Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Al Groh is tasked with turning around the Yellow Jackets’ defense, which has given up more than 30 points in each of its last three games and is ranked 60th in the nation at 25.75 points allowed per game.
ATLANTA — Georgia Tech’s seniors have one final chance for a bowl win.
Georgia Tech’s defense has one more game to show improvement.
The Yellow Jackets will carry a streak of six straight bowl losses into their Sun Bowl game against Utah on Dec. 31.
Paul Johnson’s team lost four of its last six to finish 8-4 in the regular season. Georgia Tech gave up more than 30 points in each of its last three games, including a loss to Georgia.
Georgia Tech (8-4) ranks only 60th in the nation with its average of 25.75 points allowed in its second season with defensive coordinator Al Groh.
Johnson said Monday he does not expect to replace any assistants.
“I don’t have any plans right now to change anybody on the staff,” he said.
It was a legitimate question, because Johnson has proved he’s willing to fire a top assistant following a successful season. He brought in Groh, the former Virginia coach, to replace defensive coordinator Dave Wommack after winning the Atlantic Coast Conference championship in 2009.
Wommack’s 2009 defense allowed 24.8 points and 360.3 total yards per game.
Georgia Tech has allowed 361.17 yards per game this season, a modest improvement of about 10 yards per game from 2010, when Groh installed his 3-4 scheme. The Yellow Jackets allowed 25.2 points per game last year, slightly better than this year’s average.
Groh, 67, downplayed the lack of significant improvement in the numbers.
“It doesn’t say anything to me,” Groh said Monday. “Different opponents. Different players running their schemes. Different players running our schemes. It doesn’t say anything to me.”
Asked if he planned to return next season, Groh said “For sure.”
There was an expectation for improvement in the second year of the new scheme.
“Every time we have done this installation, we do a lot better the second year than the first,” Groh said before the 2010 season.
Georgia Tech won its first six games this season, but the defense wilted against stronger opponents, including two crucial home losses in November: 37-26 to Virginia Tech and 31-17 to Georgia.
Even the Yellow Jackets’ 38-31 win at Duke late in the season was scary.
The highlight of the season was a 31-17 win over then-No. 6 Clemson on Oct. 29. Georgia Tech couldn’t put together back-to-back wins after its 6-0 start.
The biggest weakness is against the run. Georgia Tech ranks only 70th in the nation in run defense.
“Obviously, at this stage, every phase of the game is going to get attention,” Groh said.
He said his run defense “made some progress.”
Groh acknowledged building a defense can be a slow process.
“I wish it wasn’t,” he said. “I wish you could throw it all in a blender and it would all come out five minutes later. Usually it takes a while to get the personnel you really want and to get them taught.”
Georgia Tech starts only four seniors on defense: end Jason Peters, tackle Logan Walls, linebacker Steven Sylvester and safety Rashaad Reid.
T.J. Barnes (6-7, 347) is expected to take over for Walls at defensive tackle next season. Barnes has the size to give Georgia Tech a run-stopper in the middle of the defense. Groh said Barnes needs to play with more consistency.
The seniors are left with their last chance for a bowl win.
Georgia Tech’s last bowl victory came against Syracuse in the 2004 Champs Sports Bowl. Last year’s team ended a 6-7 season with a loss to Air Force in the Independence Bowl.
Peters said a Sun Bowl win could help make up for the disappointing end to the regular season.
“It’s something no one here has done,” Peters said. “No one here has won a bowl game. It would be an exciting thing for us to go do. It would be a chance to do better with something that we know has been plaguing Georgia Tech for a long time.”