Just when the Georgia Tech defense gave you a little something to believe in, came perhaps one of its worst performances of the season.
On the heels of an impressive second-half showing in a win over Duke, the Jackets gave up 42 points to Georgia last week in a humbling 42-10 defeat. That is not exactly the type of performance you want to have headed into the ACC championship game Saturday against No. 13 Florida State.
We all know this defense has struggled all season long. Coach Paul Johnson fired defensive coordinator Al Groh back in October to shake things up. Though there have been some improvements, there simply is not enough consistency. Playing well for a quarter or a half is all well and good, but Johnson is seeking a four-quarter effort.
"We've played good in spurts," Johnson said this week. "I think we've played a couple of halves decently in the last few games, but it's been a while since we really played a consistent what I would call 60‑minute game on defense."
What will it take for that to happen?
"Well, we're going to have to have guys do a better job of looking at what they're supposed to look at and playing their keys and playing with great effort than we've had the last few games for sure," Johnson said.
When Johnson fired Groh, the Jackets had given up 40 or more points in three straight games for the first time in school history. In the second half of the season, the Jackets gave up 40 or more points three times as well, but they were sandwiched in between much better efforts.
Charles Kelly has been directing the defense in the interim and made things less complex for the players, which has helped.
"I would just have to say we're playing faster," linebacker Quayshawn Nealy said. "We haven't had to think a lot on defense with all the calls. Coach Kelly has kept it very simple for us, and just guys are able to just play without thinking so much about, like, what gaps and all that they have to take care of or who they've got in the flats and stuff like that. Just know the call and just play. That's all we're doing."
Still, Georgia Tech is in the midst of its worst defensive season under Johnson, his fifth at the helm. The Jackets have given up an average of 391.9 yards per game, and an average of 30.7 points per game -- all highs under Johnson. That is about 10 points more per game and nearly 90 yards more per game than when Johnson arrived in 2008.
The Jackets will have their hands full with Florida State, which ranks No. 8 in the country in scoring offense -- putting up 41.5 points per game. They are going to need their best defensive effort of the season if they have any shot at pulling off the upset.
"Defensively, what you’re trying to do is get a few stops and maybe some turnovers," Johnson said. "We have to get into our kind of game; a grind game, with not a lot of possessions, and the stops become premium. If you get four or five stops it’s a big deal. But that’s how you play every game; I don’t think you approach this one any differently."