While the Georgia Tech defense may not currently sit dead last in the ACC when it comes to scoring as the offense does, it’s still a unit that hasn’t exactly thrived through the first month of the season.
Clemson scored 41, Western Carolina scored 17, Ole Miss scored 42 and Central Florida scored 27. In the three losses to Clemson, Ole Miss and UCF, Georgia Tech mustered a measly 20 points in opposition, so perhaps it’s no surprise that GT is 1-3 entering the bulk of conference play. But it’s still a defense that doesn’t stifle opposing offenses.
The Yellow Jackets’ defense allows 412 yards per game, which serves as the 13th-best in the ACC and 101st in college football, and if there’s a clear area of weakness in an already weak defense, it’s stopping the run.
It’s not as if Georgia Tech’s defense has been useless. The unit is fifth in the conference in passing defense, allowing 810 passing yards (202.5 yards per game) through four games this season. Despite a loss to UCF, the Knights’ John Rhys Plumlee threw for just 49 yards and an interception. Opposing quarterbacks have thrown more interceptions (five) than touchdowns (four) this season.
But when Georgia Tech has been able to slow opposing passing attacks, it hasn’t been able to stifle opposing rushing attacks. The defensive effort against Clemson is a bit misleading when looking at the 41 points, but it was never really a contest.
Western Carolina actually outgained Georgia Tech offensively despite a loss. Ole Miss’s Zach Evan rumbled for 134 yards and two touchdowns to fuel the Rebels’ 316 yards on the ground. UCF featured three players with at least 70 yards on the ground, racking up 284 rushing yards. There’s a way to defeat GT, and it comes from a sustained offensive effort on the ground.
Georgia Tech has allowed 838 rushing yards and 209.5 rushing yards per game defensively this season (both good for 13th in the ACC). Pitt sits at sixth in the ACC with 726 rushing yards, and Israel Abanikanda sits — very clear — as the ACC’s leading rusher.
However, even with what’s seemingly a solution to solve Georgia Tech’s defense, Pat Narduzzi still feels as though his team’s best bet is to stick with what’s worked. Which is, of course, taking what the defense gives his offense.
“We’ll find out how they play us,” Narduzzi said Thursday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “That’s what you don’t know. You find out how they’ll play you, and that’s what we’re looking for from the sideline, from the press box. ‘Hey, what are they doing today? What’s their game plan?’
“I would imagine they’re gonna try to put as many guys in the box as possible. They don’t play a lot of quarters like we do, but the way to stop it is to jump into quarters, and then you give up something else in the passing game. So, we’ll see what they do with that defense.”
Pitt’s passing attack hasn’t truly been unlocked through the first month of the season, as Kedon Slovis has missed a game and a half, Nick Patti has been sidelined with a foot injury and Nate Yarnell has made his college debut, but it’s allowed the running backs room to thrive. Abanikanda is sixth in college football with 479 rushing yards, Vincent Davis has provided a strong complement to Abanikanda’s heavy workload over the last three games and Rodney Hammond Jr. hasn’t even played a snap since the fourth quarter of the West Virginia game.
And that rushing attack doesn’t account for the offensive scheme that can be unlocked as Slovis works his way back from his own injury and combines with a receiving corps that — when healthy — features Jared Wayne, Konata Mumpfield, Gavin Bartholomew, Bub Means, Karter Johnson and Jaylon Barden.
While Pitt has operated with a run-dominant approach, it hasn’t been because the passing attack is incapable. It’s because Pitt features a talented stable of running backs, has been afforded the opportunity and capitalized upon it. Narduzzi feels like it’s the nature of college offenses in the current landscape to take what is given by the defense.
“If they have everybody lined up in the box, and they don’t cover the receivers, we should throw it to the receivers,” Narduzzi said. “In turn, if they’re doubling both receivers, and they put everybody out of the box, I think we run the ball. So, it’s all based on what you’re seeing on tape, and what you’re gonna see on game day.
“Everything is dictated off what they’re doing, how they’re playing you. Everything. That’s why we sit in the office all day and try to figure it out. Then you guess, and we’ll see different stuff. They gotta try to stop the run. They have to. So, what we’ll find out they do, how they do it. And we’ve got answers for everything. You look at a call sheet, sometimes you only call have the plays, maybe not even half the plays that are on the call sheet. But you have answers for everything based on what they do.”
But when it comes to Georgia Tech’s defensive approach in stopping the aerial attack threatened by Slovis and the plethora of wide receivers, Narduzzi said that the Jackets like to play cover three. It’s a defense that wants to take away deep passes. He praised the efforts of the GT defenders in playing a mix-matched cover three scheme. There are athletes that can play man-to-man, to attempt to take away passing opportunities.
But if the emphasis continues to remain on dropping men in coverage, leaving the safeties free of the box, then Narduzzi has an idea of what Pitt might be able to do. It’s what has worked so far this season.
“They’re playing deep,” Narduzzi said. “Their favorite is cover three. They’re gonna try to take away the deep pass. They’ve given up some things in the run game, so if that’s what they want to continue to do, then we hope we can get our run game going,” Narduzzi said.”