Johnson worried about 'D' as Tech tackles FSU

ATLANTA - Georgia Tech's offense understandably took some criticism for its role in the Yellow Jackets' 24-17 loss to Virginia last Saturday.

But head coach Paul Johnson's concerns are perhaps greater about the performance of his defense last week, especially with No. 16 Florida State coming to Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday.

While defense has been perhaps the Jackets' (6-2, 3-2 in the ACC) most consistent unit all season long, Saturday's performance was one to forget.

Tech gave up 396 total yards - the second most of any single game this season - and allowed more than 20 points for the first time all year.

More disturbing from Johnson's perspective was the disparity in total offensive plays (Virginia's 75 to Tech's 56) and time of possessions (34:18 for the Cavaliers, 25:42 for the Jackets) - both season worsts for Tech.

Much of the problem had to do with third-down conversions - one of the few sore points Johnson has had with his defense this season.

Virginia converted 11 of its 18 third-down chances (61.1 percent), the most by a Tech opponent since Wake Forest picked up that many Oct. 5, 2002.

Given how steady the defense has been most of the season, Saturday's performance could have been merely a blip on the radar screen. At least, Johnson hopes it was.

"To the best of my recollection, I think we had one three-and-out (last Saturday). I don't think (Virginia) had any," Johnson said. "When they're converting on third down, they're eating the clock. They did to us what we used to be so good at doing to people when I was at Navy. (Opponents would) never get the ball. You run the ball, convert on third downs and then it tightens the game."

By contrast to Tech's third-down numbers Saturday and for the season (49 of 124, 39.5 percent, eighth of 12 teams in the ACC), Florida State's (6-1, 3-1) opponents have converted just 16 of 92 third-down attempts (17.4 percent), the conference's best figure.

Johnson knows if the Jackets are to have a chance to win Saturday, their defense must pull similar numbers on third down to that of the Seminoles.

"We've played pretty good defense (all season), and we're giving up almost 40 percent on third-down conversions," Johnson said. "They're giving up just 17 percent. That puts it in perspective for you. I don't remember anybody being that good. It tells you that you'd better not be in any third down and long situations.

"I think one of thing they do great on defense is create a lot of negative plays. They get a huge number of tackles for loss and sacks, and they are going to blitz you. They play a lot of man coverage anyway, so they have no problem rushing seven or eight guys. When they get you in a third-down situation, you might as well bank on it that they are coming. They will bring what they consider more than you can block."

Tech's third-down problem aside, the overall result - last week aside - has been pretty rock solid, with the Jackets still leading the ACC in scoring defense (13.1 points per game) and ranking third in the conference in total defense (272.2 yards per game).

Still, their task this Saturday won't be an easy one against a Florida State offense that leads the ACC in scoring (36.3 ppg) and yardage (394.6 ypg) and features one of the best passing combinations in the country in quarterback Christian Ponder (88-164-6, 1,119 yds., 9 TDs) and receiver Greg Carr (19 rec., 312 yds., 2 TDs).

The job won't be any easier with the Jackets as banged up as they are in the secondary.

Starters Dominique Reese (head) and Jahi Word-Daniels (hamstring) are both still battling injuries and are questionable for Saturday's game.

"We may have to play (safety Morgan Burnett) at cornerback," Johnson said. "In all honesty, in the back of my mind, I think Dominique's going to make it. Jahi's probably a reach."

SideBar: No. 16 Florida State at Georgia Tech

When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.

Where: Bobby Dodd Stadium, Atlanta

TV/Radio: ABC/790-AM