Tech's defense getting mean

They use aggressive words for what they hope will be an aggressive defense.

Fear. Destroy. Fight. Tougher.

Perhaps it's a bit of bluster to make up for last season, when many Georgia Tech games that should have been blowouts turned into shootouts because the team had trouble stopping offenses, but players on defense say the goal this season is not to just win, but to win with an attitude.

"We're a collective mindset that wants to come out and destroy the other team," linebacker Kyle Jackson said. "It's not necessarily that the players are so much different or the defense is so much different, it's that we are in a different paradigm of thinking. As a team, we want to come out and destroy the opponent. It's to kick butt on every play."

The mindset has seemingly changed, and the defense is different. Out is the "bend, but don't break" scheme that gave up big plays in bunches in allowing 31 points to Mississippi State, 44 to Florida State, 31 to offensively challenged Vanderbilt, and 30 to Georgia.

In is defensive coordinator Al Groh and an aggressive 3-4 scheme built on fundamentals but designed to confuse and disrupt the opponent with a lot of motion and a few well-choreographed blitzes.

The goal: Reduce the points, harass the quarterback, limit the big plays, and win the games.

While coach Paul Johnson has said frequently that there's not a big difference between defensive schemes, he did say he hired Groh because he teaches a system that he knows how to operate and knows how to fix when an opponent finds a weakness.

Solutions often were hard to find last season as injuries and other issues forced the defense to change systems several times. Sometimes, notably against North Carolina, Duke and Virginia, what Tech tried worked. Other times, only final-drive stops preserved wins or chances to win. However, as Johnson and Groh have pointed out, it wasn't just Tech's offense that won the ACC championship.

Johnson does know this about his defense: "They'll compete. They'll play hard, scrap and fight," he said. "That's what our football team has been. Hopefully that won't change."

Tech's stats were respectable last season: sixth in the 12-team ACC in points allowed (24.8 points per game) and seventh in total defense (360.3 ypg). But when you factor in that Tech's offense led the ACC and was third in the nation in time of possession (33:49), opponents didn't have a lot of time, or didn't need a lot of time, to score.

Groh said there are a lot of components that indicate whether a defense is effective, but the bottom line is that teams that limit points are usually effective in every area.

Declining to go into reasons why last season seemed to be feast or famine, Groh said two stats stood out to him when he reviewed film: points allowed and third-down defense. The latter was an issue for Tech last season. It allowed first downs on almost 60 percent of third downs, which Groh said is an indication that the rush defense wasn't solid. The Yellow Jackets allowed 151.6 rushing yards per game last season on a 4.9 yards-per-carry average, with 26 runs going for more than 20 yards. The team also allowed 46 pass plays of at least 20 yards.

"No. 1 objective for every defense ... is points allowed," Groh said. "Elimination of big plays is what has to be accomplished. We are on top of that."

Look to the linebackers for part of the solution. Groh, who has coached some of the best linebackers in the game, compares them to the Nos. 3-5 hitters in baseball. If the defensive line does its job, the linebackers should be free to make plays.

Inside linebacker Brad Jefferson led the team in tackles (95) last season. Jackson, who will pair with Jefferson, was third in tackles two seasons ago before a foot injury caused him to miss last season. With T.J. Barnes plugging the middle at nose tackle, Jefferson and Jackson will be expected to take on the guards and eliminate the middle of the field.

Anthony Egbuniwe, who was moved from the defensive line to outside linebacker during the spring, and Steven Sylvester, with the help from the safeties, will watch the outside and try to shut down those lanes. Tech was particularly vulnerable to cutback runs last season, with Clemson's C.J. Spiller and Georgia's Caleb King and Washaun Ealey ripping off game-changing plays.

If the run can be stopped early, Tech can turn its attention to the passing game. The Jackets had 25 sacks last season, with 12 1/2 coming from Derrick Morgan. Egbuniwe said the goal for getting to the quarterback and cutting down on the big pass plays is simple:

"Just dominate, that's how you play the pass rush," Egbuniwe said. "Just dominate. Be physical on every play."

In the end, as Johnson has pointed out, desire and focusing on the fundamentals can be as important as schemes. Defensive end Jason Peters said the frustration that the team sometimes felt last season has been turned into aggression.

"We want to establish a defense that nobody wants to play," Peters said. "We're flat-out meaner, we're flat-out tougher; we'll hit you in the mouth every play."