Yellow Jackets rank dead last in the ACC in opponent’s third-downs, allowing them to convert 49.5 percent of their opportunities.
“We’ve got to find a way to get off the field,” head coach Paul Johnson said. “How many times did we have (Georgia Southern) third-and-7, third-and-13, third-and-11, third-and-whatever? We’ve got to find a way to get off the field.”
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Georgia Southern converted 13-of-20 times on third downs. Clemson, Mercer and Pittsburgh also surpassed the 50 percent success rate against Georgia Tech.
“The big thing (against Georgia Southern) was we didn’t give up too many big plays on defense, so the average per play, they ran 83 plays and made 335 yards,” Johnson said. “And it’s a nightmare calling plays on the other side, because you never see the ball.”
Only one time this season has Georgia Tech dominated the time of possession, that coming against Miami. Georgia Tech had the ball nearly 40 minutes in that game but was undermined by two fumbles that were returned for touchdowns. Miami ran only 46 plays.
Georgia Southern had the ball for 33:35 and became the fourth opponent won keep the ball longer than the Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech ran only 55 plays.
“People are doing to us what we’ve done to them,” Johnson said. “It’s not any fun.”
As a result, the Georgia Tech offensive numbers are lower on paper. The Yellow Jackets are averaging only 234.3 yards per game, the lowest in Johnson’s nine years. Those figures make it sound like the Yellow Jackets have lost their running game, when actually they still average 5.1 yards per attempt.
“You’re not going to get a lot of yards if you can’t get the ball,” Johnson said.
Johnson also admitted that the offense hasn’t always been great on third downs, going 2-for-12 against Clemson and 3-for-12 against Miami. Georgia Tech converted 5-of-10 against Pitt and 6-of-10 against Georgia Southern.
“The last three weeks, we’ve gotten a little better,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to continue to get better.”
Freshmen to stay put
The two true freshmen who started on the left side of the offensive line will remain there. Tackle Jahaziel Lee and guard Parker Braun performed well enough against Georgia Southern to keep their jobs. It was the second start for Braun, the first for Lee.
“The more they play, the better they’ll get,” Johnson said. “In my mind, Jahaziel is the starter until they beat him out.”
The honor roll
Georgia Tech named its players of the week for the Georgia Southern game, selecting Ricky Jeune (offense), Corey Griffin (defense) and Shawn Kagawa (special teams). Jeune had four catches for 51 yards. Griffin had a career-best 10 tackles, three for loss, and one sack.
The kickoff for the Oct. 29 game against Duke will be at noon. The game will be televised on Fox Sports South. It will be homecoming for Georgia Tech and will leave the Yellow Jackets with only one other home game, coming Nov. 19 against Virginia.