Georgia Tech’s defense looks to bounce back

Georgia Tech’s defense did not get off to a great start Friday. On paper, that unit should be able to get right at 1 p.m. Saturday when South Carolina State comes to town.

“We had a plan to go out there and be physical and attack the ball,” linebacker Trenilyas Tatum said of Tech’s defensive debut. “We had goals before the game which we didn’t complete. We’ve been working on tackling a lot, attacking the ball and getting the ball out.”

The Yellow Jackets (0-1) certainly did a few things right on defense in their season debut at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but too much went wrong against a quality Louisville team in a 39-34 defeat.

Among the glaring numbers were the 474 yards allowed, 7.3 yards allowed per play and the Cardinals’ 6-for-6 red-zone perfection. The Jackets gave up five runs of 10 yards or more, including a 74-yard touchdown run by Jawhar Jordan.

Louisville completed seven passes that went for 15 yards or more and two that totaled more than 25 yards each. Quarterback Jack Plummer threw for 247 yards and three scores.

Tech also failed to record a sack or a tackle for loss.

Defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker’s unit did have a few bright spots, such as holding the Cardinals to 1-of 11 on third-down plays and an interception by Clayton Powell-Lee. Coach Brent Key pointed out Tuesday, however, that the only numbers he truly is concerned with are points.

And since the start of the 2021 season, Tech is allowing 30.6 points per game in ACC contests.

“Stats are just what they are, they’re stats. They’re on a piece of paper,” Key said. “The only thing that really matters is what’s on that scoreboard at the end of the football game.”

Key added that his team’s defense will continue to focus on tackling this week. The first-year coach said the Jackets have had 400 live reps of scrimmage in the offseason and while he has seen improvement in that area of tackling, it always can stand to be better.

He said the next step for the Jackets’ defense is to tackle with confidence and trust, knowing that there are 10 teammates behind a defender willing and ready to make the play.

“You’ve got to have 10 other people running with their hair on fire ready to have that guy’s back,” Key said. “We’ve worked on that as well.”

Tech’s defense now is afforded a golden opportunity to gain some confidence against a South Carolina State team (0-2) really struggling on offense.

The Bulldogs have scored only 10 points in two games, have made only two trips to the red zone, are 9-of-28 on third-down plays this season and are averaging only 184.5 yards of total offense per contest. S.C. State ranked 106th in total offense in the FCS in 2022 and averaged just a shade more than 21 points per game during a 3-8 season.

“They have some guys that can make plays,” Powell-Lee said. “We just have to do our jobs, follow our keys, keep our eyes in the right places, and I feel like we’ll have a good game. We just got to come out fast, hit ‘em in the mouth, and we’ll just see how that goes, and we’ll just keep building upon that.”