Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Ted Roof has returned to his alma mater in Atlanta after a successful season at Penn State, and turned one of the nation’s worst defenses into one of the best in less than a full season. Not an easy task, and something for which Yellow Jackets head coach Paul Johnson should be thanking his lucky stars, otherwise Johnson’s seat would be beyond scorching at this point.
Roof was hired in January and walked in to what was an abysmal mess of a defense. In 2011, after a 6-0 start, the Jackets were outscored 48-14 in the fourth quarter of their final seven games. Tech finished with an 8-5 record, including an embarrassing 30-27 overtime loss to Utah in the Sun Bowl, where the Jackets led 27-13 with less than seven minutes to go in the game.
In 2012, things went from bad to worse, as defensive coordinator Al Groh‘s squad was outscored 71-48 in the fourth quarter. In their losses to Virginia Tech, Miami and Clemson, the Jackets held fourth-quarter leads in each game, only to end up losing. After hovering near 50th in the nation in both yards allowed and scoring defense for few seasons, the Yellow Jackets plummeted to 90th in yards allowed and 89th in scoring defense last year.
Exit Groh, stage left.
The first thing Roof did upon walking into Bobby Dodd Stadium was to request 10-play highlight tapes of each his returning defensive players. In studying the weaknesses and limitations, it gave him a better idea of what to scheme and how to best use the talents he had returning.
This hard study of returning players, along with simplifying the schemes and play-calling have allowed his players to more fully reach unrealized potential, and have given the Yellow Jackets a No. 9 national ranking in total defense and No. 8 in scoring defense through the first four games, and Roof hasn’t let that go unnoticed. Roof stated his feelings to ESPN.com‘s Matt Fortuna:
“I want our players to take pride at being great at something. I want them to take pride in how they work, pride in how they prepare and pride in defense at Georiga Tech. But I know this, all of it has to go together — offense, defense, special teams. There are going to be weeks where we have to win 49-48, and I’m good with that. There are going to be weeks where we have to win 9-2, and I’m good with that, too. Bottom line is we have to do what we have to do to win football games. But at the same time, I want our kids to have pride playing defense at Georgia Tech.”
Paul Johnson couldn’t be happier to not have to be overly concerned about his defense, because he’s got his hands full with QB Vad Lee, and trying to get his triple-option offense running smoothly – something that has been an unexpectedly daunting task so far this season.
With the diminishing returns that Johnson is seeing in each progressive season as the Yellow Jackets head coach–11-3 in 2009 to 7-7 in 2012–it was clear that some drastic changes needed to take place for him to remain in Atlanta. Roof may have given him just the stay of execution he needed.
With Roof’s defense performing at a high level, the Yellow Jackets need simply to be able to play option football like they have for the past five seasons to insure another trip to the ACC Championship game, and at least one more season of the perfect option at Georgia Tech.