Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich
Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Dave Wommack has tried just about everything. He’s moved players around. He’s switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme because he was running out of healthy defensive ends. Now, with the injury situation having limited his options, he’s given his players one more task -- have fun.
Georgia Tech safety Morgan Burnett said the message this week was not to become preoccupied with making mistakes or worrying about past errors made against Florida State. Instead, it was to let loose and have some fun on Saturday against the Hokies.
There’s no question, though, that the Yellow Jackets’ pride has taken a hit in the past two weeks. Despite winning both games, Georgia Tech allowed Florida State 539 yards of total offense and Mississippi State racked up 487. Both teams averaged 37.5 points against Georgia Tech, and with the way Virginia Tech’s offense has been clicking lately, the better defense should win on Saturday in what could be a season-defining Coastal Division game.
“You take that real personal because football is a competitive sport, so no matter what you do, you want to be the best,” Burnett said. “You want to be the best unit and you want to try to stop the offense. When a team puts up that many points, it’s very frustrating, and it gets you really upset. But you can’t get frustrated. We have to move on to Virginia Tech. We can’t sit back and worry about what happened at Florida State. The only thing we can do is fix it and get better.”
Georgia Tech’s defense was the Jackets’ lone question mark entering this year, as it lost three of four starting defensive linemen who are now in the NFL. With the exception of Burnett and defensive end Derrick Morgan, this defense lacks the superstar lineup it had a year ago, and injuries have compounded the problem.
Linebacker Kyle Jackson suffered a season-ending foot injury, and two defensive ends -- Anthony Egbuniwe and Robert Hall -- have both missed time. Hall could return from a knee injury in November, and Egbuniwe missed one game with an illness. Two star safeties -- Cooper Taylor and Dominique Reese -- have missed a combined four games. Taylor has missed the past three games with a heart problem, but began to practice lightly on Monday. Reese has a shoulder injury and missed one full game and played only a snap at MSU. Combined, those players have missed 13 games.
“You hate to sit there and say that because it sounds like you’re making excuses,” Wommack said, “but I think that’s it as much as anything, I really do.”
It’s caused a lack of continuity, and the Jackets have gotten away from the experienced reps they had during spring and two-a-days. Wommack said he doesn’t expect to get anyone healthy this week. Instead, he’s had to move a corner who’s never played safety to free safety in Rashaad Reid, and that’s part of the reason he’s been tweaking his defensive philosophy midseason, which is usually unheard of.
“It’s the worst thing you can do, to keep changing this and that,” Wommack said. “We’ve got new players playing different positions and so forth, but it’s somewhat been out of necessity, too.”
Georgia Tech is ranked 108th in the nation in pass efficiency defense. Its rushing defense is allowing 135.5 yards per game. The number that counts, though, is how many points they’re allowing, and that’s 26.5 points per game. None of those statistics match up well against the No. 4 ranked Hokies, who are scoring 34 points per game, and rushing for 208.5 yards per game. Virginia Tech is ranked among the top 20 in the country in both categories.
“You just fight through it, that’s what you’ve gotta do,” Wommack said. “You try to point out the mistakes to the kids when you review the film and why, where the breakdowns were, and all of a sudden you start getting better. It doesn’t happen overnight. It really doesn’t happen overnight.”
It’s got to happen by Saturday, though, or the Jackets will be behind the Hokies in the Coastal Division standings -- again.