All it took for Corey Griffin and the Georgia Tech defense to improve over the final four games of 2016 was a simplified game plan.
Most important, the secondary went back to more instinctual play, allowing them to play fast and think less on the field.
“It made the game simpler,” Griffin, a senior safety, said of the defensive changes. “When the game plan is simple, we’re able to play fast. And when we’re able to play fast, we’re able to make plays. And that’s pretty much what happened. We went in after the North Carolina game to talk to (coordinator Ted Roof) to see if we could simplify the game plan. He made those changes for us, and we made plays when it was time.”
Griffin was the most vocal in interviews after games last season in expressing the fact that the defense struggled with miscommunication and pre-snap reads at times. After the UNC game, in which they allowed 48 points and 636 yards, the defense allowed fewer than 21 points per game over the final four contests.
Griffin feels Roof and the defense got significantly better at understanding each other, and that’s why production turned around so quickly.
“He’s a great guy, he’s just basically trying to get a feel for our style of play,” Griffin said of Roof. “With me being a fifth-year, he knows my style and what I like, so he’s able to make those calls in a sense of a team aspect as well. When we think too much, that’s when things go bad. When we’re having three or four checks for one specific motion, that’s when things get complicated and we start scratching our heads. It’s just too much at one time.”
The secondary will be returning all five of the main core that started in 2016: Lance Austin and Step Durham at cornerback, Lawrence Austin at nickel back, and Griffin and A.J. Gray at safety. For the season, Tech ranked 68th in the nation in passing yards allowed, but the improvement was displayed late, allowing only 216 passing yards per game in the final four contests. Virginia Tech still threw for over 300 yards, but the Yellow Jackets forced two interceptions. Over the last three games, the passing yards allowed average dropped to 178.
In 2014, Tech’s effectiveness on defense often came in the form of timely plays — and more specifically — forcing big turnovers. Last season, it finished with 11 interceptions, which was good for 58th in the country. Seven of those interceptions came in the Virginia Tech, Virginia and Georgia games that closed the regular season.
Lance Austin, a senior cornerback, feels this unit is more prepared to build off a good run instead of what happened to the 2015 team.
“Defensively, I feel like we have more leadership,” he said. “And I feel like we have more of an edge on our shoulder. Last time we had a good season, we went 3-9. So we’ve got more of a chip on our shoulder going into this season.”
With all of the experience returning to the field, the defense is carrying momentum. Its’ offense has often carried the team in recent seasons, but confidence has appeared in thinking the defense can play its part as a strength in 2017.
“We’ve got a lot of guys back,” Austin said. “I do feel like it’s going to be a strong point. I think we’re going to be a problem out there. Just having all those guys back and having that bond, I feel like we’re going to be really good out there.”
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