Four games into the 2008 season, something happened to Georgia Tech. Something just clicked. It was that week, against Mississippi State, that the Yellow Jackets’ defense held firm and came within eight minutes of pitching the rare college football shutout.
While a fourth-quarter Bulldogs touchdown run was all that prevented the Yellow Jackets from the accomplishment, it did little to deter Georgia Tech’s defense from its goal.
The following week, in a home contest against ACC foe Duke, Georgia Tech’s defense was the epitome of stingy, keeping the Blue Devils from coming remotely close to the goal line. With a 27-0 victory, the Yellow Jackets had secured their shutout.
That game was just part of a larger three-game stretch in which the unit allowed just two touchdowns. During that period of time, the Yellow Jackets outscored Mississippi State, Duke and Gardner-Webb 75-14. Sure, the opponents weren’t the best, but it is tough to deny good defense.
The Duke shutout has seemed to work as a sort of inspiration for the latest installment of Yellow Jackets defenders. Earlier this summer, junior linebacker Brad Jefferson half-jokingly revealed that the defense’s primary goal this upcoming season would be “shutouts; straight shutouts.”
While it is highly unlikely that Georgia Tech will be a completely impenetrable force all season, there is reason to believe that the shutout could make an appearance in 2009.
Despite the departure of three of the team’s most vocal leaders in defensive linemen Michael Johnson, Vance Walker and Darryl Richard, the unit is expected to be led by Jefferson and safety Morgan Burnett. Last season, Burnett tied for the national lead with seven interceptions while garnering second-team All-ACC honors.
Additionally, linebacker Sedric Griffin — who provided a dramatic touchdown-saving, third-down, goal-line tackle early in last year’s Mississippi State game — returns alongside Jefferson, who was injured much of last year.
Other defensive highlights from those three consecutive contests included Johnson’s high-leaping field goal block and fumble recovery against the Bulldogs, the defensive line’s constant pressure on Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis and the Yellow Jackets’ timely tackles late against the Runnin’ Bulldogs that allowed defensive lineman Derrick Morgan to have a game-saving field goal block of his own.