October 20, 2009

Defense stepping up effort heading into UVA game

The Georgia Tech football team practiced for over two hours on Tuesday in preparation for the ACC Coastal Division showdown with Virginia in Charlottesville Saturday afternoon. After surrendering a 14-3 halftime lead last year and losing 24-17 at home, the Jackets have a score to settle with Virginia especially since Georgia Tech has not won there since 1990.

"It has been a long time since Georgia Tech has won up there and our kids are fully aware of that. They came in here last year and really got after us upfront," Defensive Line Coach Giff Smith said. "The challenge is there and I do not see motivation being a factor at all for us. We have a lot of things we have to answer for, they are leading the division right now, and we need to come out and perform. If we are able to come out and compete I think we have a chance."

After losing three straight non-conference games to open the season, the Cavilers have been playing well and that concerns Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson.

"They [Virginia] have reverted back to what they used to do," Johnson said. "They scrapped the new offense; they're back to running the same offense they ran forever under Al [Groh] and they stopped turning the ball over. They were a turnover a minute earlier in the year. They were not giving themselves a chance to play, but the last three games they have created turnovers. They have taken care of the ball and that is the difference between winning and losing. When you look statistically, they have been pretty good defensively the whole time, but they could not survive the turnovers. If you look at last week's game against Maryland, they forced five turnovers. One went for a touchdown; one was on the one-yard line. So, the offense took advantage, kicked some field goals and won the game. They had an offensive explosion against Indiana, other than that; it's been defense and turnovers."

On the defensive side of the ball for the Jackets, Smith was pleasantly surprised by the performances of his backup defensive tackles last week, Jason Peters and T.J. Barnes. Peters had an interception on a pass he batted up in the air and Barnes had several key stops eating up space.

"They work really hard even as a unit," Smith said. "They have bought into everything we are doing and they are trying to get better. There are still things they need to improve upon, but I have been around it for a while now and once you have some success, it bodes well for the future because it makes you work that much harder. I am hoping that is what happens."

The defensive line has been getting a better push and Smith says that comes from a basic understanding of what the coaching staff expects on given plays.

"They are understanding things better. There is no substitute for playing because the more you play, the more you understand. It is not always black and white out there. There is some gray and they are getting a feel for it. They are staying fresh and the offense does a great job of holding the ball. We are not out there for a whole lot of snaps, but when we are called upon like in the first half, we rise up and I think our kids are accepting that challenge."

Johnson was also pleased with the play of the linebackers last week in particular. Outside linebacker Sedric Griffin was named the player of the game and starting linebackers Brad Jefferson and Steven Sylvester had huge games. Johnson credits the linebackers' recent success from a change in defensive philosophy that turned the players loose.

"We changed things up a little bit to turn them loose and let them play and I thought they did very well against the run," Johnson said. "We still have some work to do in the passing game, but they played pretty well against the run. Sedric Griffin was our player-of-the-game, he made some great plays. Brad Jefferson made some great tackles and was very active and did some good things throughout the course of the game. Steven Sylvester played a lot better. They were productive."

Injuries

Freshman linebacker Julian Burnett is listed as doubtful for the Virginia game and he was in a red non-contact jersey sporting a large knee brace on Tuesday. Cooper Taylor is listed as questionable and defensive end Anthony Egbuniwe has been cleared to play after missing the last two games with a respiratory ailment.


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