Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham will coach against Georgia Tech’s spread option offense for the first time Saturday, but it won’t be his first exposure to a Paul Johnson-run offense.
The Bulldogs can only hope for similar results to Grantham’s first go-round against Johnson.
As defensive line coach at Virginia Tech in 1995, Grantham and the Hokies stuffed Navy in a 14-0 victory. Johnson was the offensive coordinator for a Midshipmen team held to just 208 yards of total offense that day.
"We faced it when I was there," Grantham said. "There’s a few (new) wrinkles. It’s like anything. You add things or you evolve to things based on the way people defend you, but the concepts are still there. They’re doing a good job with it."
That Navy team ranked sixth in the nation in rushing at the time at 273.3 yards per game.
Johnson’s Georgia Tech team now leads the nation in rushing at 319.4 yards per game.
That’s up from 295.4 yards per game last year despite starting quarterback Joshua Nesbitt being lost with a broken forearm against Virginia Tech. In the past two games with Tevin Washington at quarterback, the Yellow Jackets rushed for 308 yards against Miami and 320 against Duke.
"We’ve been doing this for a long time and the numbers are pretty relative to what they’ve always been," Johnson said. "There will be some variance from one year to the next, but we’ve done it a lot of years and they’re pretty similar."
Georgia Tech gashed Georgia for 409 rushing yards in a 45-42 win in 2008, but was held to 205 in the Bulldogs’ 30-24 win last year in Atlanta.
"Two years ago, we had them right where we wanted them," senior defensive end Demarcus Dobbs said. "Then the second half came around, we missed tackles and missed assignments and it hurts you. I’ve been on both ends where we’ve played good and shut them down and the other way, too."
In the first year in Grantham’s 3-4 defense, Georgia has the No. 23 rush defense nationally at 125.4 yards per game, but it gave up 189 rushing yards to South Carolina and Marcus Lattimore, 235 to Colorado, 231 to Florida and 315 to Cam Newton and Auburn.
Now here comes Tech.
"If you stop something, they’re going to go to something else," Grantham said. "You’ve got to have an answer for that."
Several key cogs on Georgia’s defense had productive games last year against the Yellow Jackets.
Linebacker Akeem Dent had 11 tackles – his career high at the time. Justin Houston was active on the edge with six tackles and sack and linebacker Marcus Dowtin had four tackles.
"Certainly they’ve got a lot of really good athletes," Johnson said. "The Houston guy is very impressive. I think the two inside linebackers are good players."
Grantham said he has watched some of Georgia’s defense against the Yellow Jackets last year.
"We can get to what they did," he said. "You’ve just got to be sound on those guys. They’re going to make you defend everything. They’re going to make you defend the fullback. They’re going to make you defend the quarterback on the edge. They’re going to make you defend the pitch and you’ve got to be able to handle those and you’ve got to understand they’re going to try and get angles on you different ways.
"They’re going to test your support system and we’ve got to be able to handle that stuff."
Georgia Tech isn’t scoring at the pace it did last year. The Yellow Jackets are tied for sixth in the Atlantic Coast Conference at 27 points per game, down nearly seven points from a year ago.
B-back Anthony Allen had a career-high 34 carries for 165 yards against Duke to give him 1,059 rushing yards on the season. Washington has rushed for 216 yards and a touchdown in two games as starter. A-backs Orwin Smith and Roddy Jones have combined for 710 rushing yards.
Georgia Tech is averaging 50 less yards per game passing and is 110th in the nation in passing efficiency, down from 12th last season. The Yellow Jackets completed just two passes against Duke.
Asked if his defense gained confidence from keeping the Yellow Jackets in check last year, Georgia coach Mark Richt instead talked about 2008.
"I think two years ago anybody who’s still left over realized how crucial it is to be focused every single snap," Richt said. "Every single snap, You just can not think you’ve got ‘em, because you don’t. You might have got ‘em one play, but you don’t have these guys unless you are focused every single snap and you do exactly what you’re supposed to do and then it gives you a chance."