Originally created 09/26/03

Young secondary tries to bounce back after Clemson debacle



ATLANTA -- Georgia Tech's secondary knows the routine. As long as teams think they can have success throwing the football, they're going to keep putting it up.

The Yellow Jackets (1-3) got a sampling of that philosophy last week. Clemson came out throwing and never let up, completing several long passes in a 39-3 rout.

Look for other teams to be taking notes.

"BYU moved the ball on us. Clemson moved the ball on us. They both spread it out," coach Chan Gailey said. "The other teams didn't and they didn't move the ball as well."

Next up, Georgia Tech takes on a Vanderbilt team that is throwing the ball more effectively than it did a year ago. The Commodores (1-3) might want to keep it up Saturday.

"They're more of a running team, but you never know," senior cornerback Jonathan Cox said. "They may come out and try to spread us out, as well."

Gailey knew the secondary might be vulnerable this year. Cox was the only returning starter, teaming with sophomore Reuben Houston at the other corner. At safety, the Yellow Jackets have converted quarterback Dawan Landry and junior James Butler - two players who are more effective at stopping the run than defending the pass.

It showed against Clemson. Charlie Whitehurst completed 23 of 38 passes for 298 yards, including three touchdowns. There was a 33-yard scoring play, plus two completions longer than 40 yards to set up TDs.

"We're a young team," Cox said. "I worry about us losing confidence. I try to motivate them, build up their confidence. Of course, winning will do it, too."

Defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta is notoriously tough on his players, rarely saying anything in a pleasant tone. Cox takes the opposite tact with his younger teammates.

"I've got to bring 'em back up," he said. "I tell them that's just how (Tenuta) is. He doesn't mean it personally."

In defeat, Cox hopes the Yellow Jackets learned some valuable lessons about positioning and coverage. For instance, when taking on taller receivers, play the hands instead of the ball.

"It's tough, but it was a good experience to go against that type of team early in the season so we can learn what we did wrong and try to correct it," Cox said.

Gailey refused to put all the blame on the secondary.

"We've got linebackers dropping back in pass coverage," he said. "When you don't get a good pass rush, it doesn't matter how good you cover. And when the offense is not productive, the defense is on the field too long. I know the media and fans say things about this group. But it all works together."

Vandy had one of the country's least efficient passing games in 2002, ranking 100th nationally with a 107.9 rating. The Commodores attempted only 257 passes - lowest in the SEC - and completed less than half, averaging only 139.1 yard per game.

This season, they already have thrown 115 passes, completed nearly 55 percent and averaged 231.8 yards per game with a 133.9 rating. Sophomore quarterback Jay Cutler gives Vandy a legitimate passing threat.

Still, Gailey expects the Commodores to rely more on their option running game.

"Cutler can sling it around pretty good, make things happen with the football. But I don't think they'll go three-wide, four-wide," Gailey said. "I know coach (Bobby) Johnson likes to run. I think they'll keep the option run as a fairly big part of their offense."

If not, the secondary has to improve.

"There's no room for error," Cox said. "When you make a mistake, everyone sees it."