Scouting report: Georgia Tech defense

Last year BYU out-passed and out-ran the Yellow Jackets en route to a 41-17 victory on the road. Georgia Tech vows to not let that happen this time around in LaVell Edwards Stadium, but has yet to face the new, sped-up BYU offense under the direction of quarterback Taysom Hill. Fox Sports Georgia Tech beat writer Jonathan Leifheit gives BYU fans an inside look at the Yellow Jacket defense.

The Yellow Jackets of Georgia Tech will have to keep the legs of Taysom Hill, Jamaal Williams, Paul Lasike and Algernon Brown wrapped up while keeping BYU's passing game in check. Let's take a look at the personnel responsible for doing just that.

Defensive line

"They play hard, they play hard," said Cougar offensive tackle De'Ondre Wesley. "They shoot their gaps really well and shoot the b-gaps really well and let their linebackers fill. From what we've seen them do, they play hard and they're good. We've seen the film and we're going to take advantage of their tendencies and find some holes and help our running backs get open.

"We watched some film on them. I feel like those guys play hard and they play with a passion. Once we find out their tendencies, what they like to do, and how they stem in the shift, we'll be able to exploit some things and take some advantage of their style of play and open up some holes on them."

Leading the way will be defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu, who is a versatile athlete.

"The base defense is a 4-3, but you'll see Jeremiah Attaochu, who is probably the best player on the defense, at defensive end switching out from between placing his hand on the ground to standing upright," said Fox Sports Georgia Tech beat writer Jonathan Leifheit. "He'll occasionally drop back into coverage as well. Last year we ran a 3-4 before they got right of [defensive coordinator] Al Groh, and Attaochu was an outside linebacker. This year he's playing more defensive end and will do multiple things like blitz, drop back into coverage, and [coaches will] try and get him loose on a pass rush. He's the best pass rusher of the bunch, so you'll see a 4-3 defense more, but don't be surprised to see them flex into a 3-4 at times."

Starting at the two defensive tackle positions will be Euclid Cummings and Adam Gotsis.

"Cummings is a senior and Gotsis is a sophomore they got out of Australia," said Leifheit. "Gotsis runs pretty well but I think he's a little light at times. They do struggle to get a good pass rush and that's the one area, outside of Attaochu, where I feel they need to improve. They do a good job of running to the ball, but I get concerned about their durability."

Meanwhile, senior Emmanuel Dieke is at the other defensive end position.

"His nickname is 'Too Tall' and he's really a big guy," said Leifheit. "He's around 6'6" or so. To me, I keep waiting for him to bust loose and make some big plays, but he just seems to be a little inconsistent out there."

The key matchup will be how well Michael Yeck plays against speed pass rusher Jeremiah Attaochu.

Linebackers

"[Brandon] Watts is one of the outside linebackers and has tremendous speed. He's one of the fastest guys on the team," said Leifheit. "He has all the talent in the world and I would like to see him take over a game, but he hasn't quite done that yet this year. He is playing a lot better this year though. He's really good in coverage and has been able to do a lot in passing situations. Watts will play more the field side because of his speed.

"In the middle you have Jabari Hunt-Days who is a big, strong guy. He's really physical in the run but not quite as good in pass coverage, so that will be something to watch out for."

Rounding out the starting linebacker corps is outside linebacker Quayshawn Nealy.

"Like Watts, Nealy is also pretty good in coverage," said Leifheit. "He had a pick last week against Miami and he has a strong pass defense game. The only problem with Nealy is he'll get washed up in the run plays. Watts is probably the best in pass coverage though out of the three, but Nealy plays more the boundary side."

Secondary

Much like BYU, the Georgia Tech secondary has had trouble staying healthy this year. However, whereas BYU has had injury issues with its cornerbacks, the Yellow Jackets have been hurt at safety.

"This is a group that's been racked by injuries," said Leifheit. "We lost Isaiah Johnson, who hasn't played and won't play at all this year. He had a torn ACL. Then we lost Jamal Golden as well and both of those guys are safeties. Golden was also the return guy and was a tremendous return guy, and we lost him about two weeks ago to a separated shoulder.

"In their place at strong and free safety will be Chris Milton, who is a redshirt sophomore, and Demond Smith, who is also a redshirt sophomore as well. These guys are pretty young and Milton is probably the best of the two."

With the Yellow Jackets losing two key players at safety, this will be something to watch out for, as BYU is starting to find its deep passing game.

Meanwhile, the Yellow Jackets are in better shape at cornerback.

"The two cornerbacks are very, very good," said Leifheit. "Jemea Thomas is just a really good playmaker. He also seems to show up at the right time to make a play on the ball. A few weeks ago they were having some trouble with the tight end, so they just stuck Thomas on him and that pretty much just shut their entire offense down. He's the most skilled cornerback in the secondary and can play any defensive back position on the field.

"At the other side of the field is Louis Young who's a really good cover cornerback but isn't quite as good in run support as Jemea Thomas. He's a very sound tackler and fundamentally sound."

The Yellow Jacket defensive backs don't necessarily play a boundary or field side and will switch over from time to time. Generally they'll match up player versus player, with Young playing the opposing team's best receiver. They will shade over a safety to give him help in the passing game, but will generally leave him in a one-on-one situation against their opponent's top receiver.

So what will the key matchups be? With the emergence of 6-foot-6-inch, 220-pound Cougar receiver Mitch Mathews, it will be interesting to see if the Yellow Jackets elect to stick their best cover corner – Jemea Thomas – on Cody Hoffman and shade over a safety for deep-threat help. If Matthews gets single coverage, could he repeat the performance he had against Utah State?

"They'll play a bump-and-run at times, particularly if they roll the safeties out to do a cover-two, so it wouldn't surprise me to see that," said Leifheit. "Thomas is probably the more physical of the two cornerbacks with Young being more the fast, cover guy."

Prediction

Georgia Tech didn't face Taysom Hill's legs last year. If the Yellow Jackets bring down the safeties to stack the box, it will leave open the possibility of more man coverage from the secondary. BYU is beginning to find its passing game with Mitch Mathews, and needs Cody Hoffman to step it up against a weakened Georgia Tech secondary. If that happens, then the legs of Hill and Jamaal Williams could take over. BYU is at home, Georgia Tech has to deal with the altitude, and the Cougar have been producing better results in the blue zone.

Score prediction: BYU 30, Georgia Tech 17


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