ATLANTA — Georgia Tech is earning respect for more than its strong running game.
Suddenly, the Yellow Jackets’ defense is on the rise.
Just ask Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst, who said he’s worried about more than Georgia Tech’s spread-option offense as he prepares for Saturday’s game against the Yellow Jackets. Chryst said the Yellow Jackets’ defense also deserves respect.
“They’re explosive and very good on offense and deserve all of the accolades they get, but defensively, I think they’re playing really well and will be one of the better defenses we face,” Chryst said.
Georgia Tech (5-3, 4-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) hasn’t received many similar compliments about its defense in recent years.
In October of 2012, coach Paul Johnson fired defensive coordinator Al Groh when the Yellow Jackets had one of the nation’s worst defenses. Georgia Tech was allowing 30.2 points per game and ranked 90th in the nation with its average of 431 yards allowed per game.
One year later, the unit has enjoyed an upswing under first-year coordinator Ted Roof.
Georgia Tech ranks 21st in the nation with its average of 19.9 points allowed. The Yellow Jackets rank third in the ACC and 17th in the nation in total defense, allowing 342.2 yards per game – their best average since 2009.
It has been a much-needed development, coming one year after it seemed the Yellow Jackets could only win shootouts.
“Certainly, I think at this point we’ve played better defensively than we did a year ago, there’s no question about that,” Johnson said Tuesday. “I think the defensive staff has done a good job. We also have six or seven seniors over there that have played a lot of football.”
Johnson said such seniors as defensive ends Jeremiah Attaochu and Emmanuel Dieke and safety Jemea Thomas have led the defensive upswing.
“There have been a lot of guys who have made plays,” Johnson said. “They’ve gotten better than a year ago, no question.”
Chryst said the secondary, led by Thomas, is a good complement for the defensive front.
“They’re really good,” Chryst said. “Up front, they’re active and they play fast. They’re explosive, they’ll hit you and their secondary plays with confidence. Part of that is because they have some guys up front that can put some heat on you fast.”