To extol the art of defense at a Georgia Tech game is a little like obsessing on Scarlett Johansson’s cooking skills. Or doing a review on the great taco stands of Paris. That’s just not what distinguished any of these franchises.
But sometimes, such a radical departure is necessary. Especially on a day such as Saturday, when high on the Yellow Jackets to-do list against Virginia was to establish that not everyone in the ACC can get off the bus and go for a half a thousand or more yards against them.
No, the field does not always tilt downhill toward the Georgia Tech defense. And, no, not every Tech game has to resemble a Spanish running of the bulls.
Ask the Cavaliers, who rushed for the miserly sum of 22 yards in Tech’s 35-10 victory Saturday. That was the fewest since Pitt went for minus yardage last season, and one of the most dominant performances around here since Paul Johnson began his seminar on option football seven years ago. And the fewest rushing yards produced by Virginia since 2007.
The Cavs’ sixth career-leading rusher, Kevin Parks, was held to a career-low 13 yards.
What a fine day overall it was for the Yellow Jacket people, their own important victory – keeping them in the ACC Coastal conversation – paired with Georgia’s crushing defeat at the claws of Florida. Could have been a perfect day had Duke not pulled an overtime victory against Pitt out of its fanny pack. Thus the Blue Devils stayed in command of the division, certainly a rarity for them in a non-Mike Krzyzewski-related activity.
And the fact that these fans – their numbers greatly diminished by the hard, cold autumn wind – got to cheer a little defense was a pleasant bonus.
Having given up more than 500 yards of total offense the past two weeks, Tech’s defenders came into this one wearing some tire tracks. By comparison, the 284 yards yielded to Virginia was downright negligible.
The Cavs got their lone touchdown toward the end of the first quarter, and spent the rest of the late afternoon wandering between the goal lines. Throw in a couple of sacks and a couple of interceptions, and the Georgia Tech D had every right to feel flush.
Johnson, for him, was effusive in his praise. “Certainly better defense than we played the last couple weeks. We are proud and encouraged by that,” he said.
The defense made enough plays that they had to be sorted by size and style.
Which interception was better: Jamal Golden’s third-quarter end-zone pick that was the product of skin tight coverage, or lineman Adam Gotsis’ play just minutes earlier, diving to pluck a batted ball from the tips of the grass?
Judged Golden, with a smile, “That was the second one (Gotsis) has had, and that one he caught with one hand. This one wasn’t that good.”
A certain tone of denial was established early when Virginia went three-and-out on its first two possessions, and on three of its first four. With Tech moving at its common ACC-leading offensive pace, the result was a 21-7 lead by the beginning of the second quarter.
Gotis would tell you afterward that for this homecoming occasion the defense borrowed the mindset that the game was on its shoulders, as if there was no offense to bail it out. “A win-at-all-costs mentality in the trenches, that’s what prevailed,” he said.
Golden would testify to the secondary’s emphasis upon aggression as much technique, a trait most evident during his interception.
“We showed we have so much more left in the tank,” said defensive end Keshun Freeman, who chipped in a sack and a forced fumble Saturday.
For an afternoon, Georgia Tech was allowed to roll around a bit in the pride of stopping somebody, which is a deeper sort of satisfaction than in just outscoring someone.
Defense is much an afterthought throughout modern football. That can seem especially true in the Georgia Tech Method. So one jumps at any excuse to feature that side of the game whenever possible.