Tech defense not showing its strength

Head Coach Geoff Collins hopes his defense can turn things around soon. The group has surrendered an average of over 40 points per game thus far in 2020. // Photo courtesy of ACC Media

Tech football is going through a complete rebuilding process. A decade of the Paul Johnson triple-option offense shaped one of the most unique identities in college football, which at its best netted an Orange Bowl victory in 2014 over Mississippi State and current Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. It was built around a hard-to-track run game that was predictably unpredictable on every play, dependent on the ability to exploit holes created by the offensive line. This meant if Tech had a good offensive line, the team was likely good. If the offensive line was overmatched in size and speed, it would be a rough day. It was an offensive style fully dependent on size and speed, with the occasional trick pass.

Paul Johnson’s retirement brought what probably was a much needed change to the team’s identity on the national landscape, especially with a significant number of games happening in Tech’s backyard at Mercedes Benz Stadium, including the SEC Championship Game and the Peach Bowl. Atlanta is the center of college football, so it shouldn’t be unfair to expect that the premier university in the city be somewhat competitive in a Power 5 conference, regardless of our academic expectations.

Enter Geoff Collins, former defensive coordinator at Temple, former Tech recruiter, and former resident of Columbia Drive in Decatur. We knew the offense was going to take a couple seasons at least to adjust to Collins’ pro style offense. Defense, on the other hand, was Collins’ strong suit, and the main piece of the admittedly work-in-progress football team that should have shown life the quickest.

Collins received a mulligan for last season, as many of Paul Johnson’s players were still on the roster. The 2020 season has its own pandemic sized asterisk, but it was the first where Collins got to recruit his own players and also the first with a full offseason for Collins. Theoretically, the defense should be in a better place, or at least showing signs of improvement with maturity.

Tech’s season opener against Florida State gave the impression that the defense was making these steps. FSU only scored 13 points at Doak-Campbell with 307 yards of total offense. Since then, however, Tech has only beaten Louisville, and has given up some sizable point totals: 49 points to a strong UCF team, 37 points to an offensively abysmal Syracuse team, and 73 points to Clemson, notwithstanding Dabo Swinney’s insertion of his second-string offense early in the second half. Most recently, they allowed 48 points to Boston College, who has only scored 27.5 points per game this season. This puts Tech 92nd out of 101 playing FBS teams so far in points allowed per game at 41.2.

It is fair to point out that freshman quarterback Jeff Sims has been giving the defense no favors. He’s thrown 10 interceptions to only 8 touchdowns, and has not shown impressive ball security, putting the defense on the field more than they should be.

Regardless, Tech’s performance on the defensive end of the ball is concerning. No team can expect to put up even a .500 season without showing some strength on defense, especially in a Power 5 conference. Admittedly, the Clemson game was a mismatch from the beginning, as receivers were left open the entire game. Boston College and Syracuse, however, were disappointing to say the least. Both games got out of hand very quickly – last week’s game was essentially over by halftime.

Tech is donning the Black Watch defense throwback jerseys against Notre Dame. While it’s meant to be honorary, the irony cannot be ignored that a defensively minded team is not pulling its weight. Defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker’s unit needs to do a better job of giving the team a fighting chance.