UGA Football

Discipline could be determining factor for Georgia defense against Georgia Tech

Defensive back Dominick Sanders (24) intercepts a pass during Georgia’s game against Georgia Tech in 2015.
Defensive back Dominick Sanders (24) intercepts a pass during Georgia’s game against Georgia Tech in 2015. Georgia Sports Communications

None of Georgia's opponents make the most of discipline quite like Georgia Tech. If the Bulldogs fail to practice their own self control Saturday, it could make for a long day in Sanford Stadium.

The Yellow Jackets enter Saturday's game as one of the most disciplined teams in the nation. Georgia Tech has avoided many costly penalties in 2016 and are sixth in the country with just under 35 penalties yards per game.

Georgia Tech’s ability to limit penalties reflects how consistency is a key piece in a program centered around the triple-option offense, which relies on long, methodical drives.

“I think they are smart in how they do things,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. “They don’t have a lot of penalties offensively, defensively or even on special teams. That speaks to the discipline, organization, the decisions they make and the players make to not hurt themselves. They try really hard not to beat themselves. They do a good job of that.”

The challenge for the Bulldogs is being able to match Georgia Tech’s discipline, particularly when Georgia is on defense. With the Yellow Jackets’ style of offense comes a dire need for defenders to stick with their assignments throughout the game. 

One player not performing his duty can mean seven points for the other side. 

“We’ve got to work as one,” defensive lineman John Atkins said. “If one guy moves out of the way, it opens up for a big play. It’s not hard, but it’s going to be key for us to stay in our gap and maintain it and do what the coaches want us to do.”

Smart said the biggest obstacle in playing Georgia Tech is the preparation. Because of the rarity of the triple-option offense, this will be Georgia’s first time defending it in 2016. Georgia has dedicated time in the offseason and during the bye week for this game, as the coaches understand how unusual the matchup will be. Smart pointed out that the scout team offense will be important in accurately simulating what Georgia Tech will do. If it fails to get those looks right, there will be some unpleasant surprises come game day. 

Georgia’s scout team needs to mimic the Yellow Jackets’ offense in large part due to many defenders’ inexperience against the option. Not only are there several freshmen coming facing the in-state rival for the first time such as defensive lineman Julian Rochester, but even some of the Bulldogs’ biggest contributors this season, such as linebackers Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter, have had limited playing time against the Yellow Jackets. 

Sophomore cornerback Deandre Baker is among the players who haven’t faced the Yellow Jackets’ attack before. He said there are several veterans, specifically safety Quincy Mauger, who have spoken to the younger players about what it takes to slow their offense down. That combined with the coaches have helped the younger guys understand what will happen Saturday.

“You’ve got to play attention in film (study) and do the right thing every play,” Baker said.

Baker explained that his role is to secure the perimeter and force Georgia Tech to run the ball back inside. He said his main objective is to avoid cut blocks, which is a staple in the Yellow Jackets’ offense. Baker said he hasn’t fought off blocks as much as he probably will this week but doing so is part of the task at hand.

Smart made the point that Georgia isn’t going to put forth anything on defense that Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson hasn’t seen before. Instead, it’s about Smart’s players understanding what they have to do individually and executing it again and again.

“It’s not like you’re going to go out there and outsmart the guy who’s been doing that offense all his life and knows where the weaknesses are with each thing you do,” Smart said. “He can expose them. The key is being sound, tackling and not giving up big plays.”