Brandon Adams remembers a lot of yards. On a November afternoon last season in Durham, N.C., there were an even 500 of them accrued by Duke in a 43-20 win for the Blue Devils over Georgia Tech.
“I just remember that from the start of the game until the end, they were putting up yards,” said Adams, Tech’s second-string nose tackle. “Yards on top of yards on top of yards.”
As the Blue Devils won on the line of scrimmage and broke tackles downfield, it was among the more punishing defeats that Tech has absorbed in the tenure of coach Paul Johnson. The Blue Devils scored four touchdowns and three field goals on their first seven possessions, punted, dinged the Jackets for one more touchdown and then ran out the final 6:23 of the game. It followed a heated-up run in the 2016 game, when Duke scored four touchdowns in its final five possessions of the game in a wild 38-35 win for Tech.
“We haven’t slowed them down,” Johnson said Tuesday. “The same stat I just gave you (about Tech’s near-perfect scoring efficiency in the past two games), that’s about what they’ve done to us.”
For Tech’s Saturday matchup with Duke, the Blue Devils will bring a significantly more effective defense than the Jackets have seen in their touchdown binge the past two weeks. As such, the Jackets also need to continue developing their defense, particularly against the pass, or else risk another dissection at the hands of Duke and quarterback Daniel Jones.
Tech safety Juanyeh Thomas’ interception against Louisville on Friday night gave the Jackets eight picks for the season, tied for 12th nationally and two more than all of last season. But the Cardinals also threw for 370 yards on 27-for-44 passing. Of the 370, 130 were gained in the fourth quarter when the game was beyond reach. But 148 of them were gathered (on 10-for-15 passing) in the second quarter when the Cardinals rallied from a 21-0 deficit to close to within 31-17 at halftime.
For the season, Tech ranks 66th nationally in defensive passing efficiency rating, at 131.01. The Jackets finished last season ranked 62nd, at 127.79.
Cornerback Tre Swilling said that, against Louisville, the Jackets again had problems with aligning properly before the snap and carrying out assignments after it. Louisville’s up-tempo pace caused problems, as was the case with Bowling Green, Clemson and South Florida. As Swilling explained it, if he were to line up five or six yards off the line of scrimmage as opposed to the prescribed seven on a particular call, then it could mess up his read on a play.
“Now I’m kind of reaching and guessing rather than being able to move and react off of my receivers, or whoever my key is,” he said.
Tech is young in the secondary, with sophomore Tariq Carpenter at strong safety and Swilling, a freshman, and Jaytlin Askew, a sophomore, at the corners. Only free safety Malik Rivera, a graduate transfer, has past experience with the defense, when he played in a similar version at Wofford.
Inside linebacker David Curry said that coaches are shifting more of their time in practice to the pass defense, in particular sub packages for passing downs.
“You practice ‘x’ amount of plays against the run vs. less plays against the pass, you’re going to be better about stopping the run,” Curry said. “Now, it’s just about practicing more against the pass.”
For Duke, Jones has completed 70.3 percent of his passes and has one interception in 74 pass attempts this season.
Last year’s Duke game may serve as warning for the Jackets of the Blue Devils’ offensive potency, but it may also be fuel. Remembering the yards upon yards that Duke racked up, Adams said that Saturday’s game could be a statement game for the Jackets to show their improvement.
“Let’s just say we’re looking forward to this week,” Curry said. “We want to come out strong and play well, and better than we did this past week. All of us are amped up and very, very excited about this game.”
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