Tuesday, September 09, 2008

What about the defense?

The quote of the week, from Virginia Tech Head Coach Frank Beamer Monday, on having success in the past finding soft spots in Jon Tenuta's zone behind the blitz, and comparing it to Georgia Tech's current defensive scheme:
“I always said (Tenuta) gets you or you get them, but this (GT's current defense) is more diverse. You get more fronts and they’re coming at you out of all the fronts. They make it tough. They don’t just line up and do one thing.”
Wow. Frank Beamer just completely summed up how most everyone feels about Jon Tenuta's attack. A bit of a one-trick pony, but one that succeeded more than it failed, almost solely because most college QB's make bad decisions when forced to make them quickly.

At the end of the day, our current defense is more diverse in terms of schemes, fronts and coverages. One thing we do know is that Georgia Tech might not end up a top 20 run defense, which became common under Tenuta. However, we may end up more balanced. When you consistently have 8 in the box, or send 5 after the QB on every play, you're going to stop the run a lot. It's not a coincidence that we were 4th in the nation in Tackles-for-a-loss and led the nation in sacks. We won't do that again.

Statistically, our defensive rankings are a bit of an anomoly compared to the Tenuta years. After two games, we are #60 in the nation against the run. However, we are #25 in pass defense (139 yards) and #24 in pass efficiency defense (89.39). This is all a bit misleading though

Let's compare 2007 to 2008 (not really a fair comparison after only 2 games)

Rush Defense
2007 #20 (114 yards/game)
2008 #60 (121 yards/game)

Pass Defense
2007 #41 (216 yards/game)
2008 #25 (139 yards/game)

Pass Efficiency Defense
2007 #58 (125 rating)
2008 #24 (89 rating)

So here's what I see - fewer guys tasked to stop the run up front, yet only giving up 7 more yards / game, and more guys tasked to stop the pass, with a significant reduction of 77 yards/game and a much better pass efficiency defense rating. At the same time, we're still #9 in the nation with 9 sacks and 23rd in TFL with 7/game. I would argue that if we continue to only give up 121 yards/game on the ground, we will end up in the top 30 in the nation in rushing defense (121 yards/game last season would have slotted you in at #24, right behind Clemson).

Again, two games isn't a real comparison, and our first opponent was clearly overmatched, even though the QB was Ryan Perrilloux. The Boston College game was legit, as this was "O Line U", right? Their weakness at QB ultimately killed them though. BC folks believe that they have gone from the best to the worst QB in the ACC (although Maryland and NCST fans put up a good argument).
Also, in case you're curious, "pass defense" is nothing more than passing yards given up. "Pass Efficiency Defense" takes into consideration yards, completion percentage, INT's and INT rate, TD's and TD rate, yards / attempt and yards/completion. It's a more complete number. Here's a nice primer (http://www.nationalchamps.net/2004/articles/1019_stat_class.htm_)

There's one more thing that happened Saturday against Boston College - we made halftime adjustments defensively that worked. We gave up 202 yards in the first half and only 60 in the 2nd half. It helped that we decided to actually keep the ball on offense. BC dominated time-of-possesion, which of course typically translates in the yardage category. However, there were a couple of run plays that were killing us in the 1st half and Dave Wommack made some adjustment at the half and seemed to close the spigot on the Eagles.

All in all, I enjoy watching a more diverse defense, one that covers receivers more effectively and shuts down passing lanes. Having said that, the blitz was fun most of the time. I have to admit it. In many ways, Tenuta was to defense what Paul Johnson is to offense - unique and hard to prepare fo. In many ways, the same "only one week to prepare" applied to our defense, not our offense. So we've switched that to the offensive side of the ball. Our defense is now more "traditional" and our offense isn't. We all got frustrated when our unique defensive scheme wasn't working, because we rarely changed or adjusted during the game. It either worked or it didn't.......... (see Beamer quote above).

The question long-term is how effective we can be defensively and how will we adjust with personnel? My belief is that it will succeed this year, largely because our D-Line is the best unit on the team. Those four guys up-front do the work of 5-6. Their talent and athleticism allows Wommack the flexibility to drop more guys in coverage. What happens when Vance Walker, Michael Johnson and Darrly Richard are gone next season? It will be interesting to watch. You adjust to your strengths, and I would expect changes. Our secondary is so young, but I would argue that there's more talent there than in years. We are also young but oozing with potential at the Linebacker spots. Will the new guys like man-child TJ Barnes step in on the D-Line and be our next "Vance"? Don't know, but it's going to be interesting to watch.

Anyhow, we get so much talk about the offense, that I thought it would be prudent to focus on the defense, especially after they won the game for us against BC.