UVa Vs. Georgia Tech Scouting Report: GT Defense
Sep 19, 2007
UVa's O-Line is an experienced group. Can they deal with Georgia Tech's pressure this week?
During the last three campaigns, Tech has been among the national leaders in run defense, finishing no lower than 20th in the rankings and never allowing more than 104.8 yards per game. During that same span, the Jackets always finished in the top 27 in pass defense and scoring defense. This season, eight starters return from a unit that ranked No. 20 nationally in rush defense, 9th in pass efficiency defense, 27th in scoring defense, and 27th in total defense a year ago.
The good thing about the Tech defense is that there's nothing clandestine about the approach. If you like blitzing, then this is the game for you. Tenuta brings it from inside and outside, safeties and corners, from all angles, and from all areas of the field. The result is usually a bewildered offensive line and a dazed and inaccurate signal-caller; and everyone knows its coming.
Boston College found a way to have success against the Jackets and Virginia has had amazing success, winning three of the last four contests against Georgia Tech. Can they make it four out of five?
- The Yellow Jackets have allowed just 14 first half points and have not allowed more than seven points in any quarter this season. In an interesting twist, during Virginia's three-game winning streak over GT from 2003-2005, Virginia was one of the top scoring teams against the Jacket defense during that span. The Hoos scored the 4th most points (29) against Tech in 2003, the second most in 2004 (30), and the second most (27) in 2005.
- The Yellow Jackets are allowing just 56 yards rushing per game and just 1.6 yard per attempt to rank 7th nationally in rushing defense (second in the ACC). Tech held Notre Dame to minus-8 yards rushing in the season opener.
- The Jackets lead the ACC and rank 4th nationally in sacks with 4.33 per game. They also rank 4th nationally in tackles for loss. Sixteen different Yellow Jacket players have been in on a tackle for loss and 11 different players have recorded a sack.
- Georgia Tech's defense has been on the field this season for 197 plays, of which 69 have gone for negative yardage or no gain. Notre Dame had 19 offensive plays that went for negative yardage. Samford and Boston College combined for 11 plays for loss or no gain.
Coach Groh Says ...
"The scheme on defense is the same and many of those players are the same. [Philip] Wheeler's been a tackling machine for them and he continues to be such. The two defensive ends are very difficult to handle, provide a lot of pressure from the outside, and have a lot of, not just athletic ability off the edge, but they are long guys with long arms and a lot of range."
Cedric Peerman says ...
"We're not looking at it as a showdown we're just trying to win the game. They're a great team. They have a great defense over there. I know they're giving up 1.6 yards per carry so it's going to be a challenge to run the ball against those guys. Anytime you play a football game, we feel it's an opportunity to showcase what your team can do so we're looking forward to it. It's an opportunity for us to win another game so that in itself is a positive thing for us."
#41 Philip Wheeler, MLB, 6-2/230, Senior, 14 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 sacks, 3 pass break-ups: The biggest question surrounding Wheeler is what defensive postseason award watch list he's not on. Bronko Nagurski, Chuck Bednarik, Rotary Lombardi - name it and Wheeler's on it. With good reason. The 2006 Second-Team All-American ranks among Georgia Tech's all-time leaders in sacks (14) and tackles for loss (27). Arguably one of the top linebackers in the nation and a key cog in defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta's blitz packages, Wheeler has rare athletic ability and is projected as a 2nd or 3rd round NFL Draft selection in April. He enjoyed his most effective game of the season against Boston College with 8 tackles, three pass break-ups, and a fumble recovery (his second of the year).
#4 Jamal Lewis, S, 6-0, 199, Senior, 14 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 pass break-up: A 2006 First Team All-ACC selection and 2007 Jim Thorpe Award candidate, Lewis is tied for second on the squad with 14 tackles. He is a sound in the box run stopper and will blitz from his safety position. Lewis posted six stops in the Boston College loss and led all Jacket defenders with eight tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble in the win over Notre Dame. He has four career interceptions.
#42 Adamm Oliver, DE, 6-4/265, Senior, 11 tackles, .5 tackles for loss: Saturday will be Oliver's 30th consecutive start and his 33rd career start. A Second-Team All-ACC performer last fall, he is a disruptive run stopper with 23 career TFLs. A defensive end on run downs, Oliver usually slides inside to defensive tackle in pass situations.
#90 Darrell Robertson, DE, 6-5/245, Senior, 15 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks: Georgia Tech's team leader in tackles, the tall, rangy defensive end is a reliable pass rusher and a disruptive force against the run. Robertson recorded 3 tackles for loss, recovered a fumble, and posted 1.5 QB sacks in the season opener at Notre Dame. He added a sack, 2.5 tackles for loss and forced a fumble in the Boston College contest. The Jonesboro, Ga., native currently ranks second in the league and fourth nationally in TFLs with 6.5.
A Closer Look
Running Defense: THE JACKETS BLITZ 75% OF THE TIME, INCLUDING RUNNING DOWNS. The general perception is not to run east-west on Georgia Tech in order to avoid tackles for loss and long down-and-distance situations. But Virginia's zone blocking scheme, which focuses on blocking an area as opposed to a specific player, seems better suited to handle this style of defense. That means the dreaded stretch run along with sweeps and bootlegs should be on the menu. As is often the key against aggressive, pursuing defenses, attacking the cutback lanes and sealing the defensive ends is where high levels of production come from. Easier said than done.
EXPECT TO SEE ZONE BLOCKING SATURDAY. I truly love the physical drive blocking I saw from our offensive front against UNC on Saturday, but this is not the week to get physical. A power running attack that tries to simply overpower the Yellow Jackets is likely to produce poor results. The Tech line has very good quickness and the players are highly proficient at shedding blockers. Don't look for Virginia to completely shelve the man-to-man blocking, but do look for zone plays in a higher percentage of the run mix.
VIRGINIA MUST HANDLE TACKLE DARRELL ROBERTSON to have any success running the football. Robertson is a superb tackler and an incredibly disruptive player (already 6.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble, and fumble recovery to his credit). He also has a team-high 10 solo tackles so he needs little help bringing ball carriers to the ground.
Passing Defense: TECH'S DEFENSE THRIVES ON CONFUSION. Jon Tenuta's aggressive style is predicated on disrupting the protection plan for the offensive line. Tech's defense employs a high dose of zone coverage and zone blitzing. Virginia's receivers (especially the tight ends) must do a good job at finding the open spaces left by blitzers in the defensive zones. THE JACKETS ARE RISK TAKERS ON DEFENSE. They try to confuse the quarterback and complicate pre-snap reads with various sets and take aggressive breaks on pass routes.
LOOK OR THE CAVALIERS TO WORK OUTSIDE THE HASHES with safe screens to the backs and quick-hitting out routes to tight ends or receivers. Expect the Tech corners to be looking for this and aggressively attack these edge patterns. This could lead to some big-play chances for one team. If a DB guesses right and jumps the out for an interception, it could be a defensive touchdown. If the QB and receivers can connect on some double-move patterns, the Cavs could put up big yardage and maybe a long score.
In the red zone: IT IS ESSENTIAL FOR THE CAVALIERS TO SCORE TOUCHDOWNS IN THE RED ZONE. The Eagles put up big offensive numbers against Tech, but managed just 24 points. That tells you scoring is at a premium against GT. Virginia has scored on 8 of 9 red zone trips this season but the Hoos have claimed just 39 of a possible 63 points in the zone. It won't get easier against GT. Opponents have scored 71.4% of the time in the zone against the Yellow Jackets but only 43% have gone for touchdowns.
I LIKE "BUNCH" PACKAGES IN THE RED ZONE AGAINST TECH. This personnel grouping bunches three receivers close to the line of scrimmage. I like operating against the Jackets in this alignment because the formation allows for maximum pass protection, attacks the Tech weakness at corner, the throws required are typically shorter and easier to complete, and running may be easier since the formation pulls defenders (i.e. blitzers) away from the ball. THE GOOD NEWS HERE IS THAT SINCE GT IS AGGRESSIVE ON EVERY DOWN, there won't be much in the red zone the offense hasn't already seen. As is the case in most series but even more so in the constricted area of the red zone, getting positive yardage and avoiding mistakes (penalties, going the wrong way on play calls, etc.) is paramount. The most important aspect of red zone offense is POSITIVE yardage on first down.
On first down: AFTER WATCHING BC'S MATT RYAN TORCH THE JACKET SECONDARY the temptation to go deep is strong. But I do not like second-and-long situations against the Jackets so short, "move the line of scrimmage forward" passes on the edge are my choice for the pass du jour. The Eagles were successful passing on first down, hitting on 16 of 24 attempts and connecting on 8 completions for double-digit yardage. In fact, BC ran more (18 times) on second and third down than first (12), averaging just 3.1 YPP.
ZONE VS. ZONE. Football is a game of adjusting. The emergence of the zone blitz, which, though talked about in the context of passing, is a run-stopping scheme. This approach has led to the proliferation of the zone blocking scheme to counter. Zone blocking reduces the effectiveness of the confusion Tenuta tries to create with his scheme as lineman focus on an area and not specific defenders. That all sounds great but execution is a must and penetration is an absolute no-no. VIRGINIA WILL PROBABLY RUN MORE TWO TIGHT END SETS this Saturday than we've seen thus far in 2007. Two tight end sets support run or pass options equally well, they provide for maximum protection, and they allow Virginia's best receivers a chance to get receptions as the "hot" receiver in spaces vacated by blitzing linebackers or safeties. Keep in mind, the goal on first down should be to gain 3 to 5 yards. The Hoos aren't a home run team so take what is available, move forward, and move on to the next play.
On third down: JUST CALL ME CAPTAIN OBVIOUS BUT STAYING OUT OF LONG DOWN AND DISTANCE SITUATIONS IS ESSENTIAL. BC averaged more than six yards per play on first down and faced just seven third downs of more than six yards. Tech's three opponents this season have gone 4 for 26 on third-and-long (15%). It's something Virginia must avoid. IF FACING THIRD AND LONG, look for the Hoos to do one of two things: chuck the ball deep and hope for a big play or throw something safe underneath to set up a punt or field goal. The goal? To avoid turnovers or mistakes that lose yardage. This is not the time for complexity, slow-developing east-west calls, or trick plays.
AFTER STRUGGLING ON THIRD DOWN IN THE OPENER against Wyoming, the Hoos have been much more effective. They currently rank third in the conference with a 40.4 conversion rate. The Jackets are in the middle of the pack in the conference, holding teams to a modest 31.1 mark.
Coaching: Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta's philosophy is simple: BLITZ ANYTIME FROM ANYWHERE. The Jackets display multiple sets, bring corners and safeties on the blitz, use various bends and twists, and do a lot of pre-snap shifting to try to confuse opposing quarterbacks. They will deploy both man and zone coverage (mostly zone) and they will blitz from both. It's all part of a well-conceived scheme that is cleverly disguised until the very last second, which generally sends only one or two extra pass rushers even though there appear to be more. That places an enormous amount of pressure on the quarterback to recognize where the pressure is coming from, make the correct read, and then attack the area vacated by the blitzer. For the QB, decision-making is critical as is the ability of the ends and receivers to avoid jams and quickly detect the open spaces in the defensive backfield.
Plays That Could Hurt Virginia
Fire Zone. Georgia Tech does not use a ton of man coverage and they never play zero coverage (total man). When the Yellow Jackets do show man, the QB must be aware of Tech's "Fire Zone" package. In this package, the strong safety and a linebacker blitz while an interior lineman drops into coverage. This blitz is designed to take away the offense's hot routes and take advantage of their protection schemes.
Double backside blitz. Tech will send five guys on virtually every passing down - the question is where will they come from. One blitz that has the potential to wreak havoc is Tech's double backside blitz. The Jackets send two blitzers from the edge, usually to the QB's backside. If it's not picked up, the QB gets nailed. Boston College countered this well by releasing the tight end on a hot route to the vacated flat - this was generally open for an 8- to 12-yard gain.
- Defensive front. The defensive line looks to be the deepest position on the Georgia Tech defense, led by Oliver and Robertson. The interior is stout with playmakers Vance Walker and Darryl Richard, who have combined for 4 TFLs and 2.5 sacks. In all, the seven-man front rotation has tallied 53% of the Jackets TFLs and 54% of their sacks.
- Linebackers. Georgia Tech returns two outstanding linebackers in Wheeler and Gary Guyton. Guyton is tied for the team lead in tackles (15) and has delivered 3.5 stops for loss this season. The backers excel at plugging up the middle and have accounted for 4 of GT's 13 sacks this season. The LBs also do a sound job of defending tight ends in the middle of the field.
- Cornerbacks. There are not many weaknesses in the Tech defense, but the cornerbacks are clearly one of them. As a unit, their play was inconsistent at best last season and their play against BC did little to change anyone's perception. Even after Virginia was torched by UNC and Wyoming for more than 550 passing yards, Tech is still just four spots ahead of Virginia's 81st rated pass defense.
- Screens and wheel routes. Zone blitzing teams are especially vulnerable against mismatched defenders and screens which take advantage of the natural separation created between the up-field rush and the underneath zone defenders. A defensive lineman attempting to cover underneath against a running back or tight end should create a mismatch advantage for the offense because of the space involved. The key here is QB recognition of whose covering where and getting rid of the ball quickly. I love clearing the corner with the "X" receiver then sending a running back or a tight end into the flat or up the sideline on a wheel route.
Virginia's Offensive Keys
- Dominate the line of scrimmage. In my continued role as Captain Obvious, the fact remains if you can run the football, then you can limit the effectiveness of the blitz. In two of Tech's four losses last year, West Virginia and Clemson ran for more than 300 yards combined. Running effectively, especially on first down, means fewer second- and third-and-long situations, when the Jacket blitz is most effective. If the Yellow Jackets are successful at stopping the run with the front seven, it will allow the safeties to help the vulnerable corners in coverage. A successful running game will force the safeties closer to the line of scrimmage for run support and possibly open the edges for the receivers.
- Limit the pressure on the QB. That means plenty of max protection even if it takes a tight end and running back out of the pattern. Even with limited receivers, quarterbacks can find someone open against five- or six-man coverage if they are given the time to throw. Roll the pocket away from the blitz to keep the defense guessing and give the Jackets a moving target as opposed to an easy to find stationary one.
- Recognize the blitz. The success of Tenuta's zone blitz is based on creating confusion and mistakes. Confusion causes delay and that allows the defenders time to get to the quarterback. Confusion creates turnovers, short fields and unmanageable down and distance situations. It requires snap judgments from not only the QB but the offensive line, the receivers, and the running backs and that only comes with sound preparation.
- Challenge the corners. Fans have been calling for the deep ball all season long and this is the week we might see it. Anyone that saw the Boston College game could not help but notice the weakness that is the Jacket cornerbacks, especially on the vertical throws. With safeties caught up in run support and blitzing, Tech corners typically operate in zone coverage. The QB must quickly identify if the corners are taking the underneath or deep zones and the receivers must adjust their routes accordingly. After the Eagles shredded the edge of the Tech secondary, Tenuta may give his corners some deep help with the safeties which could open the seams for the passing game.
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