ACC: Dave Wommack
He’s back at his alma mater, Georgia Tech, and the former Duke coach is back in the ACC, once again as Georgia Tech’s defensive coordinator.
Roof is one of the nice guys in the business, but he’s moved around as much as major-league pitcher Edwin Jackson. Journeyman Jackson played for seven teams in his first 10 seasons. This will be Roof’s fourth stop since 2008, as he spent last year at Penn State, 2010 at Auburn, and 2008 at Minnesota. Will Roof give Georgia Tech’s defense any stability? Because it’s in desperate need of some.
Paul Johnson fired Dave Wommack after the 2009 season, he fired Al Groh midway through last season, and interim coordinator Charles Kelly is expected to be hired at Florida State, according to a source. Roof’s ties to Georgia Tech would indicate The Flats would make a good permanent home -- he was a linebacker for the Jackets under Bill Curry from 1982-1985. He is in the Georgia Tech Athletics Hall of Fame. He came back in 1998 as linebackers coach under George O’Leary and was defensive coordinator for three years.
He’s done this before.
And he’s left before.
It wasn’t since Roof’s tenure as head coach at Duke (2004-2007) that he stuck around anywhere for a while. Georgia Tech would benefit if it could find some consistency at the coordinator position.
Georgia Tech’s defense began to make significant strides in the second half of the season under Kelly, and with eight starters returning, Roof will inherit a solid, experienced group coming off an impressive win over USC in the Hyundai Sun Bowl. The Yellow Jackets closed the season by shutting out Florida State in the second half of the ACC Championship game and holding USC to just seven points.
Georgia Tech has hired one of its own to build off of that performance. The question is whether or not Roof will really call it home again.
Much of the focus, though, was on what the conference didn't do defensively -- i.e., Florida State, NC State and Georgia Tech. The latter was a middle-of-the-pack defense, hardly horrendous, but it disturbed coach Paul Johnson enough to fire Dave Wommack and hire Al Groh as defensive coordinator.
Here's a statistical look at which teams are in need of the most defensive improvement in 2010, followed by a guess at which programs will show the most progress the fastest:
MOST IN NEED OF A MAKEOVER:
1. Florida State -- The Seminoles ranked 108th in rushing defense, 110th in pass efficiency defense, 108th in total defense, and 94th in scoring defense.
2. Maryland --The best news for Ralph Friedgen last year was that Florida State's defense was worse -- and it stole the show. The 2-10 Terps, though, allowed 31.25 points per game and ranked No. 100 in the nation in scoring defense.
2. NC State -- The Pack had a young secondary and were without their best player in Nate Irving. They finished No. 99 in the country in scoring defense, and No. 106 in pass efficiency defense.
FASTEST ROAD TO RECOVERY:
1. Maryland --The Terps return all of their linebackers and should be more productive in the second season under defensive coordinator Don Brown.
2. Florida State -- The Seminoles have nowhere to go but up, and first-year defensive coordinator Mark Stoops is installing a scheme that better fits the personnel.
3. NC State --The secondary is still young, and all four starters up front must be replaced. The additions of Jon Tenuta and Irving should help.
In just two seasons, Johnson managed to win the school’s first outright ACC title since 1990, take the program to its first BCS bowl game since 1967, and repeat as the ACC’s Coach of the Year.
In a matter of months this offseason, though, several of the leading contributors to that instant success have departed, leaving Johnson right back where he started when he entered the conference -- facing some serious doubts and ready to answer them head-on.
While four early departures for the NFL draft left the Jackets with a shortage of star quality this spring, there certainly isn’t a lack of confidence their replacements can maintain the Jackets’ spot atop the Coastal Division standings.
“The confidence level is definitely high,” said Anthony Allen, who will take over for leading rusher Jonathan Dwyer at B-back. “I can tell you firsthand, we don’t think of ourselves as the replacements. That’s how college football goes -- players come, then they go. This is an opportunity for a new guy to step up and make himself a name, make himself a big-time player. We’re definitely confident in our abilities. We feel like we can go out and probably produce more than we did last year.”
That sense of security comes from the top, where Johnson said he prefers to look at what he has coming back, not what he lost.
“I think that we lost some really good players, but I think as a whole we’ve got more good players,” Johnson said. “I don’t know that we have great players, but we’ve got more good players. I don’t know that you get a Derrick Morgan that often. I don’t know that we have another Derrick Morgan right now. But I think we’ve got more depth and some good, young players. We’re excited about the young guys that people haven’t really seen.
“We lost an awful lot of good players, but my experience has been somebody else will step up,” he said. “That’s what needs to happen.”
Georgia Tech’s championship roster isn’t depleted -- the Jackets only lose five starters on offense and three on defense. It’s who they lost -- wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and Dwyer, who combined to account for 22 of the team’s 58 passing and rushing touchdowns, Morgan, who had 12.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss, and Burnett, who led the team with four interceptions.
Offensively, there should be a smooth transition this spring with Allen, a former A-back, taking over for Dwyer at his natural position. There are high expectations for receiver Stephen Hill to eventually be as productive as Thomas.
“In this offense, when you learn one position, you have to learn them all in order to know how it works, and how everything clicks together,” Allen said.
Defensively, though, Georgia Tech will be in transition. The fact that Groh and Johnson were recently two headstrong head coaches on opposing sidelines in the Coastal Division is only part of the subplot. The Jackets will have a nose guard for the first time. Some defensive ends will move to outside linebacker. Groh and the defensive staff have reviewed film from every game in 2009 and penciled in players at certain positions based on their past performances and winter workouts.
“We lined up in a bunch of different ways last year,” Johnson said. “It will take some time, but our guys are excited about it.”
If Georgia Tech can put it together on defense quickly enough, the Jackets will be one of the more difficult teams to prepare for in the country, as both the offensive and defensive schemes are unique to prepare for in a week’s time.
Georgia Tech has grown used to proving its doubters wrong.
“It wasn’t a fluke we were the ACC champs,” said Allen. “We were the champs for a reason. We’re definitely going to defend our title.”
Who Johnson hires as his next defensive coordinator will be one of them. Might it be former Virginia coach Al Groh? That would make two extremely smart Xs and Os coach on the sideline together (Virginia's defense was not the problem in 2009.) Georgia Tech's inconsistent defense was impossible to ignore this year, but the Jackets were able to win the majority of time in spite of it. Wommack pointed to injuries on numerous occasions, and he had three new starters on the defensive line, but Johnson obviously expected more the past two seasons. Georgia Tech ranked No. 56 in the country in scoring defense this year (24.79), and was 93rd in the country in tackles for loss. The Jackets ranked in the lower half of the ACC in every major statistical defensive category. But for Johnson to make a change after an 11-3 season shows his standard is high -- very high.
And of course, everyone is still awaiting the decisions of a few key juniors, namely defensive end Derrick Morgan and B-back Jonathan Dwyer. Many have already pegged Morgan as out the door, but he hasn't made it official yet. If the Jackets lose their leading rusher, their leading receiver, their top defender, AND start 2010 with a new defensive coordinator, it should be considered a transition year for Georgia Tech. It would for any other team. The Yellow Jackets -- who were ranked No. 13 in the final Associated Press poll -- will have to earn their way back into the top 10 and will enter 2010 with something to prove.
But that's nothing new for Johnson.
Don't forget that it was only two seasons ago that Georgia Tech finished with nine wins and defeated Georgia on the road in an entirely new system, with two new coordinators and a new head coach, and a roster that was well-under the 85 scholarship limit. The ACC media picked Georgia Tech to finish fourth in the division in 2008 and it seemed as if everyone questioned whether or not Johnson's spread option would work at the BCS level.
Well, it worked, and so far under Johnson Georgia Tech has been named co-champs of the Coastal Division and ACC champs. Just ask Clemson how impressive that quick start is.
Johnson has made a pretty good living proving his doubters wrong, and regardless of who else decides to leave, the fact that he thrives on that is one thing about Georgia Tech that won't change in 2010.
"Dave is a good man and a good football coach," Johnson said, according to a release.
Read the full release here.
Against Miami, Georgia Tech played nickel almost the whole time -- probably to match speed, O’Keefe said. Other times, the Jackets lined up in a base 4-3. Against Clemson, it lined up in a 3-4. While much attention has been paid to Georgia Tech’s offense, O’Keefe is in wait-and-see mode to figure out what look the Jackets will show on defense in Tuesday night’s FedEx Orange Bowl.
“I'm sure usually by the end of the first quarter, like most ballgames, everybody settles into what they're going to do and you begin to, you know, go to work from there,” O’Keefe said. “But there's going to be definitely a period where we've got to find out a little bit about them and what they're going to come at us with in that first quarter.”
Georgia Tech’s fans and coaches would probably like to know, too. The Yellow Jackets have been inconsistent on defense all season.
Has Georgia Tech’s pass defense improved?
“It got better the last two games because the other teams didn't have to throw,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said with a smile, knowing Clemson and Georgia combined for 662 rushing yards.
Georgia Tech’s goal Tuesday night is to take away Iowa’s running game and force quarterback Ricky Stanzi to win with his arm. That could be easier said than done, if Georgia Tech plays the way it has in the past two games. The Jackets allowed Clemson 323 total rushing yards and 9.5 yards per carry in the ACC championship game, and Georgia rushed for 339 yards and 7.7 yards per carry in the regular-season finale. If the Jackets load the box, that will force Georgia Tech’s secondary into man coverage. The Jackets are No. 85 in the country in pass efficiency defense.
“Whatever we have in the game plan, we have to come up as cornerbacks and meet the challenge,” said Mario Butler. “If you’re going to be on an island by yourself, you’re going to be on an island by yourself. That comes with the territory, too. As a cornerback, a lot of the times you are going to be by yourself. You have to focus in on your fundamentals and technique. I think that the extra 15 practices that we have had have helped us focus on fundamentals. During the season, you can get out of whack a little bit and your fundamentals can go away. These practices have focused so much on technique and fundamentals that, by the time you get to game day, it’s just a part of the process.”
Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said injuries played a part in the struggles, but also hinted there are some things about this year’s defense that just can’t be fixed.
“You hate to sit up here as a defensive coordinator and you don't want to make excuses, but we started in an eight-man front with our defense,” Wommack said. “And we lost two safeties and a defensive end versus Miami. We switched to a 4-3.
“We've got some kids that have worked hard. But we're deficient in some areas. There is no question about that. The kids play hard, and they work hard, but there are have been some deficiencies with our defense this year.”
Stanzi started Iowa’s first 10 games and got the Hawkeyes off to a 9-1 start before suffering an ankle injury in the second quarter against Northwestern and missing the rest of the regular season. He completed 154 of 275 passes for 2,186 yards, 15 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. His performances have been unpredictable, as he threw five interceptions against lowly Indiana, but didn’t throw one on the road against Wisconsin.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said that Stanzi has looked “absolutely fine” the past couple of weeks.
“He's a little sore after workouts,” Ferentz said. “But, you know, he ices it up and we don't anticipate any problems with him at all this week.”
The experience factor, though, should give the Hawkeyes a confidence boost.
“He just knows how to lead our team,” said senior guard Dace Richardson. “He knows the right audibles if we don’t have the right looks to make. He’s quick on his feet. When he went down, a lot of us were upset, but luckily James Vandenberg came in and did real great job and almost beat a great team for us.”
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said the Jackets don’t prepare for any one player, they prepare for the system.
‘They're not going to change what they do radically, no matter who the quarterback was or who is playing or the running back or whoever it might be,” Johnson said. “So you get ready for what their offense presents. And certainly he's an outstanding player and he was the starter for a reason. So I feel sure that he'll be back full speed, and we figure he's going to play a great game.”
The only question is if he’ll wait until the fourth quarter again to do it.
Here are the ACC's top performers for Week 7:
Boston College running back Montel Harris: He set two school records in the Eagles' 52-20 rout of NC State. Harris had 264 yards rushing and five touchdowns. It was an impressive accomplishment considering the Wolfpack entered that game holding opponents to just 62.8 rushing yards per game. On the second series, Harris lined up in the Wildcat formation and took off for 70 yards. He scored on the next play for a 7-0 lead and continued to run at will from that point on.
Clemson running back C.J. Spiller: He wanted to prove he's more than just a return threat, and Spiller did that with touchdown runs of 66 and 14 yards in the Tigers' 38-3 win over Wake Forest. He finished with nine carries for 106 yards. His 66-yard touchdown was the fifth scoring play of at least 63 yards this season for Spiller and pushed the ACC's all-purpose career yardage leader past 6,000 yards -- a first in league history.
Virginia defensive end Nate Collins: His 32-yard interception return in the third quarter gave Virginia the lead for good and helped seal a 20-9 win over the Terps and kept the Cavaliers undefeated in conference play. It was his first career interception and the first by a Virginia lineman since Nick Jenkins did it in 2008.
Georgia Tech's defense: After giving up an average of 37.5 points and 513 yards over the past two games, Georgia Tech held the Hokies to 334 yard of total offense and, with the exception of a 66-yard touchdown run, kept running back Ryan Williams in check most of the night. The Hokies were scoreless in the first quarter, and defensive coordinator Dave Wommack did a great job of getting his players ready for a much improved Hokies' offense.
Miami coach Randy Shannon: With a 5-1 record, Miami is off to its best start since 2005. He has the Hurricanes ranked in the top 10. And they haven't lost focus in the past two weeks despite playing against lesser opponents. Oh, and he's the one who hired Mark Whipple as offensive coordinator. It's time to give this man a sticker -- and a contract extension.
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.
|AP Photo/Gregory Smith|
|Safety Morgan Burnett knows the defense needs to pick things up.|
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.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Here are this week's top performers in the ACC, and surprise, surprise, none of them are named Harris:
Georgia Tech's defense: North Carolina's defense was the one that had people talking for the right reasons heading into this game, but it was the Yellow Jackets who forced three turnovers and held UNC to just eight first downs and 17 rushing yards. Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack deserves credit for being willing to change four games into the season, as adding an extra linebacker helped. UNC finished with 154 total yards. The Tar Heels converted just 1-of-11 third downs.
BC quarterback Dave Shinskie: And the Eagles have found someone to lead them on offense. Shinskie completed 18 of 29 passes for 228 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in the Eagles' 27-24 overtime win against Wake Forest. The 25-year-old true freshman became the first Boston College quarterback to throw three touchdown passes in a game since Matt Ryan did it against Michigan State in the Champs Sports Bowl on Dec. 28, 2007.
NC State quarterback Russell Wilson: He's played well in each of the past three games, but this is the first game he's faced a legitimate defense since South Carolina. He threw four touchdown passes for the third straight week, kept his interception-free streak alive, and rushed for 91 yards in the Pack's 38-31 come-from-behind win over Pitt.
Virginia Tech running back Ryan Williams: He rushed for 150 yards and two touchdowns on a career-high 34 carries in the Hokies' 31-7 win over No. 9 Miami. He proved his durability, and he also added two catches for 40 yards.
Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster: There are few coaches who can elicit such a turnaround within a week's time like Foster. Virginia Tech's rushing defense, which was ranked 107th in the nation heading into the Miami game, held the Canes to just 59 yards rushing. The Hokies were the first defense to pressure Jacory Harris and he was sacked twice. They forced Harris into a fumble that led to a touchdown on his fifth snap and that set the tone for the game. Miami was successful on just one third-down play.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Much of the attention Georgia Tech has received this preseason has been focused on Jonathan Dwyer and the Jackets' stable of running backs. If they're going to contend for the Coastal Division title, though, the defense will have to hold its weight, too, and the Jackets have to replace three of four starters up front. I caught up with defensive coordinator Dave Wommack to check in on the defense heading into summer camp.
|Todd Kirkland/Icon SMI|
|Entering 2009, Dave Wommack has some holes to fill on his defensive line.|
Are you changing anything? I've heard some rumblings about maybe a different scheme this year.
DW: We may change up some things a little bit, but I think it may be based [more] on personnel than it will anything else. We'll see when we get into two-a-days, but there's not going to be any drastic changes.
Are there things you saw in the spring on the defensive line that give you concerns that are forcing you to tinker with it?
DW: [He laughed]. Just inexperience. When you lose three guys to the draft, it's just a matter of inexperience. I think we've got some good, young guys that are coming up. They just haven't played very much. That's the biggest thing, but no, that's not why we're changing. It's really our experience is more in the secondary, maybe get more five DBs on the field more than anything else.
Yeah, tell me about that group a little bit. You have a lot of guys coming back, especially with Morgan Burnett.
DW: It kind of flips. Now your most-experienced players are guys that have played one year. I'm looking forward to the secondary. I think it will be a strength for us with Morgan leading the way.
What more can he do? What are you expecting from him this year?
DW: Really that's the thing that concerns me as much as anything, because Morgan wants to make every play. It's really, Morgan, stay within the framework of your defense. Don't let your eyes get you in trouble. The play is going to come your way. You're a featured stop for us on defense, so don't try to do more than what you need to do because the defense will break down. So I don't think it's so much asking him to do more, just really do what you've done. Don't try to do too much.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Georgia Tech linebacker Brad Jefferson laughed out loud when asked how eager he is to play a full season of football after a dislocated wrist kept him out of four games in 2008.
"I'm looking forward to it so much I can't even explain it in words, I'm so excited about it," he said. "It was really hard for me sitting out that long, watching my teammates go battle other teams, but things happen that you just have to deal with. I couldn't do anything but sit on the sideline and support my team until I came back."
The coaching staff is probably equally as excited to have Jefferson back on the field. Both he and Anthony Barnes were injured in the season opener last year and never quite returned to 100 percent. Barnes went on to miss the next two games with a shoulder injury and ended the season with a broken bone in his leg at Georgia.
This spring, their return gave a boost to a much deeper linebacking corps. Cedric Griffin is the only senior of the bunch and was the most consistent linebacker last year. He was somewhat of a surprise, as he came on after Jefferson and Barnes were hurt in the season opener. Griffin made his first career start against Boston College, and now he's one of only six scholarship seniors on the roster.
Kyle Jackson started 2008 at outside linebacker and then moved inside after Jefferson was hurt. He remained the starter there through the ninth game and came off the bench against North Carolina. Steven Sylvester played as a true freshman last season as a backup at outside linebacker in 12 games. B.J. Machen and Malcolm Munroe give the staff seven players they feel comfortable with.
Because it's the second year in coordinator Dave Wommack's defense, there is a greater sense of comfort with the playbook and the defense is expected to have a lot of different looks. (Some of that might be to help compensate for loss of three starters on the defensive line). The staff added the hybrid defensive back/linebacker position in an effort to get the best players on the field, and the strength is in the secondary and with the linebackers.
"The defense changed a little bit for the LBs because we used to go a lot of man, now we're in a lot of zone," Jefferson said. "This spring as a defense we did very well. We've got a lot of spots to fill, and every guy that has a spot to fill is stepping up."
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
With so much attention on what Georgia Tech's defense is trying to replace this spring (100 career starts and 100 tackles-for-loss on the defensive line), the Yellow Jackets' secondary might be one of the best kept secrets in the ACC. It's definitely one of the deepest.
Juniors Morgan Burnett, Mario Butler, Dominique Reese and sophomore Rashaad Reid all return from last year's nine-win season with starting experience, and the group goes even deeper. Junior Correy Earls, a part-time starter at wide receiver last season, moved to the secondary, and redshirt freshman Kamaron Riley will also be in the mix. Cooper Taylor returns along with sophomore defensive back Jerrard Tarrant, who is back after being suspended for the entire 2008 season. If Tarrant can shake the rust off, he will immediately compete for a starting job, most likely at cornerback.
"We missed him last year," safety Burnett said. "That's a big key coming back."
Last year's group was young, and in the first year under defensive coordinator Dave Wommack. The expectations are higher this year. Burnett tied for third nationally in pass interceptions last year with seven in 13 games, a .64 percentage. He also ranked 18th in passes defended with 15 in 13 games.
"We're going to be a whole lot better," Burnett said. "A lot of people tried to use the excuse that we're young. I know we do a lot of film work together. I know we can get a whole lot better. We have the same guys from last year, but this being our second year, a lot of have a second year in coach Wommack's defense, so we feel more comfortable in the defense."
Burnett said the Jackets' embarrassing loss to LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl will provide a little extra motivation this spring.
"I think the next thing is to try to top what we did last year so everyone won't just think that was a lucky year," Burnett said. "After losing to LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl we've got to redeem ourselves. I still think there's a lot of stuff we've got to prove to everybody."
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
The Georgia Tech defense missed 30 tackles -- 30 -- against Virginia last week. Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said it was the worst his defense had tackled all season.
In an open letter to Miami quarterback Jacory Harris, Jim Martz writes patience is a virtue. Next time he should address his letter to the Miami fans.
Remember how I told you the Clemson players were dancing around to the hip-hop music during the Georgia Tech game? Yeah, well, that's gonna stop.
With FSU receiver Corey Surrency suspended, Jarmon Fortson could play a bigger role.
Virginia linebacker Clint Sintim didn't take coach Al Groh's praise lightly.
OK, I'm on the plane and the flight attendant is telling me to shut it down, so I'll check back in from Hotlanta.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
There was so much focus on Paul Johnson's offense heading into this season that the defensive makeover went almost unnoticed.
Now, as the Yellow Jackets head to Clemson with a defense that ranks fourth in scoring defense, fifth in pass defense and sixth in total defense, it's hard to ignore the job first-year coordinator Dave Wommack has done. And he's done it with eight new starters, an entirely different defensive scheme than his predecessor, and numerous injuries to key players.
Wommack, though, will politely give the credit to the players and the other assistants - not to mention the loads of NFL potential on the defensive line.
"How lucky can you get?" he said. "We're really fortunate. We don't have to bring five and six guys a lot of times because those guys are so talented up front in run and pass plays. We're very fortunate to have those guys."
Wommack, who spent the 2007 season as linebackers coach at Southern Miss but has 28 years of coaching experience, has brought a different philosophy and personality than what Jon Tenuta subscribed to. He has asked his players to drop instead of rush every time, and mixes up zone and man coverages. He has only installed about half the playbook this season.
"We had an inventory of defense, not too complicated that we can choose from week to week," he said. "But I told them also that if we can't execute it then it really doesn't matter."
It was his approachability, though, that got the players to buy into his philosophies.
"Coach Wommack, he's a very straightforward guy but he also knows how to communicate well with each player," said corner back Jahi Word-Daniels. "He's easy to talk to. He really made us feel comfortable with his coaching ability and made all of us really want to hear what he had to say. When he talks, you pay attention.
"With our old coach, everybody was kind of on their toes and didn't know what to expect because he was a really intense figure. It's easier for us to relax around him and hear what he had to say and really get on the same page with him to begin with."
It's paid dividends. Georgia Tech held Boston College scoreless in the fourth quarter, and didn't allow Virginia Tech a touchdown in the second half. Despite starting three sophomores in the secondary, the Jackets are tied for third nationally in pass efficiency defense (92.39).
The defense is allowing just 10.7 points per game.
"We struggled in the spring and I was very concerned going into the first game, but assignment-wise they've done a good job," Wommack said. "We don't have them where we want them to be. We're still working at it."